Palm Sunday - Year B
Why Palm Branches?
In the ancient Middle East kings could enter a city in two ways. Horses were used for war, so if the king road on a horse, it usually meant trouble. If they came in peace, they would ride a donkey, a humble act. Jesus was sending two clear messages to the people of Jerusalem. The first was that he is a king, the second message is that his intentions were peaceful. The point was not lost on the religious leaders.
Jesus came down the Mount of Olives into the Kidron valley, to the east of the temple. It is a very steep descent. The road was a dirt path. The spring rains made the passage slippery. The people hailing Jesus placed branches and clothing on the road so that the footing was safe. John is the only gospel that mentions that the branches were from palm trees. Matthew and Mark only refer to "branches". Luke leaves out the branches entirely and simply says that the people put their clothes on the road.
In medieval Europe, people used willow and other branches to celebrate this day, rather than palms which were rare. Some people braid three or more strips of palm to make crosses or crowns of thorns. Next year we will burn the palms to make ashes for Ash Wednesday.
WHY DO WE READ THE PASSION TWICE?
This Sunday we will read the story of the Last Supper and Good Friday. We will also hear these stories on Thursday and Friday. Why do we repeat them? The reason is that for many people, Holy Week only lasts 60 minutes. There are beautiful ceremonies this week that help us relive the events that saved us and bring us eternal life. Unfortunately, some people do not share these important experiences. The Church has to present a condensed version of Holy Week for them. So we cram it all in on Palm Sunday, almost ignoring what Palm Sunday is all about: Jesus' entry into Jerusalem.
This is one week in which we should not short-change God. He has given his life for us, so that we can live forever. We should observe this as a different kind of week, a truly HOLY week. We should participate in all of the reenactments of Jesus' last days before his death. If we spend time with him now, we can be certain that he will be there when we need him. Don't settle for a Reader's Digest version of Holy Week. For just this week, let's give God the unabridged version.
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