Palm Sunday

This post is the one in a series of articles on the Seasons, Sundays, and Feast Days that make up the Church’s liturgical calendar.  Feast Days are those days set aside by the Church to celebrate and commemorate martyrs, Christians of the past, events from the life of Christ, and other Biblical stories. Join us as we journey through the celebrations of the ancient Church.

At Redemption City Church, we plan our liturgy, preaching, and church life around the traditional Church calendar (also known as the Liturgical Calendar). We believe this is useful and healthy for a Christ-centered church and followers of Christ. In highlighting the traditional Feast Days as well, we do so in order to boast in Christ, and in Christ alone. These stories are centered on Him and we rejoice in celebrating His mighty wonders and deeds. 

You can find out more about the church calendar and why we follow it as a church in our previous article. 

Scripture Reading: Matthew 21:1-11; Zechariah 9:9-12

Additional Scriptures to be considered: Psalm 118:19-29; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19; 1 Kings 1:28-40

What is Palm Sunday?

Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of Holy Week (the Church’s commemoration of Christ’s trials, crucifixion, and resurrection), is a feast day observed by the Church on the Sunday before Good Friday.  On Palm Sunday, we celebrate Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  This event from the life of Christ is featured in all four gospels (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19).  

According to the gospel accounts, the way in which Christ enters Jerusalem is intentional and also quite unexpected.  The Jewish people had hoped for deliverance from Rome, but Jesus, Israel’s messiah, doesn’t arrive in a chariot like a victorious military commander; he rides into the city on the back of a donkey.  Through this intentional act of humility, Jesus reveals that his kingdom is unlike the government that the Jewish people yearned for (John 18:36).  He is a king, to be sure, but as the people, who shout, “Hosanna!”, will learn in a few days, he is a suffering and dying king, a king who is victorious through his own death, a king who liberates his people by way of crucifixion, “Palm Sunday summons us to behold our king - the Suffering Servant, the vanquisher of death and the giver of life. We cannot understand Jesus' kingship apart from the Passion.” 

On Palm Sunday, the Church shouts with the crowds, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”, with the knowledge that on Good Friday we will shamefully cry with the mob, “Crucify him!”.  Both the cry of praise on Palm Sunday and the cry of condemnation on Good Friday anticipate the exclamation of Easter morning, “He is risen!”, and the wondrous gospel message of Romans 5:6-11, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” 

History

Church historians believe that the Palm Sunday celebration began in Jerusalem sometime between the Third and Fourth-century, A.D. A pilgrimage text (Peregrinatio Sylviæ) from the late Third-century describes the Palm Sunday service in this way, “The passage from the Gospel relating how the children carrying branches and Palms met the Lord, saying, ‘Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord,’ is read. At these words, all went back to the city, repeating, ‘Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.’ All the children bore branches of palm or olive.”  While it was customary for churches in the Mediterranean region to reenact the “Triumphal Entry” by waving palm and olive branches on Palm Sunday, churches located in less temperate parts of the world used branches from willow, elder, and spruce trees in their Palm Sunday service.

Prayers

O Lord Christ,
as you once entered Jerusalem,
enter our hearts this day afresh.
As you once set your face toward death on a cross,
help us this day to walk with you to victory.
As the children once cried “Hosanna” to bless you,
enable us to confess you openly as Lord and Savior.
Grant us your presence by the power of your Spirit,
that our worship and our lives may truly honor you. Amen.

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God of all,
you gave your only Son to take the form of a servant
and to be obedient even to death on a cross.
Give us the same mind of Christ Jesus
so that, sharing in his humility,
we may come to be with him in his glory,
our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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God, whose gracious love for us embraced that long and lonely journey to the cross, gather us close to you in these days when again we make that journey in meditation and recollection.

Help us to contemplate again the way taken by our Savior: the false charges against him, the fear and flight of the disciples, the kiss of betrayal, the crown of thorns, the purple robe—and in such contemplation give us courage to face those times in our own lives when he received the same at our hands. Yet help us also remember that you have gone before us, so we look to you for compassion and forgiveness, knowing you are able to save.

When we are weak, make us strong; when hurt and resentful, make us forgiving; when defeated and discouraged, make us hopeful. Keep us from asking for mercy without giving it ourselves, from praying for your kingdom but never working for it.

In this week, deepen our faith by your matchless grace. Deepen the measure of our gratitude and Christian obedience. Move us, who have so much, to share with others who have so little. Uphold us when we summon our courage to speak out for the alien and stranger within our gates and for those long denied dignity and freedom.

Guard and guide us through these days of meditation and remembrance. Guard and guide us through all our days until we come at last to that day when all our days and journeys will be gathered into your eternity, and we shall be with you forever. Glory be to you, O God. Amen.

Liturgical Readings

“Almighty and ever living God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” (RCL Year A)

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“As by baptism we were buried with Thee, O Christ our God, so by Thy Resurrection we were deemed worthy of immortal life; and praising Thee, we cry: Hosanna in the highest; blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.” (RCL Year A)

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“Sitting on Your throne in heaven, carried on a foal on earth, O Christ God. Accept the praise of angels and songs of children who sing: Blessed is He that comes to recall Adam.” (RCL Year A)

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This post was written by one of our Covenant Partners, Jerry Warner. We are grateful for the work and writing that went in to this.