During Lent we have been led by the Sunday gospels on a mini-journey through Jesus’ public ministry and teaching. Beginning with his Baptism and his Transfiguration, we follow his journey; his rejection of illness as a punishment for sin, his giving the fig tree another chance to bear fruit, his preaching on forgiveness in the stories of the Prodigal Son and the adulteress woman as he moves toward Jerusalem.
The liturgical observance of the day of his arrival in Jerusalem is called Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. It is unique in that there are two gospel readings. The first gospel reading gives us the name Palm Sunday. The reading from Luke is proclaimed outside the Church which symbolizes Jerusalem. It tells of Jesus approaching Jerusalem from Bethany, across the Mount of Olives.
His entry is delayed while his Apostles go ahead to find a mount for him to ride. Matthew tells us it was a young donkey. His entry is a joyous one with onlookers hailing his arrival and placing palm branches in his path. Here we have two important symbols, the donkey which recalls the donkey upon which Solomon entered Jerusalem after his anointing to succeed David as King, and the palms, an ancient symbol of victory and triumph.
Symbolically we join in the celebration as we follow Jesus into Jerusalem carrying our palm branches as the procession enters the church. Immediately the tenor changes with a passage from Isaiah reflecting Jesus’ determination to accept his fate. “I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.” We are then reminded of what is to come by the 22nd Psalm, which Jesus will utter from the cross. “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?”
Finally, we are told of the events that are to occur. The Passion is read, Luke’s story of the suffering and death of the Lord which gives this Sunday its other designation, Passion Sunday.
So, through our participating in the symbol and ritual we join with the Lord as he prepares to enter into his final hours before his betrayal and death.