Thursday, March 29, 2012

Palm Sunday

As great as this week's news has been, a thousand years from now who will remember the Pope’s visit to Cuba? Not likely. Every year for almost 2,000 years we have remembered and celebrated Jesus’ last visit to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. All around the world today people in churches are celebrating Christ riding in, like a conquering king, on the back of a donkey, to the shouts of hosannas and the waving of palms. Why is this event so important that it is recorded in all four Gospels?

We find an answer to that question about the significance and importance of Palm Sunday by noting that in John’s Gospel it’s recorded that the people “took palm branches and went out to meet him”. Why does John specifically mention palm branches whereas the other gospels just say branches were cut down and waved and laid on the road? Maybe the other writers assumed a certain knowledge of what kind of trees were around at that time and John who wrote later needed to be more specific to make a point. But John being John, he usually has a reason for why he adds information that others don’t and this is no different.

The palm leaves of Palm Sunday have a connection with the past and a connection with the future.

First looking to the past. A special festival date was the Day of Atonement. The people of Israel would acknowledge that their sin had severely affected their lives especially their relationship with God and with one another. The High Priest would bring in two goats, one to sacrifice, and on the other he placed the sins of the people and then drove the goat out into the desert taking with it all the evil of the people. Then they would celebrate the Feast of the Tents and remembered how God had brought them through the desert where they had lived for 40 years in tents. This remembering was to be a time of great celebration and thanksgiving. In Leviticus God says, “On that day take some of the best fruit from your trees, take palm branches and limbs from leafy trees, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days” (Leviticus 23:40).

The great temple of Jerusalem was decorated with palms and palm fronds carved into its pillars and covered with gold. Palms came to symbolize the strength, the victory, the ability to overcome all things, the deliverance, the forgiveness and renewal that only comes from God. The temple was the place where God and people met together, where sins were forgiven, and where people came to celebrate the greatness of God.

Now to look to the future. We are transported to heaven and given a glimpse of what is happening there. The writer says, “I saw a vast crowd …. standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a mighty shout, ‘Salvation belongs to our God on the throne and from the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10). The Lamb is Jesus and the people gathered around him are you and me and all those who have been given the victory over sin and death through trusting in Jesus. We have something to shout about and wave palms of victory. He is the one who enabled us to come through the trials and troubles and failings of this life. Jesus is our Saviour and worthy of our praise and thanks.

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