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!’ (John 12:13 NIV)
Here in Canada, everyone is familiar with the maple leaf. In fact, in 1965, when the Canadian parliament was looking for a symbol for the new Canadian flag, the final result was the maple leaf. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the maple leaf symbol was won by our military personnel and athletes. As I travel internationally, there is a recognition of the maple leaf as the Canadian national symbol.
As Jesus enters Jerusalem after 3 years of travelling all over Judea and Galilee, there is a recognition that he is entering Jerusalem as a king. It starts with the finding of the donkey. In Luke it is a colt. Both Matthew 21:3 and Luke 19:31 state that the disciples who go into Jerusalem to get the donkey are told to say “The Lord needs it” when they speak to the owner of the donkey. Here Jesus is laying a claim to some kind of lordship which confirms to me that Jesus is aiming for some recognition as a leader.
As Jesus makes this entry into Jerusalem, the crowds recognise him as king and make statements like “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 19:38). They put their cloaks on the road. The only record of palm branches is found in John 12:13 where it is said that they take palm branches and go out to meet this king. They wave these palm branches to greet this new king. Most Bible scholars call this particular day as “the triumphant entry of Jesus”. However, in most churches it is known as Palm Sunday. This is because the people used palm branches to greet Jesus and doing the mathematics based on John 12:1, it was exactly a week before Easter Sunday.
As the palm branches are used to designate Jesus as a royal and national figure, I have always come to a realisation that the palm branches of John 12:13 function like the maple leaf in the Canadian consciousness. When I see the palm branch, I am reminded that Israel welcomed their king on that Palm Sunday (and sadly later rejected him as their king on Good Friday). In this respect, the palm branch is like the maple leaf.
This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday (April 14, 2019). Palm branches will figure prominently in many churches. After Palm Sunday, some churches burn the palm branches they use on Palm Sunday and store them. What do they do with these ashes? They are used on Ash Wednesday of the next year. As most of you know, Ash Wednesday starts the Lent season. Therefore, these palm branch ashes from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are used to put the sign of the cross on people’s foreheads as they come to the front on Ash Wednesday. The Lent season is where we trace the journey of Jesus through the desert for 40 days. The Lent season also ends with Holy Week which has Good Friday and Easter Sunday in it. Therefore, Ash Wednesday leads to the cross on Good Friday. Jesus is the king who rides on a donkey because he is the king who goes to the cross for us. He dies on the cross to secure for us God’s forgiveness for sins. Palm branches lead to the “ashes” of Jesus dying on the cross.
This Sunday remember that the palm branches in some churches will become the ashes for Ash Wednesday next year. Remember, Palm Sunday leads to Good Friday.