By Justin Rossow
Today is Palm Sunday. Of course, the Triumphal Entry looms large. But zoom in a little on that scene of praise and parade, and you will find a startling detail: Luke tells us that Jesus weeps as he rides that donkey through the throngs waving palms and singing psalms. And Luke tells us the reason Jesus weeps: “Because you did not recognize the Day of your Visitation” (Luke 19:44).
That Palm Sunday Jerusalem Parade stands in stark contrast to the Jericho parade that kicks off Luke 19. Jesus leads a throng through the city, a mosh pit packed so close together that anyone who stood head and shoulders below the crowd had no chance even to see Jesus. That’s how a diminutive tax collector by the name of Zacchaeus finds himself up a tree without a paddle. Jesus halts the parade to look through sycamore branches and tell the little man, “It is necessary for me to stay at your house today!” (Luke 19:5). Talk about a Day of Visitation!
This Sycamore Parade ends with joy that throws the weeping of the Palm Parade into sharp relief. The religious leaders are grumbling at both events, but the result of the first processional in Luke 19 aligns with the heart of God. “Today, salvation has come to this house,” Jesus says, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”
That’s how the Day of Visitation is supposed to turn out; when God comes to visit, sinners are called and invited and expected to turn and return and receive the saving (but also destroying) Presence of God. And sometimes they don’t.
Jesus rejoices over one tax collector who is saved. And Jesus weeps over this city who rejects the reign of God, a city that will end up surrounded by enemy armies, judged, and destroyed on a Day of Visitation that brings wrath, not mercy.
This won’t be the last time the people in this crowd shout out for this King Jesus. Soon they will be shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him! We have no king be Caesar!” And even that isn’t the end of the story. Fifty days later, some of the same individuals will be in a Pentecost crowd, on another Day of Visitation, when the Spirit is poured out and the crowd cries, “What must we do to be saved?”
Zacchaeus responds to his Day of Visitation with joy, and he has the rest of his life to live out what it means to receive salvation and personal reformation with joy. The leaders and crowds on Palm Sunday respond to their Day of Visitation with misplaced hopes and a lack of recognition that will lead to terrible consequences. The Pentecost crowd responds to God’s vindication of the Jesus they had so terribly misunderstood, this time with sorrow and repentance and faith. Sycamore, Palm, and Pentecost: different results, but the same God of Visitation.
This Palm Sunday is for you another Day of Visitation. Jesus is present. Jesus comes to you. Jesus invites your response. Jesus asks you to come down from your safe vantage point, to stop keeping him at arms length, and to welcome him into your everyday life: “It is necessary for me to stay at your house today.” This means you.
Sometimes you respond with joy. And sometimes your response makes Jesus weep. And sometimes you are cut to the heart, and ask again, for the hundredth time, “What must I do to be saved?” The answer points you back to the humble King who seeks and saves the lost, the one who weeps over those who reject him, and who pours out his Spirit on those who repent.
This Palm Sunday is again the Day of your Visitation. Jesus wants to come to your house today. And however many times you have failed to recognize his presence or his invitation, that invitation comes to you again today.
Come, Holy Spirit, and let salvation come to my house today!
Teach me to recognize the Day of my Visitation.
Welcome, King Jesus! Amen.