Invitation to Rest

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Observing Palm Sunday

This Sunday, Christ followers all over the world will be celebrating Palm Sunday. It is one of the many great celebrations on the church calendar. It signifies a moment of transition where we move from a reflective state of lent to anticipating the events of Passion Week leading to the triumph of Jesus over sin and death.

Many will celebrate Palm Sunday by distributing palm branches as a reminder of the crowd which waved and scattered palm branches before Jesus. That is one my my memories growing up. I remember the kids leading a procession up the center aisle of the church waving a strand of a palm branch.  Later I remember getting a cross made out of palm branches that we then took home and displayed visibly during the week as a part of keeping our hearts and minds centered on the events of Easter week.

In some traditions, the palms are kept all year long in the congregants’ homes and then a week before the following years Lent, the palms are brought to the church where the palms are burned and the ashes used for Ash Wednesday.  We did not practice that growing up but I find that pretty cool.

Palm Sunday points of interest

Other interesting facts surrounding Palm Sunday:

  • Jesus’ riding on a donkey may have roots to a tradition that a donkey was an animal of peace. A horse, on the other hand was an animal of war.  Though the crowd was praising Him looking for a conqueror, he came as the “Prince of Peace”.

They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them.

Matt 21:7
  • It was a custom of the day to cover the path of someone who was held in high honor.

Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

Matt 21:8-9

And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road.

Luke 19:36
  • Solomons temple had palms engraved in its walls

On the walls all around the temple, in both the inner and outer rooms, he carved cherubim, palm trees and open flowers.

1 Kings 6:29
  • In Roman culture the palm signified victory and triumph. In Egyptian culture palms were carried in funeral processions to honor the dead and represented eternal life. How interesting! Part of this tradition of Palm Sunday is recognizing this dichotomy of the triumphal entry and yet contemplating the suffering and death that Jesus would undergo. How symbolic that the palm captures the meaning of Passion Week. It is both a time of reflection and sadness for the sin of the world and the celebration and praise for the victory and triumph of Jesus over sin and death and providing the path to eternity.
  • There are some who believe that those waving branches on Palm Sunday were of the Zealot sect of the Jews. The zealots had great zeal for God and looked forward to the overthrow of the Romans. Interestingly, the palm branch was the symbol of the Zealots. So that surely can be a plausible explanation for why the crowd turned so quickly on Jesus. At Palm Sunday, they thought they were ushering in a political deliverer, but by the end of the week, when it was clear Jesus was on a different mission, those chose Barabbas (a Zealot)!

Jesus Weeps for Jerusalem

As Jesus is on His way he weeps for Jerusalem:

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it,  saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”  Luke 19:41-44

The Choice Palm Sunday Offers

The people were given a choice;  they could choose a conqueror who would give them a political victory and freedom from their worldly oppressor, or a victory of salvation and freedom for their souls from the oppression of sin and death.  The first would give temporary relief and would appear to ease the pain of the moment. The second would lead to peace, the Kingdom of God, and life everlasting.  Jesus wept knowing what was to come;  that the masses would make the wrong choice and yet He chose to continue to Jerusalem anyway!

Palm Sunday is a reminder of the choice presented to us.  Will we choose the path of Jesus or some other way to meet our needs to save us?  Will we look to political parties to bring deliverance, or will we look to Jesus? Will we look to fame and fortune to bring us significance or will we find significance as beloved children of God? Will we remain in our stubbornness, trying to solve our own problems or will we humble ourselves and surrender to the Prince of Peace? Will we follow the way of distraction and busyness to help us cope with the pain of the moment or will we rest in the loving arms of our Father to whom Jesus made a way through His death and resurrection?

These are questions that those who do not know Jesus can benefit from pondering.  However, these are questions that are helpful reminders for Christ followers a well.  Are there times I am following the crowd charting my own way looking for answers to my questions of meaning and purpose vs following Jesus with all of my heart.  May this Palm Sunday be a reminder to you of the live-giving choice of following Jesus every day.

A Prayer for Palm Sunday

I found this prayer below which is a beautiful way to close this post and prepare our hearts for this week to come.

Merciful God, as we enter Holy week, turn our hearts again to Jerusalem, and to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Stir up within us the gift of faith that we may not only praise him with our lips, but may follow him in the way of the cross.

John Paarlberg, retired minister

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