MARCH 24 (7 days before Easter) - PALM SUNDAY

MARCH 24, 2013* - Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is a Christian moveable feast which always falls on the Sunday before Easter Sunday. The feast commemorates an event mentioned by all four Canonical Gospels Mark 11:1-11, Matthew 21:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19: the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in the days before his Passion. It is also called Passion Sunday or Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion.

In many Christian churches, Palm Sunday is marked by the distribution of palm leaves (often tied into crosses) to the assembled worshipers. The difficulty of procuring palms for that day's ceremonies in unfavorable climates for palms led to the substitution of boughs of box, yew, willow or other native trees. The Sunday was often designated by the names of these trees, as Yew Sunday or by the general term Branch Sunday.

According to the Gospels, before entering Jerusalem, Jesus was staying at Bethany and Bethphage, and the Gospel of John adds that he had dinner with Lazarus, and his sisters Mary and Martha. While there, Jesus sent two disciples to the village over against them, in order to retrieve a donkey that had been tied up but never been ridden, and to say, if questioned, that the donkey was needed by the Lord but would be returned. Jesus then rode the donkey into Jerusalem, with the Synoptics adding that the disciples had first put their cloaks on it, so as to make it more comfortable. The Gospels go on to recount how Jesus rode into Jerusalem, and how the people there lay down their cloaks in front of him, and also lay down small branches of trees. The people sang part of Psalm 118 - ...Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father, David. ... (Psalms 118:25-26). Where this entry is supposed to have taken place is unspecified; some scholars argue that the Golden Gate is the likely location, since that was where it was believed the Jewish messiah would enter Jerusalem; other scholars think that an entrance to the south, which had stairs leading directly to the Temple, would be more likely (Kilgallen 210). According to Jewish tradition the one who is able to bridle and ride a colt (or donkey) has a status of Messiah.
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Christians often interpret a passage from Zechariah as a prophecy which was fulfilled by the Triumphal Entry:

    Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
    Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
    See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and having salvation,
    gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
    I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
    and the war-horses from Jerusalem,
    and the battle bow will be broken.
    He will proclaim peace to the nations.
    His rule will extend from sea to sea
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.

    —Zechariah 9:9-10

quotes this passage from Zechariah when narrating the story of Jesus' entry to Jerusalem. His interpreting of the repetition in the Hebrew poetry as describing two different donkeys: gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey, is offered by some Biblical scholars as a reason for Matthew's unique description of Jesus riding both a donkey and its foal. However, there is an alternate explanation. The full text in Matthew regarding this issue is as follows:

(Matt 21:1-7 KJV)

A widespread Jewish belief states that the Mount of Olives would see the coming of the Messiah (see Josephus, Flavius, Bellum Judaicum, 11,13,5 and Antiquitates Judaicae, XX,8,6). This belief is based upon Zechariah 14:3-4:

    Then shall the Lord go forth and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle./ And his feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east [...]

The triumphal entry and the palm branches, recall the celebration of Jewish liberation in 1 Maccabees 13:51:

On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred and seventy-first year, the Jews [led by Simon Maccabeus] entered it [the fortress of Jerusalem] with praise and palm branches and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.

The great enemy in Jesus days on earth was the Roman army; and one can imagine that many Jews saw the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem as the advent of a revengeful Messiah who will wipe out the Romans from Holy Land.

But, then, there is the problem of the donkey. The Babylonian Talmud preserves a question asked by the Persian king Shevor: Why doesn't your Messiah come riding on a horse? If he lacks one, I'll be glad to provide him with one of my best! (Sanhedrin 98a). Indeed, why should the Messiah come on a donkey? The answer stays in the symbolism of the donkey, which in some Eastern traditions seems to be seen as an animal of peace, versus the horse, which is the animal of war. Therefore, it was said that a king came riding upon a horse when he was bent on war and rode upon a donkey when he wanted to point out that he was coming in peace. Thus, the king riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey complies with the epithet gentle or lowly (Hebrew anî - poor, afflicted) and strongly implies the message of peace. This message of peace was always fundamental with Jesus, but it is not clear how well understood was it in those days. In fact, John declares: These things understood not His disciples at the first (12:16). It is highly probable that the public enthusiasm of the day saw the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem more like a declaration of war against Israel's enemies than a message of peace.

In the book Sanhedrin from the Babylonian Gemara it is written that the Messiah will appear as a poor man on a donkey only if the Jews are not found deserving of the salvation. Otherwise, the Messiah will ride on a horse. Since all humans are sinners, including Jews, it is obvious that the Messiah will always ride on a donkey. However, this is a Christian belief and not supported in Judaism (Jews, for example, do not believe in original sin).

Day of week

On the tenth of Nisan, according to the Mosaic Law, the lambs to be slaughtered at Passover were chosen. Because of the link of this to the Triumphal Entry, some new interpretations report that the event was not even on Sunday, because Nisan 10 would not be a Sunday if the Crucifixion occurred on Friday the fourteenth. This day in the year of the Passion saw Messiah presented as the sacrificial Lamb. It heralded his impending role as the Suffering Servant of Israel (Isaiah 53, Zechariah 12:10).

The first day of any Old Testament feast was always considered a Sabbath regardless of what day it fell on. The Feast of Unleavened Bread always begins on Nisan the 15th. Passover was celebrated the Evening before. If Nisan the 15th was a Saturday, then Preparation Day (Matthew 27:62) was Friday the 14th, or Good Friday. In any event, that would mean that the events of Palm Sunday actually occurred on Monday, being five days before (John 12:1-12).

If Nisan the 15th was a Friday, however, then Jesus was actually crucified on Thursday, Preparation Day, with Friday being a special Sabbath, a high holy day (John 19:31), and the events of Palm Sunday would be Nisan the 10th, late in the day, (Mark 11:11). Thus the days later that week would be Thursday, Preparation Day, Friday a special Sabbath followed by Saturday a regular Sabbath.

So if there is a relationship between the triumphal entry and the selection of the Pascal lamb on the tenth either Jesus was crucified on Thursday or the events of Palm Sunday happened on Monday. One final option is that Jesus was crucified on Friday the 15th of Nisan. See the article on the Chronology of Jesus for more details.

Traditions

It is customary in many churches for the worshippers to receive fresh palm leaves on Palm Sunday. In parts of the world where this has historically been impractical substitute traditions have arisen.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


*Palm Sunday is celebrated on the Sunday before Good Friday and Easter Sunday:
          2013 – March 24
          2014 – April 13