We observe Palm Sunday, the final Sunday of Lent, today. Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1–9), when palm branches were placed in his path, before his arrest on Holy Thursday and his crucifixion on Good Friday. It thus marks the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Lent.
Palm Sunday is known as such because the faithful will often receive palm fronds which they use to participate in the reenactment of Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem. In the Gospels, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a young donkey, to the lavish praise of the townspeople who cut palm branches and waved them in the air, laid them out on the ground before Jesus as He rode into the city.
In Jesus’ time, the waving of palm branches was a customary practice to welcome people of great respect. They represented goodness and victory and, in hindsight, were symbolic of the final victory He would soon fulfill over death.
Since then the palm in Christian liturgy and art has become the symbol of the martyr.
Why do we still observe Palm Sunday with the waving of palm branches? Are we saying we want to be martyrs?
We remember Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, praise him for the gift of salvation and look expectantly to his second coming. Customary Palm Sunday observances include the waving of palm branches in processional, the blessing of palms and the making of small crosses with palm fronds.
I like to believe that as we observe this early Christian event we are being called to welcome Jesus’ coming into our lives in a new and fresh way. The palm waving crowds welcomed Him as their Savior, who would free them from their difficulties. Did He set them free? Free from physical, material, economic, political difficulties? No.
Jesus is not who we want Him to be according to our personal opinion, needs, desires or preconceptions. He is not primarily the one who will pay our bills or make things happen our way or give us success in all things.
When I read and listen to the account of Jesus’ being welcomed with palm branches and shouts of joy, I remember that this marks the beginning of His Passion, Suffering and Death. It is only then when I look back in faith that I can see more clearly why all that happened. It always helps me remember that in most instances in our lives joys always come after the difficulties, the sufferings. Rainbows only appear after the rain. From experience and in faith I know that there will be a rainbow somewhere, sometime.
May we recognize ‘the time of God’s coming’ to us on Palm Sunday as a sign that in faith we can always expect rainbows!