Recognition of Palm Sunday

Many of today’s ceremonial traditions that celebrate and honor Palm Sunday (also referred to as Passion Sunday) date back to the tenth century. Traditionally the palms used in the Palm Sunday service will be blessed. In regions where palm trees are not readily available, there are several other suitable options such as yew, willow, sallow, etc. After the service, many revered churchgoers will take the palms home and place them all around their houses, or even in their fields and in their barns, to add blessings to their homes and all who enter.

Children play a crucial role in any Palm Sunday service, and as such many children will participate first by making crosses from the palm leaves. Then children are a part of the processional to and from the altar – celebrating the day that Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem. After the procession, Mass is celebrated with reverence and singing of the Passion and the Benediction. The Passion is included to serve as a reminder and a memorial of the sufferings of Christ.

As a final tradition, the palm leaves are ceremoniously burned and are actually used for the ashes at Ash Wednesday services.

There are many traditional foods that are recognized to commiserate a Palm Sunday ceremony. For example, fig pudding is sometimes enjoyed because it is believed that Jesus ate figs during his donkey ride into Jerusalem. Another traditional offering is split pea soup, which is traditionally served in Scotland or Northern England. Peas were sometimes placed in the shoe as penance during Lent, therefore eating split pea soup in remembrance of penance is sometimes observed.

One little-known piece of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem and the usage of Palm leaves by the people to wave in glory and joyous song is that in that time the Palm was perceived as a sign of Israel and thus like a Jewish national flag. The Romans had seized control of Jerusalem and this impromptu gathering and subsequent procession throughout the city was displeasing to them. They asked Jesus to tell the people to cease rejoicing, but his reply further angered them. He was known to have said that if they stopped rejoicing and singing, the stones of the road would start singing in their place. This is an Old Testament prophecy whereby Jerusalem would know when the Messiah was coming to save its people.

Rejoicing in remembrance of this event is a blessed day in the Christian religion and is, as such, celebrated with song, blessings, and joyous reverence.

History of Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is observed on the last Sunday before Easter. It is a day celebrated by Christians as it represents the triumphant return of Jesus into Jerusalem before his subsequent betrayal by Judas Iscariot and then his crucifixion. It is considered a traditional practice to lay down garments and the branches of trees onto the street as royalty passed by. Palm fronds were believed to have been used to lain down on the streets during Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey, to represent his status as the Prince of Peace, according to the version told in the Gospel of John. It was well-known that when a king rode into a city on horse-back, his intentions were of war. But should he ride in on the back of a donkey then he was interested in keeping peace.

Jesus’ return is told in all four of the Gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And while the Gospel of John specifically references the usage of Palm branches, it is the version in the Gospel according to Matthew that is read most often during Palm Sunday services and ceremonies. It is perceived that by choosing to enter Jerusalem so ceremoniously riding on a donkey, Jesus was declaring to all that he was the King of Israel.

 

Palm branches represent victory, goodness, and triumph in ancient times. Additionally, it is referenced at the end of the bible that “people from every nation shall raise palm branches to honor Jesus.” Many churches use palm leaves, sometimes tied to represent a cross, and distribute them to worshipers during a traditional Palm Sunday ceremony.

The beginning of Holy Week is commiserated by Palm Sunday, even though some say that Holy Week begins a day prior on Lazarus Saturday – the day that Lazarus was resurrected from the dead. Palm Sunday is the official end of lent and as such a new period of fasting begins on Palm Sunday.

It is believed that the actual celebration of Palm Sunday dates back to either the third or fourth century. The celebration itself has changed over the centuries, with one version dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries where straw effigies were burned, likely to represent anger at the betrayer – Judas. Although there are those who believe that the burning of straw figures was actually supposed to represent a send-off of winter in preparation for spring.

Palm Sunday irreverently marks the start of the holiest of all weeks in the Christian religion; leading up to the resurrection of Jesus a week later on Easter Sunday.