Christians around the world celebrate Palm Sunday today. This is the day on which Christians commemorate Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which occurred the week before his death and resurrection. For many Christian churches, Palm Sunday also is known as Passion Sunday. Regardless of the name, this day marks the beginning of Holy Week and concludes with Easter Sunday. The biblical account of Palm Sunday can be found in Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; and John 12:12-19.
Jesus knowingly went to Jerusalem to fulfill the prophecy about his sacrificial death that would bring redemption to humanity. He sent two disciples to Bethphage to make preparations. He told them to look for a tied-up donkey with its unbroken colt. “If the owner asks what you are doing,” Jesus instructed, “tell him that the Lord needs it.”
The men found the donkey just as Jesus said. They brought the donkey and its colt to Jesus. Before Jesus mounted the donkey, the disciples placed their cloaks on it. In this manner, which was like other Israelite kings entering Jerusalem to assume the throne, Jesus rode into Jerusalem’s eastern gate as a triumphant king. Along his path, people placed their cloaks and palm branches on the road before him. Others waved palm branches in the air.
These large Passover crowds began to shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
This commotion caused the Pharisees to become more jealous of Jesus and the Roman authorities became fearful of a Passover riot. This glorious entry began the path that led to Jesus’ crucifixion and death on a hill called Calvary as atonement for our sins.
Why palm branches? Today, this gesture is odd. In ancient times, palm branches symbolized goodness and victory. They were depicted on coins and important buildings. According to 1 Kings 6:29, King Solomon had palm branches carved into the temple’s walls and doors. Revelation 7:9 predicts that we will see palm branches again at the end of time, when people from every nation will wave them to honor Jesus. The beginning of Holy Week means that we wave palms to embrace God’s goodness and to acknowledge that we have won a victory over sin and death because of what Christ did during that first Holy Week.
On this day, many people will gather in Christian churches to celebrate Palm Sunday and will receive palm branches or palm crosses. This day is for us to remember Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. Our remembrance should include praise for the gift of salvation that came with His death and our expectation, as we look to the eastern sky, for his second coming.
I pray that you join me in church throughout Holy Week with a thankful heart for the gift of salvation that we should work toward in this life and in the life to come. It’s the least we can do to say, “Thank you, God, for saving my life!”
Wright is the pastor of Hinesville First United Methodist Church and a member of the United Ministerial Alliance.