Before the solemn quietness of Holy Week, we experience the sounds of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
On that day, the air is filled with the braying of a chosen colt, the hustle to collect cloaks and palm branches, and the growing shouts of “hosanna.”
Like the crescendo of a musical composition before a notated subito piano is how I hear the sounds of Palm Sunday and Jesus’ entrance into Passion week.
Subito piano is an Italian musical term. Subito means “suddenly” or “immediately.” Some dictionaries even define subito as “unwavering.” Piano is the musical term for “soft.” The words together call for a singer or instrumentalist to suddenly sing or play softly.
Subito piano is a trademark of the classical composer Beethoven’s compositions. His music is often characterized by a growing crescendo going into a sudden piano, which seems a bit counterintuitive. However, Beethoven uses this dramatic dynamic marking to build up the music.
To employ this style of volume change can be wonderfully effective and can leave the listener immersed in a powerful experience.
Subito piano is how I hear the sounds of Palm Sunday.
Lent begins quietly. We fill our days with prayer, confession and meditation. We give up habits and treats all for the sake of remembering the sacrifices of Jesus.
Palm Sunday arrives and the dynamic changes. The crescendo of praise begins, and our voices are lifted to honor the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Palm Sunday brings a measure of joy to our Lenten days. The volume is high and at the peak of the crescendo. Our churches celebrate the day with a reenactment of that Jerusalem parade.
Children and adults take up palms and process them into their sanctuaries. Hymns of praise and hosanna are sung, the palms are waved, and our spirits are lifted. Jesus has come in the manner that Psalm 118 proclaims, “in festal procession with branches” (Psalm 118:27).
The sounds of that day are also written about in the gospel of Luke (Luke 19:28-40).
First, we hear the voice of Jesus as he is speaking instructions to his disciples. It is as though he is orchestrating the parade himself. He tells the disciples to go into the village and find the colt that he is to ride on and to tell the owners that “the Lord needs it.”
The disciples add their voices to the chorus. They follow Jesus’ directions and tell the owners of the colt about the procession and of Jesus’ need for the colt.
We can imagine that in their voices there were equal amounts of uncertainty and determination. Uncertainty for what was ahead and determination to follow through on Jesus’ instructions.
As Jesus approaches the peak of the Mount of Olives and begins to make his way down the path towards Jerusalem, sounds from the crowd begin to swell. The whole multitude is loudly shouting, the rustle of palm branches is sweeping against Jesus’ ear, and the colt’s hooves beat against the dusty road.
The words rise up, and Jesus hears, “Hosanna! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
Finally, the Pharisees chime in with their fear and indignation over what is occurring. “Teacher, quiet them … make them stop,” they say.
And Jesus has one more reply before the crescendo is quieted. He says to the Pharisees, “I tell you if they stop, the shouts won’t end, for then the rocks will begin to cry out.”
It seems as if no one can stop the sounds of this day. This song must play out before the subito piano occurs and the silence becomes deafening.
As the parade ends, the sound that we are left with is Jesus’ soft cry. Jesus weeps for Jerusalem – God’s beloved city. He knows the path ahead, and he aches over what is to come.
Yes, there will be sounds in the coming week, but for now, the praise has gone silent. The rocks and the trees patiently hold onto their notes of praise, and we must do the same.
We can’t skip over this week that we call holy and avoid its heartache. We must hold on to our song too, at least for a while. We will wait for Sunday when the final chord of victory will be struck, and the chorus will rise again.
Until then, we dwell in the sudden silence – the subito piano – and we wait.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a lectionary-based series for the season of Lent. One article will be published each week, offering reflection on one or more of the lectionary texts for the upcoming Sunday. The previous articles in the series are:
Lenten Lectionary | Returning to God, Returning to Self | Molly T. Marshall
Lenten Lectionary | Wilderness Living | Merianna Harrelson
Lenten Lectionary | It’s Not Easy Being Human | Rod Benson
Lenten Lectionary | Singing in the Shadow of God’s Wings | James Gordon
Lenten Lectionary | Seeing the Good in Repentance | Danielle L. Bridgeforth
Lenten Lectionary | When Something Gets Hold of Us | Timothy Peoples
From Macon, Georgia, DuCharme has served for over 30 years as a children’s minister and associate pastor of faith formation. Her new ministry is providing one-on-one and group spiritual direction, retreat leadership and pulpit supply