Happy Palm Sunday…A Little History for You
“Palm Sunday is a Christian moveable feast that always falls on the Sunday before Easter Sunday. The feast commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned by all four Canonical Gospels (Mark 11:1-11, Matthew 21:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19). In many Christian churches, Palm Sunday is marked by the distribution of palm leaves (often tied into crosses) to the assembled worshipers. The difficulty of procuring palms for that day’s ceremonies in unfavorable climates for palms led to the substitution of boughs of box, yew, willow or other native trees. The Sunday was often designated by the names of these trees, as Yew Sunday or by the general term Branch Sunday…..
Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, early 1900’s Bible card illustration. Traditionally, entering the city on a donkey symbolizes arrival in peace, rather than as a war waging king arriving on a horse.
Dates for Palm Sunday, 2009–2020 Year Western Eastern
2009 April 5 April 12
2010 March 28
2011 April 17
2012 April 1 April 8
2013 March 24 April 28
2014 April 13
2015 March 29 April 5
2016 March 20 April 24
2017 April 9
2018 March 25 April 1
2019 April 14 April 21
2020 April 5 April 12
In the accounts of the four canonical Gospels, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem takes place about a week before his Resurrection. Triumphal entry into Jerusalem, fresco in the Parish Church Zirl, Austria.
According to the Gospels Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem, and the celebrating people there lay down their cloaks in front of him, and also lay down small branches of trees. The people sang part of Psalms 118: 25-26 – … Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord ….
The symbolism of the donkey may refer to the Eastern tradition that it is an animal of peace, versus the horse, which is the animal of war. Therefore, a king came riding upon a horse when he was bent on war and rode upon a donkey when he wanted to point out that he was coming in peace. Therefore Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem symbolized his entry as the Prince of Peace, not as a war waging king.
In many lands in the ancient Near East it was the custom to cover in some way the path of someone thought worthy of the highest honour. The Hebrew Bible (2Kings 9:13) reports that Jehu, son of Jehoshaphat, was treated this way. Both the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John report that people gave Jesus this form of honour. However, in the synoptics they are only reported as laying their garments and cut rushes on the street, whereas John more specifically mentions palm fronds. The palm branch was a symbol of triumph and victory in Jewish tradition, and is treated in other parts of the Bible as such (e.g., Leviticus 23:40 and Revelation 7:9). Because of this, the scene of the crowd greeting Jesus by waving palms and carpeting his path with them has become symbolic and important.
In the 16th and 17th century Palm Sunday was marked by the burning of a Jack-‘o’-Lent figure. This was a straw effigy which would be stoned and abused. Its burning on Palm Sunday was often supposed to be a kind of revenge on Judas Iscariot who had betrayed Christ. It could also have represented the hated figure of Winter whose destruction prepares the way for Spring.
On Palm Sunday, in the Roman Catholic Church, as well as many Anglican and Lutheran churches, palm fronds (or in colder climates some kind of substitutes) are blessed with an aspergilium outside the church building (or in cold climates in the narthex when Easter falls early in the year). A procession also takes place. It may include the normal liturgical procession of clergy and acolytes, the parish choir, the children of the parish or indeed the entire congregation as in the churches of the East.
In many Protestant churches, children are given palms, and then walk in procession around the inside of the church while the adults remain seated.
The palms are saved in many churches to be burned the following year as the source of ashes used in Ash Wednesday services. The Roman Catholic Church considers the palms to be sacramentals. The vestments for the day are deep scarlet red, the color of blood, indicating the supreme redemptive sacrifice Christ was entering the city to fulfill: his Passion and Resurrection in Jerusalem.
In the Episcopal and many other Anglican churches and in Lutheran churches as well, the day is nowadays officially called The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday; however, in practice it is usually termed “Palm Sunday” as in the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer and in earlier Lutheran liturgies and calendars, by way of avoiding undue confusing with the penultimate Sunday of Lent in the traditional calendar, which was “Passion Sunday”.
In the Church of Pakistan (a member of the Anglican Communion), on Palm Sunday the faithful carry palm branches into the church, as they sing Psalm 24.
The congregation in an Oriental Orthodox church in India collects palm fronds for the Palm Sunday procession (the men of the congregation on the left of the sanctuary in the photo; the women of the congregation are collecting their fronds on the right of the sanctuary, outside the photo.
In the Orthodox Church Palm Sunday is often called the “Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem”, it is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the liturgical year, and is the beginning of Holy Week. The day before is known as Lazarus Saturday, and commemorates the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead. Unlike the West, Palm Sunday is not considered to be a part of Lent, the Eastern Orthodox Great Fast ends on the Friday before. Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday and Holy Week are considered to be a separate fasting period. On Lazarus Saturday, believers often prepare palm fronds by knotting them into crosses in preparation for the procession on Sunday. The hangings and vestments in the church are changed to a festive color—in the Slavic tradition this is often green.
The Troparion of the Feast indicates that the resurrection of Lazarus is a prefiguration of Jesus’ own Resurrection:
O Christ our God
When Thou didst raise Lazarus from the dead before Thy Passion,
Thou didst confirm the resurrection of the universe.
Wherefore, we like children,
carry the banner of triumph and victory,
and we cry to Thee, O Conqueror of Death,
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is He that cometh
in the Name of the Lord.
Palm Sunday Procession, Moscow, with Tsar Alexei Michaelovich (painting by Vyacheslav Gregorievich Schwarz, 1865).
In the Russian Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Catholic Church, and Ruthenian Catholic Church, the custom developed of using pussy willow instead of palm fronds because the latter are not readily available that far north. There is no canonical requirement as to what kind of branches must be used, so some Orthodox believers use olive branches. Whatever the kind, these branches are blessed and distributed together with candles either during the All-Night Vigil on the Eve of the Feast (Saturday night), or before the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. The Great Entrance of the Divine Liturgy commemorates the “Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem”, and so the meaningfulness of this moment is punctuated on Palm Sunday as everyone stands holding their branches and lit candles. The faithful take these branches and candles home with them after the service, and keep them in their icon corner as an evloghia (blesing).
In Russia donkey walk processions took place in different cities, but most important in Novgorod and, since 1558 until 1693, in Moscow. It was prominently featured in testimonies by foreign witnesses and mentioned in contemporary Western maps of the city. The Patriarch of Moscow, representing Christ, rode on a “donkey” (actually a horse draped in white cloth); the Tsar of Russia humbly led the procession on foot. Originally Moscow processions began inside the Kremlin and terminated at Trinity Church, now known as Saint Basil’s Cathedral, but in 1658 Patriarch Nikon reversed the order of procession. Peter I, as a part of his nationalisation of the church, terminated the custom; it has been occasionally recreated in the 21st century.
In Oriental Orthodox churches palm fronds are distributed at the front of the church at the sanctuary steps, in India the sanctuary itself having been strewn with marigolds, and the congregation processes through and outside the church.
It is customary in many churches for the worshippers to receive fresh palm leaves on Palm Sunday. In parts of the world where this has historically been impractical substitute traditions have arisen.”
info from wikipedia