The Sunday before Easter has traditionally been known as “Palm Sunday” and celebrates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. The crowds following Jesus were excited by His acts of healing and the display of His miraculous power. Their songs and expressions of praise indicated an expectation that Jesus was coming into the city as the long-awaited Messiah sent from God. The problem, of course, was that Jesus’ understanding of “messiah” was quite different from theirs.
In recent years, the Church has added a new adjective to describe the Sunday before Easter. Often, “Palm Sunday” is now called “Passion Sunday.” This calls attention to the reality that Jesus was entering Jerusalem for the purpose of suffering [“passion” in Latin] and dying. The Church has realized that those believers who are not involved in Maundy Thursday or Good Friday services face the difficulty of going from the festivities of Palm Sunday to the celebration of Easter while missing the part of the story that involves the arrest, beating, and crucifixion of Jesus.
In short, next Sunday (March 29) is a day of contrasts. There is the joyous demonstration and the shouts of praise to the One who “comes in the name of the Lord.” And yet, the “hosannas” are spoken in the shadow of the Cross.
It should be noted that the name “Palm Sunday” comes from the account in John’s Gospel. Instead of the word “palm,” the other gospels say something like “leafy branch.” Somehow, “Leafy Branch” Sunday doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Palm Sunday.” Regardless of what it’s called, Palm Sunday begins our annual journey into and through Holy Week with special services on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in preparation for the Easter Sunday celebration.