The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the King of Israel!”
Today is Palm Sunday. As a little girl, I loved Palm Sunday. While there were no presents in it for me, as there were at Christmas, nor any baskets of yummy candy as at Easter (and not that this was what these two holy, holidays were supposed to be about, but hey....I was just a kid, after all), there was still something very special to me about Palm Sunday.
In my church, several people would be stationed at the each of the entrances to the sanctuary, holding huge armfuls of the green branches to hand out to everyone as they filed in. Sitting in my seat at church between my parents, I'd rub the palm branch with my fingers, luxuriating in the smoothness and the fresh 'greenness' of it; waving it until I would inadvertently wind up poking someone in the face or the eye with it (usually, my mother) and have it taken away until it was time for EVERYONE in the church to wave it, crying out "Hosanna in the highest!" I can still remember the sound of all the palm branches swooshing in the air.
Afterwards, we'd go home and my mother would again highjack my palm branch and place it with hers and my father's, generally hanging them over some picture frame in our living room (I have NO CLUE what the significance was in doing that), where they would remain until just before the next Palm Sunday, when they would mysteriously disappear (only God knows what my mother did with them. Perhaps she made special deliveries to our church rectory, since the burning of palms is where the ashes come from for Ash Wednesday).
When I got a little older, I befriended a girl whose mother used to weave palms together to make crosses, much like this one:
I was so amazed at her talent (hey -- don't laugh. To me, it was a talent. I couldn't even get the hang of making those crazy necklaces out of gum wrappers that were all the rage back then) and would try to sneak extra palm branches out of the church (such a thief I was!) to bring to my friend's mom so she could make me my own palm cross. Sadly, I don't know of anyone who makes them any more. It's a lost art.
Over the years, I've attended various churches that, oddly enough, barely made mention of Palm Sunday. The first year I attended the church I now call my home church, they didn't hand out a single palm (that has changed, thankfully). What was THAT all about? I really wish I could tell you.
But clearly, Palm Sunday is not just a day for the church to hand out green, leafy branches with which to decorate one's house (or to poke another's eye out); so much more than the waving and weaving of palms.
Way back in the day, the palm branch was a victory symbol. The Romans distributed palm branches to reward the champions of their gladiator games and chariot races, as well as in celebration of their military successes. The Jewish community followed a similar tradition of carrying palm branches during festive times, most likely taking that from the Romans.
Passover was one such festive time, and it was during this time of celebration that Jesus made His triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem, riding on the back of a young donkey. Many of Jesus' followers ran to meet Him, throwing their cloaks in His path and waving palm branches, not only in celebration of the festival, but to celebrate and acknowledge that this Jesus was their King, the One Who would bring salvation to them. Waving their palms, they cried out, "Hosanna to the Son of David!! Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:9, NIV).
When the word 'Hosanna' is used, it's generally as a word of praise, which indeed it is. But there is another meaning for it as well. The Old Testament Hebrew word, pronounced hoshiya na, (and later, recorded in New Testament Greek as 'hosanna'), literally translates 'save, we pray; help, we pray,' as it is written in Psalm 118:25.
Amazing -- in the Old Testament, Hosanna is a cry for help; in the New Testament, it becomes a cry of praise/adoration to and recognition of the One the crowd welcomed as their Helper, their Messiah, their King.
Even more amazing -- when Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem, He is coming not as a warrior King, riding on a proud war horse, as one might expect. No, He makes His entrance as a humble King, riding on a lowly donkey, which in the Eastern tradition, was considered an animal of peace. Certainly not what His people expected of their Messiah.
Today, Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week. Jesus, after making His journey into Jerusalem, is about to embark on yet another journey -- one that is much, much less celebratory.
It is a darker, harsher, lonelier path which Jesus will take to the Via Dolorosa, or The Way of Suffering.
Let's join together in worship of our King of kings, our Lord of lords, our Prince of Peace -- our Savior, Who suffered and died (and rose again!) for us, so that we could live.
Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest!