Branch Churches

Written by Anthony Douglas on 13 April 2019.

Palm SundayMany Christians mark the Sunday before Easter as Palm Sunday, and around the world and in various denominations, there are a range of ways the day is celebrated. My first encounter was the common craft activity of weaving a flat reed into the shape of a cross.

An interesting fact: while all four gospels record the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, they each have a different take on the whole ‘palm’ thing. Matthew and Mark both record the crowds cutting branches from trees and laying them in Jesus’ path, but the words they use don’t really fit with palm foliage. Luke isn’t interested in his greens, mentioning only the cloaks laid by the crowd. John is the only one to mention palm branches, but the crowd carry them rather than laying them on the road. It’s not quite our mental picture, is it?

So why Palm Sunday, as opposed to Cloak Sunday, or Donkey Sunday? What was it that led the church in ancient times to pick the palm branch as the reminder of the beginning of Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem? There’s a hint in my tortured prose in the last sentence, where I took care to avoid the words ‘triumphal entry’. It’s thought that palm branches were associated with victory, and suited the arrival of Jesus, God’s King, to proclaim peace to the city.

While I don’t mind Palm Sunday as a tradition, it would be wise to be on our guard. For we could equally call it False Friends Sunday, if we recall that the fickle crowd was baying for Jesus’ blood only a few days later. They were in for the victory, but not for a cross and the shame that went with it.

Let’s make sure that we hold fast to the Jesus who died and rose, and that we are branches who remain in the true vine, not just the palm tree.

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