“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” they shouted as Jesus rode in on his borrowed colt. Old friends and new must have surrounded him, waving their palm branches and spreading their cloaks on the ground like a carpet.
Who was in that crowd, really?
In her icon of Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem, Natalya Rusetska strips away much of the throng to present Jesus as the unmistakable focal point of the image. There are however, even in her minimalist style, revelers to be seen. Tall slender figures in the gate of the city wave palms to welcome the “King of Israel.” We can only imagine who they might be. Perhaps Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, seeing Jesus as he passed through Bethany, had run ahead into the city to surprise him when he arrived. Could that small fellow in the tree be Jesus’ new friend Zacchaeus? He had surely grown in purity of heart, but likely not in stature, since meeting the Christ. Perhaps that is why he climbed a tree (again!), this time bearing a palm branch. Miniaturized young men along the path—a skewed perspective that keeps the focus on Christ—lay down their palms, tunics, and prayer cloaks, preparing the way for the Lord.
But who are those figures off to the left? They carry no palms. They do not bow or greet the Christ. Instead, they seem to wag their fingers. Perhaps they are some of those who instigate a change of attitude in the city, from joyous reveling and welcome to—within twenty-four hours—betrayal, accusation and, ultimately, torture and death for the one so recently hailed as blessed.
Ælred Senna, OSB, is a monk of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, and associate editor of Give Us This Day.
Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem by Natalya Rusetska