The First Palm Sunday
20 March 2016
The first Palm Sunday procession was a spontaneous event. It was no doubt that the culture of the time to sing and dance on pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Pilgrims travelled to the Holy City on festive occasions. What took place on Palm Sunday may have occurred during other great Jewish festivals. People who gathered for Passover would have sung songs of praise and joy. There are many Psalms that reflected the joy and gaiety of such occasions:
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song. Palm 95
Jesus deepened the meaning of the Palm Sunday Procession. He perceived in the event the plan of God. Early Church communities may have come to the same conclusion. Jesus prepared for the event by instructing the disciples to get the foal of an ass. This instruction may have simulated the disciples to think of the words of the prophets. Jesus wept over the city and lamented how the city killed prophets. Jerusalem was a city of peace, but Jesus saw that through the behavior of the people of God it would be reduced to a place of war and destruction. Indeed, Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed around the year 70 AD.
The religious community should have provided the people of God with moral and spiritual guidelines to meet the challenges of the day. But although there was more religious activity, religion itself had become corrupt and decadent. In fact, the temple authorities alienated the outer court of the Gentiles and used it for exchange transactions and the buying and selling of sacrificial animals at exorbitant prices. The rates of exchange were high as Temple officials allowed market forces to run amok in the House of God. No Prophet of God or Messiah could remain silent and inactive in the face of such decadence and injustice. Like the eighth century (B.C) prophets Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Micah, the Messiah challenged injustice, oppression and worship of the temple. People honoured God with their lips but their hearts were far from him.
Our brothers and sisters of the Roman Catholic Church in order to identify with the spontaneity of the first Palm Sunday use freshly cut palms. Anglicans however continue to make Palm crosses. The Palm cross provides us with some important lessons. Rite and ceremony, rightly understood, can convey important truths. Palm crosses represent joy and self-denial. The joy of Palm Sunday ended with the Cross of Good Friday. Palm Sunday led to the Crucifixion. The cross itself is a symbol of shame, degradation and violence of the first century, but as St. Paul reminds us, the Cross is the power of salvation. The cross represents God’s victory over sin and death.
Some crucifixes portray Christ as King. He reigns in glory. Christ is priest and victim. Through the cross of Christ, we glory. Jesus himself reminds us
If I be lifted up I will draw all person towards me John 12:32
The cross is therefore the means of God’s reconciling love. Palm Sunday is a journey from Good Friday to Easter to new life with God. It is a journey from defeat to victory, from death to life, from ashes to Easter fire. May we participate in this journey with our Saviour and Lord a journey that leads us from death to eternal life.
All Glory, Laud and Honour is an English translation by John Mason Neale of Latin hymn "Gloria, laus et honor", which was written by Theodulf of Orléans in 820. Based on the text in Matthew 21:1–11