By Fr Carlos Luis, SAC
So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!” (John 12:13)
The arrest of Jesus Christ had been premeditated for a very long time. Perhaps, from the time Jesus was winning hearts by carrying out His ministry. So, the conspiracy was building up and we have sources telling us that there have been at least seven examples of Jesus being plotted against.
Not just that, there had been two efforts at arrest and three assassination attempts before the formal decision to arrest Jesus.
So, many in Jerusalem wondered whether Jesus would dare appear in Jerusalem for the Passover and the discussion came to an end when Jesus ceremoniously entered Jerusalem (on Palm Sunday).
HOW IT BEGAN
With Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, a sacred time for Christians. It is also a reminder of Jesus’ solemn entry into Jerusalem to accomplish a very important mission. Jesus was victoriously welcomed by the people, who waved palm leaves upon his entry.
Perhaps, they weren't aware of the fate of Jesus, but He was very clear that he would be tried, crucified, buried and then rise again to save us from our sins.
Palm Sunday is associated with the ritual of the blessing and Procession of Palms. As per the travelogue, The Pilgrimage of Etheria, the ceremony of the blessing of the palms began at the end of the 4th century Jerusalem.
Then, in the Middle Ages, the ceremony became elaborate – the procession began in one church and proceeded to another church (where the palms were blessed) and then returned to the church where the procession began, and sang the liturgy.
The main feature of the liturgy was the chanting of the Passion of Christ by three deacons. Today, we have a simplified version of the liturgy, which emphasises just the suffering and death of Christ. Therefore, Palm Sunday is also called Passion Sunday.
WHAT SCRIPTURE SAYS
Scripture predicted this majestic entry of Jesus, in the book of Zechariah 9:9 which mentions, “Exult greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! Behold: your king is coming to you, a just saviour is he, humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Christ came riding on a donkey, meaning to say that He is coming in peace and not chaos. He came as the Prince of Peace in search of the lost sheep in order to save them and is the only sacrificial lamb who would atone for sins.
Through this grand gesture, He also illustrated that He is a different kind of a Messiah, not a political one, but a gentle and humble one.
Certain things tell us that Christ is the king that people believed in, which explains their profound gestures towards Him. The people did not just cut palms to welcome Jesus, but spread their cloaks on the road, thus preparing a magnificent entry for Jesus that no one had ever received before.
Spreading the cloaks onto the road also meant their act of homage and submission to their king. It looked as though the people were already celebrating Jesus’ victory on the cross, a victory over death.
That’s why St Paul writes, inspired by this enduring sacrifice of Christ, in his Letter to the Corinthians, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
THE PALM SUNDAY STORY
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, He was greeted by a word that the people shouted, “Hosanna!” apart from honouring Jesus as king they were requesting Jesus to save them immediately.
Hosanna comes from two significant Hebrew words, Yasha which means ‘to save or to deliver’ and Anna which means ‘I beseech you, please,’ which when combined could mean “Please, save us.”
Although the people might have considered Jesus an earthly king, they knew for sure that he would certainly save them. But, God had a different way of unfolding His plan of salvation. Jesus knew that these same people who had been joyfully welcoming him, would soon deny, betray, and crucify him.
Scripture notes that Jesus wept after looking at Jerusalem, foreseeing their reality and thinking of how much they needed a saviour to protect and bring them salvation once and for all.
As humans, we always want or look for a saviour who will protect us from harm. For this reason, superhero movies keep trending and become the topic of our discussion.
We discuss the powers that the superhero possesses which he or she uses to assist the world become a better place to live in. But, here is a superhero who came to earth with the only purpose ie to die for our sins and thus, after having walked the path of Calvary, he was crucified.
He died and God the father raised him up on the third day. Thus, he became victorious over death and because of His ultimate sacrifice, we too can be set free from the clutches of sin.
Palm Sunday is, therefore, a celebration of this complete Paschal Mystery teaching us sacrifice, solidarity and commitment through Jesus Christ.
Just as Palm Sunday is an important part of the Catholic world worldwide, so too it is in Goa, with special masses being held all over Goa on this day.
This year, Palm Sunday will be celebrated on April 2, 2023 in all parishes of Goa.
(Carlos Luis is a priest belonging to the Society of the Catholic
Apostolate (Pallottine) and is currently the mission secretary of the
ABVM Province, Bangalore. He comments on literature and films that