Palm Sunday commemorates the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem to shouts of hosannah on a road covered with palm branches and cloaks. April fools is a day of pranks–say something that’s not true to mislead someone and spring “April fools!” at the opportune moment. So what, other than landing on the same date this year, do Palm Sunday and April fools day have in common?
Jesus’ palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem is often called the triumphal entry. Jesus rode in on a colt, fulfilling Old Testament prophecy, to the shouts of an excited crowd. For a moment it looks like Jesus is coming into his city a triumphant king. But things are not as they seem. In the eleventh chapter of Mark’s gospel we read that after entering the city Jesus went to the temple. When Jesus comes to the temple, crowds shouting ‘hosannah’ and ‘blessed be the coming kingdom of our father Daivd’, we would expect them to enthrone Jesus as Lord and King and worship him. That would have been the appropriate thing to do, the thing that Marks gospel may leads us to expect. But that’s no what happens. There is a huge anticlimax once Jesus makes it to the temple–absolutely nothing happens! Jesus gets there, looks around, and heads back out of Jerusalem to Bethany (Mark 11:11).
You know what happens next in the story. Shouts of joy turn into shouts of opposition. Crowds that rejoiced in Jesus’ coming turn into crowds that shout crucify. If you look at Palm Sunday from the perspective of the crowd it is not a triumph, it is a tragedy. The worst April fools joke in history: a crowd shouting misleading praise only to reveal their disbelief and anger at the opportune moment. I think Mark is trying to teach us something in all of this. James Edwards, author of The Gospel According to Mark writes:
Mark’s account is noteworthy for what does not happen. The whole scene [the ‘triumphal entry’] comes to nothing. Like the seed in the parable of the sower that receives the word with joy but has no root and lasts but a short time (4:6, 16–17), the crowd disperses as mysteriously as it assembled. Mark is warning against mistaking enthusiasm for faith and popularity for discipleship. Jesus is not confessed in pomp and circumstance but only at the cross (15:39).
James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002), 338.
Palm Sunday is vivid reminder of two great truths. On the one hand, Jesus is King and rightly deserves our shouts of worship. On the other hand, faith in Jesus and being a true disciple is not the same as a fleeting moment of enthusiasm or following a crowd. Oh, that our faith would not be a lifelong April fools joke! The real test of our faith, as with the crowd, is in our actions; not so much what we say about Jesus but what we do with Jesus.