Palm Sunday: Hosanna to the King of Kings
Palm Sunday is celebrated to honour the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem five days before His crucifixion. For Christians, it symbolises the beginning of the Holy Week, which culminates on Easter Sunday. It is considered as a sacred time to prepare for the woe of His Passion and the joy of His Resurrection.
The Palm Sunday fable
The Gospel reveals that Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey for the Jewish feast of Passover. This is believed to be foretold by Prophet Zechariah in the book of Old Testament.
The Jewish people had seen how Jesus went around and performed so many miracles. His ultimate marvel was raising Lazarus from the dead. When he arrived, the people hailed the Teacher from Galilee as someone more than a man, and Jesus did not deny this exaltation.
Most of the Jews believed in Him. “But some other went to the Pharisees and told what Jesus did.” Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said “what shall we do? For this man works many signs. If we leave him alone like this everyone will believe in him and the Romans will come and take away both our place and Nation. Then from that day on they plotted to put Him to death.” (John 11:46-48; 53).
There were economic reasons for opposing him as well, seeing the commercialisation of the Temple, Jesus had driven the dealers and animals out, as well as turned over the tables of the moneychangers, saying “My House is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” (Luke 19:46)
So, with all these great deeds His disciples and the believers recognised Him as the `Messiah` when he was on his way to Jerusalem. Crowds of people carpeted the roads with their cloaks and palm branches and shouted: “Hosanna to the son of David! Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the heavens.” (Mathew 21: 9)
With this celebration, He began his journey to the Cross. The scene was rich with symbolism. In biblical times, the donkey was a symbol of peace. Those who rode upon them proclaimed peaceful intentions. The laying of palm was a sign of martyrdom or victory over death.
Palm Sunday is also known as Passion Sunday, Willow Sunday and Flower Sunday.
History of Palm Sunday
The history of Palm Sunday can be traced back to Jerusalem churches around the 4th century. Various hymns, prayers, sermons are led by the Clergy wherein people would move to various holy sites of the city with Palm and Olive branches. The Clergy would read from the Gospel `the entrance of Jesus` into Jerusalem at the site from where Jesus ascended into heaven. In the evening, services are held in the church.
With the passage of time, Christianity extended its roots and Palm Sunday also began to be observed in Constantinople in the 5th century. A new tradition started in the 6th and 7th century, wherein evening procession was replaced by morning along with the ritual blessings of the Palms.
Celebration in Contemporary times
Even today, Palm Sunday is observed in the same manner as it was since the 10th century. The palm leaves are distributed among the followers to be used in the usual Church service. A skit depicting the entry of Jesus in Jerusalem is performed in the Church. Rituals of procession with palm branches, crosses made of palm leaves and blessing of the palms are carried out by the masses.
The Pastor delivers the word of Jesus from the Book of Gospel. The followers are made to ponder over their commitment towards God and strengthen their faith towards him. The congregation prays, sings hymns, shouts praises, raising the branches of palm leaves. Many take along the palm leaves after the service and place them in their houses.
In some countries, these palms are placed on the graves of the departed. In colder climates like in Russia and Ukraine, where palm trees are not found, branches of yew, willow and sallow trees are used.
Though various denominations celebrate Palm Sunday in different manners, the bottom line remains the same. It is the interaction of Christians with Jesus in the final days before his Crucifixion and the joy and fervour of His Resurrection.