Today is Palm Sunday……but what does that really mean? Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of Holy Week, and as told in Matthew 21:1-11, commemorates the triumphant arrival of Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified.
“When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” “
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, and to the lavish praise of the townspeople who threw clothes, or possibly palms or small branches, in front of him as a sign of homage. This was a customary practice for people of great respect. Palm branches are widely recognized symbol of peace and victory, hence their preferred use on Palm Sunday.
So here we have Jesus, basically riding to His death, not in a carriage, or on a magnificent horse, but on an humble donkey. But this serves to remind us that even though He is the Son, our Savior, He chooses to come to us where we are, as a humble servant for His people. The use of a donkey instead of a horse is also highly symbolic, it represents the humble arrival of someone in peace, as opposed to arriving on a steed in war. A week later, Christ would rise from the dead on the first Easter.
During Palm Sunday Mass, palms are distributed to parishioners who carry them in a ritual procession into church. The palms are blessed and many people will fashion them into small crosses or other items of personal devotion. These may be returned to the church, or kept for the year. Because the palms are blessed, they may not be discarded as trash. Instead, they are appropriately gathered at the church and incinerated to create the ashes that will be used in the follow year’s Ash Wednesday observance. The colors of the Mass on Palm Sunday are red and white, symbolizing the redemption in blood that Christ paid for the world.
I love the picture represented in Matthew. Everyone around are taking off their coats, and laying it in front of Jesus, as He rides in on the donkey. Even those too poor to have a fine coat, gather branches or palms off the trees, to lay at Jesus” feet. This reminds me of a fairy tale prince, who discards his cloak, covering a puddle so the dainty princess may cross without getting her feet wet. Yet in Matthew, the people are clearly showing their support, and adoration, for the Lord, Jesus Christ. I wonder how many of them knew what was to happen just a few days later. But Jesus knew, and yet He didn’t enter the city under cover of darkness. He rode in on a donkey, an humble symbol of peace.
Palm Sunday Prayer:
On this day, your Son Jesus Christ entered the holy city of Jerusalem and was proclaimed King by those who spread garments and palm branches along His way. Let those branches be for us signs of His victory, and grant that we who bear them in His name may ever hail Him as our Lord, and follow Him in the way that leads to eternal life.
In Jesus’ Name We Pray,