Palm Sunday!

© Arun Romkaew |

Palm Sunday! It’s not called that in the Gospels, of course, but through
tradition we’ve come to associate today with waving palm branches, handing
out palm crosses, and singing songs with the phrase “Hosanna” included.

What was it all about? Jesus was entering Jerusalem for the last week of his
earthly life; he was entering as Messiah, or King, knowing full well that
the authorities were unlikely to accept him as such. But a lot of people,
many of them the powerless poor; and many of them pilgrims visiting
Jerusalem for Passover, were interested and accepting of him, and they
turned out to cheer him on the way down the Mount of Olives en route to the
walled city.

The crowd wanted to ‘roll out the red carpet’, as we would say. The way to
do this back then was for people to throw their cloaks down in front of the
King so that he would have a ‘carpet’ before him. Some of the people didn’t
have cloaks with them, so they cut tree branches down (palm branches?) and
threw them down before Jesus instead. They shouted ‘Hosanna!” which
basically means ‘Save”!: they were looking for the Messiah to save Israel
from its enemies, not least the occupying Roman forces. ‘Blessed is the One
God who was sent to restore the Kingdom of David’, who’d been Israel’s
greatest King.

And throughout the whole episode Jesus was riding a donkey, the most humble
and ordinary transport of the day. In this he was fulfilling an Old
Testament prophecy, that Israel’s king would come not in might and power,
but ‘humble, riding on a donkey’ (Zechariah 9:9). The donkey also had
connotations of King David, whose royal mount had been a mule. Jesus came as
David’s descendant.

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 different way than the people expected.

- Philip Muston


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