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Faith & Wisdom

Palm Sunday: Meaning, Story In The Bible, and Its Importance For Christians

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Palm Sunday is a special holiday in the Christian calendar, focusing on the events surrounding Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as described in all four of the canonical gospels.

They write of how Christ rode a donkey into town to a crowd of admirers, who laid palm branches out before him in honor of his arrival. 

Today, Christians of a range of denominations mark the date with processions, hymns, and feasts. 

Palm Sunday also marks the beginning of Holy Week (also the last week of Lent), falling on the Sunday before Easter.

How was Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem described in the Bible, and what is the significance of the events that surrounded it? We’re taking a closer look at the scripture to find out.

What is Palm Sunday?

Palm Sunday (also called 'Passion Sunday') is a Christian holiday designed to commemorate Jesus Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Taking place two days before the last supper, Palm Sunday is a very important holiday in Christianity, as it marks the beginning of ‘Passion’ — the final events of Jesus’s life, including his death and resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem was preceded by him raising Lazarus from the dead, causing a large crowd to believe in his claim as the Messiah. 

Jesus then sent two disciples to obtain a donkey that he then rode into town.

As he descended from the Mount of Olives, the crowds that had gathered for a feast laid down their clothes as well as palm leaves from palm trees, welcoming him to Jerusalem with royal enthusiasm.

As he rode, the admiring crowd shouted various words of praise, including “Hosanna!” (Hebrew for ‘save us’) and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the lord!” 

Adding to its significance, this event was also prophesied in Zechariah 9:9 in the Old Testament: "See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey."

The use of a donkey wasn’t incidental, as donkeys were symbolic of peace and humility, as opposed to the large horses that kings and soldiers would ride into town on. 

Palm Sunday is a day marked to celebrate these events and Jesus’ Passion.  

Christian denominations, including the Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, and Reformed traditions, typically offer palm branches to attending Churchgoers before delivering their Palm Sunday liturgies. 

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Palm Sunday in the Bible

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As mentioned, the events that inspired Palm Sunday were described in all four canonical gospels, with only slight differences in the accounts. 

Mark 11:1-3 describes Jesus’ request for a donkey, displaying his purposeful use of the animal:

“As they came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.’”

Then, John 12:12-13 provides us with an overview of the entry of Jesus:

“The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Blessed is the king of Israel!’”

‘The crowd’ John refers to formed as a result of Christ’s miraculous healing of blind men. Amazed by what they witnessed and realizing that he could perform miracles, they began following Jesus and his disciples after they departed Jericho.

Luke 19:28-44 gives us a crucial detail regarding Jesus’ thoughts and emotions about what was to come:

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace — but now it is hidden from your eyes.’”

Jesus understood what he faced in the coming days — but he chose to proceed nonetheless.

Finally, Matthew 21:1-11 describes the crowd’s ultimate opinion of who Jesus was:

“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 Galilee.’”

Why is Palm Sunday important?

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Palm Sunday signals the beginning of the Holy Week. 

It is when we remember and celebrate the day Jesus entered Jerusalem as savior and king. 

His solemn mood and lowly method of transportation are poignant considering his knowledge of the suffering he was about to endure, and it offers a stark contrast to the happy and celebratory mood of the crowd. 

Properly marking the occasion with a holiday is one of the many ways that Christian churches can honor our Lord’s memory and sacrifices. By celebrating Palm Sunday, we are able to better know and love him.

Palm Sunday customs and traditions

There are many different traditional ways to celebrate Palm Sunday that vary by country and denomination. 

Some examples include:

  • Carrying palms in a procession around the inside of the church
  • Carrying palm branches into the church while singing Psalms 24 (Protestant)
  • Blessing palm fronds (or in colder climates a substitute) with holy water (Roman Catholic Church, Anglican, and Lutheran)
  • Feasts followed by Mass and procession (Episcopal Church)
  • ​​Distributing palm fronds at the sanctuary steps of the church (Oriental Orthodox)
  • Lenten devotionals
  • The ritual burning of palm branches (to be later used as ash on Ash Wednesday)

Blessing of the palms

While the violence and drama of the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus often get the most attention and intrigue in the Church, Palm Sunday is of equal importance. 

It is the first in a chain of events that led to the most foundational moment in all of Christianity. 

Today, we commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem by mimicking the procession he received, finally acknowledged as who he truly is — a savior and king of kings. 

To always stay connected to God’s word and the power of the Holy Spirit, download the app in the iOS App Store or on Google Play.

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