Palm Sunday Showcases Christ’s Kingship

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By John B. Monteiro
Bellevision Media Network

Rejoice greatly, O daughters of Zion! Shout, daughters 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. -  Zachariah 9:9


24 March 2013: Christians mark their Holy Week starting on Palm Sunday (March 24 this year) and concluding on Easter Sunday which celebrates the resurrection of Christ on the third day after his death on the cross. Palm Sunday showcases the kingship of Christ and commemorates his triumphant riding into Jerusalem sitting on an ass. The Biblical narrative of this event is brief. As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took his 12 disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and (he) will be delivered to the chief priest and scribes, and they will condemn him to death”.

When they drew near Jerusalem and came to the Mount of Olive, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite to you, and immediately you will find an ass tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me”. The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the ass and the colt. They put garments on them and Jesus sat thereon. Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, “Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

When he entered Jerusalem riding on a colt, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” The crowd said, “This is the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee”. Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in it and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them: “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you make it a den of robbers”.

This is the Biblical account of one-day demonstrated kingship of Jesus. Its commemoration on Palm Sunday is one of the highlights of church liturgy. During the season of lent, until Easter, the vestments of the celebrating priests, as at daily Holy Mass, is purple, symbolising mourning and penance. The altar is bare, bereft of decorative covers and flowers. But, on Palm Sunday, the celebrating priest wears red vestments, a symbol of royalty and victory.

During the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the crowds welcomed him spreading olive branches on his path and also waving them – as was then customary while welcoming kings. In places like India where olive trees are not native to the land, the abundantly growing palm trees provide a substitute for olive branches. The tender (yellow) palm fronds are blessed by the priests and distributed to the congregation. This is done on a spot outside the church. From there the congregation goes in a procession to the church holding aloft and waving the palm fronds and singing devotional songs. During the blessing ceremony, one of the prayers is:  “Lord Jesus Christ, our King and Redeemer, bearing these palms we have sung your solemn praises; grant in your mercy that wherever these palms are brought, there the grace of your blessing may be poured out, every wickedness and deceit of the evil one may be set at naught and the protection of your right hand rest on those whom you have redeemed…”

The congregation takes the blessed palms to their homes, where candles are lit to welcome them. Many make crosses by folding the palm fronds and tying the centre of the folds with the thin end of the fronds. Such crosses or stand-alone palms are enthroned on the family altar till the next Palm Sunday’s palms enter the household again. After distributing the palms to the congregation, the remaining stock is stored in the church until the next Ash Wednesday comes around. These palms are then burnt and the ash thus derived is imposed on the heads of the congregation on next Ash Wednesday.

The public display of authority and the adulation of the crowds on Palm Sunday galvanised the Jewish priests and scribes to corner Jesus. They later accused him of claiming kingship and pleaded with the Roman Governor, Pilate, to condemn him to death on this ground. But, Pilate could not pin down Jesus on his kingship. When Jesus stood before Pilate, the latter asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “You have said so”.

While on the subject of kingship of Christ, it is interesting to note that during his public discourses Jesus often referred to the kingdom of heaven. There is one instance in the Bible where his view on temporal kingdom is reflected. The Pharisees were plotting to trap Jesus by setting himself up against Caesar, the Roman Emperor who also ruled over the Jewish land through his Governor, Pilate. They sent their disciples who addressed Jesus thus: “Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men. Tell us, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said: “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the money for the tax”. And they brought him a coin and Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and impression is this?” They said, “Caesar’s”. Then he said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s”. When they heard it they marveled; and they left him and went away.

The kingship aspect crops up again at the crucifixion. When Jesus was crucified, Pilate wrote a title on the top of the cross which read: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”. Many of the Jews read this title written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. The chief priest of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write ‘King of the Jews’ but “This man said ‘I am King of the Jews’” Pilate answered: “What I have written, I have written”.

John B. Monteiro, author and journalist, is editor of his website (Interactive Cerebral challenger).



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