COVID-19 has hit us hard. Some are fearing for their lives, or the lives of loved ones. Others may be fearing the loss of your livelihood, as non-essential businesses have been forced to close indefinitely, leading to profit losses and mass layoffs.
In addition to all these worries, as we head into the week of Easter, we do so unable to meet together with our local church families. Palm Sunday is this weekend, and it’s usually a day of hope and celebration. But this year’s celebrations will look quite different. And that may be leaving you with the feeling that life is spinning out of control. That’s a completely understandable feeling to have.
But we know that God is still in control of all things. The psalmists talk about it all the time—probably because they, like us, needed to be reminded often.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. (Psalm 46:1-3)
Even in the midst of a pandemic, Palm Sunday is still in the palm of God’s hand.
And even though our churches’ plans have been altered this year, God’s plans are never thwarted.
Here are three truths that will help you look to Palm Sunday with hope and faith, even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
COVID-19 isn’t a surprise to God.
When we look back to when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, it’s easy to see how God was in control. A crowd of people gathered around Jesus, and they were singing his praises. The Messiah King of Israel entered into the capital city, and the people recognized his authority, laying down their cloaks and palm branches so that his donkey would not need to tread on the dirt.
Flash forward to that following Friday, and it’s a little harder to see how God was in control, when the same King was hanging on a cross.
But here’s the thing. None of this was a surprise to Jesus. It wasn’t a surprise to him when the people sang his praises as he entered the city. And even as he rode into Jerusalem, he was fully aware that this was the last week of his earthly ministry. He knew full well that this week would end with his crucifixion. Jesus knew that while this crowd of people sang his praises, a different crowd would surround him later that week to call for his death.
But even more than that, Jesus knew that God the Father had a plan.
In the same way, God isn’t surprised that COVID-19 has become a global pandemic. And he also isn’t surprised that this crisis is going on during Holy Week. And what’s more is that he still has a plan, and God is still in control. He has a plan to use even the worst tragedies to do amazing things.
And that’s because while God isn’t the author of evils such as the COVID-19 crisis, he works through all things for good (Romans 8:28). Trust that he has a plan even now as you celebrate Palm Sunday from home.
Our need for salvation hasn’t changed. We just feel it more. (And that’s a good thing.)
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the crowd of people who were praising him were using a word that may seem unfamiliar to many of us.
And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’ (Matthew 21:9, emphasis added)
Hosanna is a Hebrew word that can literally be translated as “please save.” So as the crowd sang the praises of Jesus, it was their expectation and prayer that he was the one who would come and save them.
The people of Israel had been living under the oppression of one foreign empire or another for the better part of the last five centuries. They were waiting for their Messiah to come and liberate them from bondage and finally set them free, once and for all.
What they didn’t realize is that Jesus came to set them free from something far greater than the Roman Empire. He came to set them free from their bondage to sin and death. And this is the same salvation that Jesus offers us today. Without Jesus, all is lost.
We don’t always feel the reality of that, though. Living in the modern world with relative wealth and comfort, we often fall asleep to our need to be saved.
But as we live through this current threat to our health and well being, we’re reminded of just how delicate life is, and how much we need Jesus—both in this life and in the next.
So as you celebrate Palm Sunday, do so with the same kind of desperate, yet joyful, dependence that the crowd placed on Jesus as he entered Jerusalem.
Palm Sunday is a day of expectation.
Palm Sunday is a great day of anticipation. It’s the beginning of Holy Week, where we remember the week of Jesus’ three-year ministry, climaxing with the celebration of his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Holy Week tells the story of why the Church exists, where we find our hope, and what the future holds. It’s a week of eager expectation about the great things we know God will do among us, in the very same way it was for the crowds on that first Palm Sunday. God is still in the business of doing great things, even today.
So instead of allowing yourself to be filled with a sense of discouragement, dread, or disappointment this week, ask Jesus to once again fill your heart with a sense of hope. God has done great things. He is doing great things (even if you can’t currently see them). And God will do great things.
Believe it. It’s what this Palm Sunday is all about.
This is a Holy Week to remember.
Regardless of what happens this Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter, this year’s Holy Week will be memorable. Choose to look for all the unique ways that God is working in your life, in your family, and in your community during this time.
He’s working. Are you watching?
The God who saves has not left us. He is actively working. He has a plan. Miracles we can’t yet imagine are just around the corner.