Christians across the world are today celebrating Jesus Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Since time immemorial Christians have been celebrating this unique event on Palm Sunday. JAMES CHIMPWEYA had a chat with BISHOP VITTA MALASA of the Anglican Diocese of the Upper Shire on this Christian tradition.
What is Palm Sunday?
Palm Sunday is the day Christians celebrate the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem as foretold by prophet Zechariah. This is the beginning of the week before his death and resurrection. For many Christian churches, including Anglicans, Prebyterians, Roman Catholics and Lutherans, Palm Sunday— also referred to as “Passion Sunday”—marks the beginning of the Holy Week which concludes on Easter Sunday.
The Bible tells us that people cut branches from palm trees, laid them across Jesus’ path and waved them in the air. They greeted Jesus not as the spiritual Messiah who would take away the sins of the world, but as a potential political leader who would overthrow the Romans. As they welcome Him, they shout “Hosanna” meaning “save now”.
How did it all start?
All four Gospels include the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. The origin of Palm Sunday is biblical.
As He approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples, saying to them: “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it. ‘” (Luke 19: 29-31).
The men brought the colt to Jesus, and placed their cloaks on its back. As Jesus sat on the young donkey he slowly made his humble entrance into Jerusalem. The story unfolds as we are told, men and women took palm branches. The people greeted Jesus enthusiastically, waving palm branches and covering his path with palm branches.
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 heaven!” (Matthew 21: 9)
What is the significance of the tradition?
The shouts of “Hosanna” meant “save now,” and the palm branches symbolised goodness and victory. Interestingly, the issue of carrying palm branches is recorded in Revelation. Can we say at the end, people will wave palm branches once again to praise and honour Jesus Christ? May be!
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands”. (Revelation 7:90).
Palm Sunday, is the celebration that is observed throughout the whole world, not only in Malawi. As the people of Jerusalem threw down their cloaks on the path where Jesus rode, shows an act of homage and submission, we also do almost the same in our churches here. This is to recognise Jesus as the promised Messiah.
“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your kingcomes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).
Immediately following this great time of celebration in the ministry of Jesus, He began His journey to the cross. This is a journey to save the world. Remember that Jesus came so that the world be saved. So, by approaching the cross or by going to Jerusalem, He was accomplishing His mission.
But some Presbyterians only started observing Palm Sunday a few years ago.
If Presbyterians have started observing Palm Sunday of recent, for me it denotes that people have read the scriptures and realised the importance of such a ceremony. As already alluded to above, Palm Sunday is biblical. I see sense in doing what is scriptural. So I congratulated them for doing the word. Jesus is Lord of all. Palm Sunday is a Christian festivity. I would think all Christians ought to join such a Christian festivity as we together celebrate that Jesus is Lord, Jesus is King of the World and Heaven, Jesus is the Messiah and we can shout like the people of Jerusalem that, “Save us”. We need the mercy of God for our salvation.
Should we say the ceremony is well patronised and gaining ground?
Of course, YES in capital letters. Today, many Christian churches distribute palm branches to worshippers on this day, which is the sixth Sunday of Lent–the last Sunday before Easter. Actually, today Christians also remember Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, praise Him for the gift of salvation and look expectantly to His second coming.
Customarily Palm Sunday observances include the waving of palm branches in procession, the blessing of the palms and the making of small crosses with palm fronds. The day also marks the beginning of a solemn week focusing on the final days of Jesus’ life. The Holy Week culminates on Easter Sunday, the most important holiday in Christianity.