Palm Sunday is the final Sunday in the Lenten season, signifying the beginning of Holy Week. Holy Week is the week leading up to Easter and is held in remembrance of Jesus’ time in Jerusalem before he died and, according to Christianity, was resurrected.
Palms were a symbol of royalty and nobility in Jesus’ day. Those welcoming him to Jerusalem expected a messiah who might overthrow the Romans. The palm is a symbol of the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem just before his crucifixion, as crowds waved palm branches, sang ”Hosannah,” and covered his path with the branches.
“The official name is Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday,” said Father Stephen Brehe, assisting priest at Grace Church and retired dean of St. Peter’s Episcopal Cathedral in Helena, Montana.
During the Grace Church celebration, the beginning of the service is focused on Palm Sunday and the symbolic way in which Jesus entered the city on the back of a donkey, an image which, at that time, was a custom of a king returning from a successful battle. The second part of the service delves into the passion of Christ.
“We’ll read the passion according to St. Mark about Gethsemane, the arrest, the trial, the torture, the crucifixion and the burial,” Brehe said. “That’s very somber.”
For Brehe, the movement from joy to sorrow is a natural transition that many people feel at certain times in their lives.
“It’s a human event to have a spiritual (and) emotional whiplash, and that’s what really happened,” Brehe said.
“To avoid all that suffering is to avoid one of the most significant parts of his life,” Brehe said. “We need to go through these things, not around them.”
Do you do anything special?
Christian churches across the country will incorporate palm branches into their services on Palm Sunday. Many hand out palm branches that have been blessed by the priest to the congregation, who will then make them into crosses. The branch is meant to serve as a reminder of the Christ’s victory over death.
Catholic churches also often have processions using the palms. A priest will walk towards the church, while the congregation places palms before him.
The palms have all been blessed by the priest, so they are therefore holy. With that status, you don’t simply throw them away. The palms are held till the next year, where they are burned to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday.