What is Palm Sunday?
In Christianity, Palm Sunday is the sixth Sunday of Lent (i.e. the 40-day period before Easter) and the last Sunday before Easter, the sacred Christian holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Palm Sunday is also known as Passion Sunday, Willow Sunday, and Flower Sunday.
Palm Sunday church services are often characterized by the use of palm branches, which are paraded down sanctuary aisles (see picture to the right) and waved, as reminders of an important event in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ - when he entered Jerusalem as king, riding on a donkey, less than a week before he was crucified.
Nearly al Christian denominations observe Palm Sunday.
The Meaning and History of Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, where he would be crucified five days later. According to the Gospels, Jesus rode into town on a donkey as exuberant crowds hailed him as the Messiah and spread out palm branches and cloaks in his path.
The event commemorated on Palm Sunday is told in all four gospels (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, John 12). The Matthew narrative, the one most commonly read in services on Palm Sunday, tells the story this way:
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away... The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, "Who is this?" the crowds answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galillee." (Matthew 21:1-3, 6-11) The celebration of Palm Sunday probably originated in the churches of Jerusalem, sometime before the third or fourth century AD.
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, an especially solemn and important week in the Christian calendar that focuses on the last days of Jesus' life and anticipates Easter, the most important holiday in Christianity.
Common Palm Sunday observances include processions with palm branches, the blessing of palms (which will be burned and used on Ash Wednesday), and the construction of small palm crosses. Bible readings for the "Liturgy of the Palms" usually include Matthew 21:1-11 and Psalm 118:19-29.
- - Francis Mershman, "Palm Sunday." Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. XI (1911). <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11432b.htm>
- "Palm Sunday According to the Byzantine Rite Tradition." Byzantines.Net. Accessed March 2005. <http://www.byzantines.net/feasts/lent/palmsunday.htm>
- Palm Sunday Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer – The (Anglican) Lectionary Page