"They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! ” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!"
Palm Sunday is one of the most important days in the Christian calendar after Christmas and Easter. Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter, and marks the beginning of Holy Week, the week of events leading up to Jesus' death.
A week before He was crucified, Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, fulfilling prophecy and presenting Himself as the true Deliverer. These messages, given a week before Easter Sunday, will help prepare your heart to celebrate Jesus' death and glorious resurrection.
The History of Palm Sunday
The celebration of Palm Sunday originated in the Jerusalem Church, around the late fourth century. The early Palm Sunday ceremony consisted of prayers, hymns, and sermons recited by the clergy while the people walked to various holy sites throughout the city. At the final site, the place where Christ ascended into heaven, the clergy would read from the gospels concerning the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. In the early evening they would return to the city reciting: "Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord." The children would carry palm and olive branches as the people returned through the city back to the church, where they would hold evening services.
By the fifth century, the Palm Sunday celebration had spread as far as Constantinople. Changes made in the sixth and seventh centuries resulted in two new Palm Sunday traditions - the ritual blessing of the palms, and a morning procession instead of an evening one. Adopted by the Western Church in the eighth century, the celebration received the name "Dominica in Palmis," or "Palm Sunday".
The Meaning of Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. The gospels record the arrival of Jesus riding into the city on a donkey, while the crowds spread their cloaks and palm branches on the street and shouted "Hosanna to the Son of David" and "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" to honor him as their long-awaited Messiah and King.
The significance of Jesus riding a donkey and having his way paved with palm branches is a fulfillment of a prophecy spoken by the prophet Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9). In biblical times, the regional custom called for kings and nobles arriving in procession to ride on the back of a donkey. The donkey was a symbol of peace; those who rode upon them proclaimed peaceful intentions. The laying of palm branches indicated that the king or dignitary was arriving in victory or triumph.
Palm Sunday in Modern Times
Today, Palm Sunday traditions are much the same as they have been since the tenth century. The ceremony begins with the blessing of the palms. The procession follows, then Mass is celebrated, wherein the Passion and the Benediction are sung. Afterwards, many people take the palms home and place them in houses, barns, and fields.
In some countries, palms are placed on the graves of the departed. In colder northern climates, where palm trees are not found, branches of yew, willow, and sallow trees are used. The palms blessed in the ceremony are burned at the end of the day. The ashes are then preserved for next year's Ash Wednesday celebration.
In the simplest of terms, Palm Sunday is an occasion for reflecting on the final week of Jesus' life. It is a time for Christians to prepare their hearts for the agony of His Passion and the joy of His Resurrection.
Four Ways to Prepare for Holy Week:
- Read the triumphal entry passages in the gospels. All four gospels record Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem: Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19. All four accounts reveal the significance of the triumphal entry. It was a profoundly important event in Jesus’ life.
- Reflect on the significance of the triumphal entry. Jesus was introduced as King! This has major implications for here & now and then & there. The here & now implication is that we should pay homage to the King and give our lives in service to Him. The then & there implication is that He will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 7:9; 17:14; 19:16).
- Delight that the King came to deliver you from the kingdom of darkness and that, by grace alone through faith alone, He transferred you into His kingdom. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14). Do this corporately on Sunday. Gather with other kingdom constituents and worship the King.
- Commit or recommit yourself to the King. There is no better time than Palm Sunday than to yield yourself to the King for the first time or anew. Is Jesus your King? If not, why not? There are are only two ways to live. If He is, does your life reveal complete allegiance to Him?
O gratefully sing his power and his love:
Our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise
(Robert Grant, “O Worship the King,” 1833)