Palm Sunday

© Arun Romkaew |

The day we celebrate is not called ‘Palm Sunday’ in the gospels, of course, but through tradition we’ve come to associate it with waving palm branches, making palm crosses, and singing songs with the word “Hosanna” in them. What
was it all about? Jesus was entering Jerusalem for the last week of his earthly life; he was entering as Messiah – anointed ruler of God’s coming kingdom – knowing full well that the authorities (as representatives of the kingdoms of this world ) were unlikely to accept his rule. But a lot of people, many of them the powerless poor, and many of them pilgrims visiting Jerusalem for Passover, were interested  in and initially enthusiastic about his claims. They join Jesus’ disciples to cheer him on the way down the Mount of Olives into the city. But note that in Matthew 21: 1-17 the mob
cheer him on as a mere ‘prophet’ from Galilee. They don’t get that he is Messiah, let alone God’s beloved Son. So when pressure comes, they quickly fall away.

Jesus disciples want to ‘roll out the red carpet’, as we would say. They
throw their cloaks down in front of the King so that he would have a
‘carpet’. Some of the people didn’t have cloaks with them, so they cut tree
branches down  and threw them before Jesus instead. They shouted ‘Hosanna!’,
which basically means ‘Praise God!’: they were looking for the Messiah to
save Israel from its enemies, not least the occupying Roman forces. “Blessed
is the One God has sent to restore the Kingdom of David”, Israel’s greatest

Throughout the whole episode Jesus was riding a donkey, the most humble and
ordinary transport of the day. In this he was fulfilling Zechariah’s Old
Testament prophecy , that Israel’s king would come to her not in might and
power, but ‘humble, riding on a donkey’ (Zechariah 9:9) The ‘Palm Sunday’
event was a brief moment of celebration and joy before a difficult week in
which it became clear that God was going to work salvation through his
Messiah in a less conventional way than the people expected.

-Philip Muston

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