We observe Palm Sunday every year, but did you ever wonder why?
I get why we celebrate the birth of Jesus, and of course his death and resurrection. Those are, by far, the three most momentous events in his life. But why Palm Sunday? It’s not nearly as important as Christmas and Easter, right? Why do we celebrate a day that is less important?
There are a few other days on the Christian calendar that we might say are on a similar secondary level of importance, along with Palm Sunday. We give a slight nod, for example, to Jesus’ Ascension. Then for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we change the sanctuary colors to red. But we don’t make a day out of these second-tier holidays. We don’t normally sing special songs about them. I have rarely preached about the Ascension and Pentecost on those Sundays, except for when I was preaching through the Gospels or Acts, and often those scripture passages didn’t align with Ascension and Pentecost Sundays.
Some Christians are very committed to observing the events of the Christian calendar, some having a special day for nearly every Sunday of the year. I live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, perhaps most famous for our Amish community. The Amish make a big deal of Ascension. Liturgical churches that follow the lectionary have numerous other special Sundays.
But us evangelicals? Not as much. We have tended to focus on two seasons of the Christian calendar. The four weeks of Advent that culminate on Christmas Eve, and the seven weeks of Lent that culminate on Easter. Actually, the Baptist church I grew up in didn’t celebrate Advent or Lent. Just Christmas and Easter.
Perhaps because Easter is such an important event, the most important event, Christians through the centuries have created an entire week building up to it. Next week we will celebrate Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Tomorrow we kick off Holy Week with Palm Sunday. What is so important about Palm Sunday? We always sing songs about the events of that day, we wave palm branches, and often have a sermon about Jesus’ Triumphal Entry. Why, though? What’s the big deal with Palm Sunday? Is it just fun to give kids palms and watch them parade around the sanctuary?
Yes, it is. But that’s not why Palm Sunday is special. You can probably remember the basic details of the first Palm Sunday in your mind, having heard it so many times. Or you can review it in any of the four Gospel accounts. This coming Sunday we’re going to be following Mark’s account, which is nearly identical to the other versions, but Mark mentions something unique that, of the four, only John also alludes to.
Skim through the four stories of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry, and see if you can find the unique feature in Mark 11 and John 12. It is this feature that I believe is so important, and why we make a big deal about Palm Sunday. Then join us on the blog starting as we talk about it further!