Palm Sunday

Willows for Palm Sunday, Washington, DC
Blessing of palm crosses and willows on the Eve of Palm Sunday at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John The Baptist in Washington, D.C., April 20, 2019. Yuri Gripas
Definition: Palm Sunday
The Sunday before Easter, commencing Holy Week and the sixth and last Sunday of Lent. Palms are blessed and carried in a procession that represents Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem during the last week of his life.

In Christianity, Palm Sunday is the sixth Sunday of Lent, the first day of Holy Week, and the last Sunday before Easter. Celebrating the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, Palm Sunday is also known as Passion Sunday, Willow Sunday, and Flower Sunday. Nearly all Christian denominations observe Palm Sunday.

Meaning of Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, five days before his crucifixion. According to the Gospels, Jesus rode into town on a donkey as exuberant crowds hailed him as the Messiah and spread out palm branches and cloaks in his path.

This event is told in all four gospels (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, John 12). The Matthew narrative, the one most commonly read in services on Palm Sunday, tells the story this way:

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples... The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, an especially solemn and important week in the Christian calendar that focuses on the last days of Jesus' life and anticipates Easter, the most important holiday in Christianity.

History of Palm Sunday

The celebration of Palm Sunday probably originated in the churches of Jerusalem, sometime before the third or fourth century. In medieval times, Palm Sunday processions went from church to church.[#1869]

Palm Sunday Observances

Common Palm Sunday observances include processions with palm branches, the blessing of palms (which will be burned and used on Ash Wednesday), and the construction of small palm crosses.

In regions without palm trees, bouquets of twigs from local trees are used.[#1869] In Germany, for example, this may be box, yew, olive, birch, hazelnut, forsythia or willow.[#1868]

Bible readings for the "Liturgy of the Palms" usually include Matthew 21:1-11 and Psalm 118:19-29. The passion story may also be chanted or read from the Gospels, which gives the holiday the alternate name "Passion Sunday."

Sources & Further Reading

  1. "The Lessons Appointed for Use on the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday." The Lectionary Page. . Accessed 4 Mar 2021. { Episcopal (TEC) Eucharistic Lectionary