Von Trapp Follow-Along: As stated in the previous blog post, Maria discusses Passiontide at some length in her book under “Passiontide.” She also writes extensively about Palm Sunday specifically.
Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, during which we commemorate the last week of Jesus’ life on earth. Palm Sunday itself commemorates Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.
The symbol of Palm Sunday is, obviously, a palm branch. Traditionally, the palm branch is a symbol of joy and victory—in this case, it symbolizes victory over the flesh and the world or, more specifically, Christ’s coming victory over sin and death.
As discussed previously, Palm Sunday is the second Sunday of Passiontide, the last Sunday before Easter Sunday. It may occur as early as 15 March or as late as 18 April. This year, Palm Sunday falls on 29 March.
Palm Sunday is sometimes unofficially (in some places, officially) referred to as “Passion Sunday.” Prior to the 1969 Catholic reforms, the term “Passion Sunday” was only applied to the first Sunday of Passiontide in Catholic and non-Catholic churches. In this and all other posts on the topic, when I talk about “Passion Sunday,” I am referring to the first Sunday of Passiontide, and when I talk about “Palm Sunday,” I am referring to the second Sunday of Passiontide.
Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem is recorded in Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19. In brief, the story is that Jesus came to Jerusalem before the Sabbath and sent His disciples into the city to obtain a donkey colt. Then, in fulfillment of prophecy, He rode the donkey into Jerusalem while the crowd threw their garments and palm branches on the ground before Him and waved palm branches, crying “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is He (or, the King of Israel) Who comes in the Name of the Lord!”
As discussed in a previous post, the Bible tells us that Jesus traveled to Bethany six days before His death and stayed with His friends there (Lazarus, Mary, and Martha), and that He traveled from Bethany to Jerusalem the following day (John 12:1, 12-15). As discussed in a previous post, Jesus died on a Wednesday afternoon, so that means He traveled to Bethany on Thursday and made His Triumphal Entry on the back of a donkey on Friday (in the evening of which, Sabbath would have begun). Therefore, celebrating His Triumphal Entry as having occurred on a Sunday is inaccurate, but probably not important from a theological perspective since, as I will discuss in a future blog post, it matters more that we obey God in faith (Romans 4:1-22, Galatians 3:6-9) than that we commemorate something on the exact day on which it may have occurred, especially given that there is no Scriptural command to observe Palm Sunday.
As discussed previously, Passiontide has been observed since the 200s AD, but the first recorded case of Palm Sunday being openly observed was after Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which reversed the declaration of Christianity as illegal, in 313 AD. The Christians in Jerusalem stood on the spot where the Triumphal Entry had occurred and read Zechariah 9:9 (“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion: shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.”), then re-enacted the Triumphal Entry. They spread their garments on the ground, crying “Blessed be the King Who cometh in the Name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38; also Psalm 118:26) (Coincidentally, the crowd also cried “Hosanna” [Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9-10; John 12:13], which means “save now,” and is also found in Psalm 118, in verse 25.) The bishop, mounted on a donkey, rode up to the church on the Mount of Olives while the crowd surrounded him, carrying palms and singing hymns and joyful anthems. This practice spread to the Church at Rome, where the ceremony was preceded by a reading from the Bible describing the flight into Egypt because of Herod’s edict. This they did to remind “Christ’s people that Christ, the new Moses, in giving them the real manna, is delivering them out of the Egypt of sin and nourishing them in the Eucharist.” (per Maria Von Trapp)
We don’t know exactly when Christians began to annually observe Palm Sunday, only that it was observed at least sporadically since the 300s AD and that Christians began to observe it annually sometime between 600 and 1000 AD. In the 800s AD, the Church began to bless the palm branches prior to the Palm Sunday procession. In medieval times, the people met at a chapel or shrine outside of town, the bishop blessed the palms, and then the bishop and the people began their procession to the cathedral, often with the bishop riding on a donkey, with a crucifix carried ahead of them, or with the king carrying the Blessed Sacrament. Blessed palm leaves (or pussy willow, evergreen, olive, box elder, spruce, etc., depending on the area) are brought home and placed in every field or yard of the home, and sometimes in various places within the home (for example, Maria Von Trapp describes putting sprigs behind the pictures on the wall); this is thought to protect the property against evil spirits and damage from weather events. They may also be buried to preserve crops or used to decorate graves. Other blessed palm leaves are burned and their ashes preserved for the following year’s Ash Wednesday.
In some churches today, Palm Sunday has two foci: the Lord’s Triumphal Entry, and the Lord’s Passion. His Passion is also specifically observed later in Holy Week, regardless of whether it is observed on Palm Sunday. (Of course, this is only true if the church has services on those days.)
Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week. Next, I will publish a post about all of Holy Week minus the Easter Triduum. The Easter Triduum, which begins the evening of Maundy Thursday and ends the evening of Easter Sunday, deserves special attention and a blog post of its own. Easter Sunday will also have its own blog post.
There are many traditional practices for this day.
- Readings. The readings for today are:
- Isaiah 50:4-9a
- Psalm 31:9-16
- Philippians 2:5-11
- Mark 14:1-15:47
- Procession. Take part in a Palm Sunday procession, either in a church or in your own home or small group.
- Décor. Save the palm branches and place them around your house.
- Palm Branches. Traditionally, palm branches were placed or buried in all of the fields or yards of the home, and sprigs were often placed in various rooms of the house. This was thought to ward off evil spirits and protect from weather damage. Regardless of whether you believe in that, it might be fun and harmless to place the palm branches accordingly.
KNIT AND CROCHET ACTIVITIES
For today, we will craft palm branches.
- Knitting Patterns. “Palm Tree” by Sunshine Knit Designs (here)
- Crochet Patterns. “Palm Tree” by Amanda B (here) OR “Palm tree smoothie hat” by beffdizzle (here)