Palm Sunday is one of the most important days in the Christian calendar after Christmas and Easter. Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter, and marks the beginning of Holy Week, the week of events leading up to Jesus’ death.
The History of Palm Sunday
The celebration of Palm Sunday originated in the Jerusalem Church, around the late fourth century. The early Palm Sunday ceremony consisted of prayers, hymns, and sermons recited by the clergy while the people walked to various holy sites throughout the city. At the final site, the place where Christ ascended into heaven, the clergy would read from the gospels concerning the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. In the early evening they would return to the city reciting: “Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.” The children would carry palm and olive branches as the people returned through the city back to the church, where they would hold evening services.
By the fifth century, the Palm Sunday celebration had spread as far as Constantinople. Changes made in the sixth and seventh centuries resulted in two new Palm Sunday traditions – the ritual blessing of the palms, and a morning procession instead of an evening one. Adopted by the Western Church in the eighth century, the celebration received the name “Dominica in Palmis,” or “Palm Sunday”.
What does Palm Sunday mean?
Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. The gospels record the arrival of Jesus riding into the city on a donkey, while the crowds spread their cloaks and palm branches on the street and shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” to honor him as their long-awaited Messiah and King.
The significance of Jesus riding a donkey and having his way paved with palm branches is a fulfillment of a prophecy spoken by the prophet Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9) more than 500 years earlier:
“Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey – riding on a donkey’s colt.”
In biblical times, the regional custom called for kings and nobles arriving in procession to ride on the back of a donkey. The donkey was a symbol of peace; those who rode upon them proclaimed peaceful intentions. The laying of palm branches indicated that the king or dignitary was arriving in victory or triumph.
The fact that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey like a triumphant king sent a very powerful message to the authorities of his day. A message that did not go unnoticed.
The crowds were hoping for a king to deliver them from their Roman rulers, but Jesus came to proclaim a different kingdom and rule.
The people wanted their “messiah” to save them by violent or brute force, but Jesus chose love, peace and healing. A much more powerful way. God’s way.
The people expected a powerful hero and instead received a righteous rebel.
Every time we celebrate Palm Sunday, we are reminded of the way of the One we follow. We are challenged to walk in the same way. We are called to embody the same love, peace and healing of the “little” people in our world. We are commanded to build our lives on his teachings and call others to do the same.
Palm Sunday also reminds us of what happened less than a week later. Jesus got crucified.
We are reminded that there is a cost to following him. When you build your life on his ways, the world doesn’t always welcome that, because his Kingdom is an upside down kingdom where love rules power, peace replaces control, good overthrows evil, and the last becomes first.
If you want to see my teaching on this recently, you can watch it here.
The video below is the one I showed at the end of my teaching.
Have a great Palm Sunday.
May light and peace fill your life.