Freeman Cebu Lifestyle

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion


CEBU, Philippines - Is it possible to welcome someone like a king and by the end of the week demand for his death? It seems impossible, ironic, even, but it did happen in the life of Jesus here on earth.

We commemorate today the triumphant entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem. We call this day Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, the first Sunday of Holy Week. Palm branches have been used by all nations as an emblem of joy and victory over enemies and in Christianity as a sign of victory over the flesh and the world.

The gospel account of St. Luke states that: “And as he rode into Jerusalem, they spread their garments on the road. As he was now drawing near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’” (Luke 19:36-38, RSV)

They had all expected Jesus to be an earthly king, but God had given them something so much better – an open door into a Kingdom that would never end. Palm branches have been used by all nations as an emblem of joy and victory over enemies and in Christianity as a sign of victory over the flesh and the world.

In addition, Jesus was riding a donkey and there were questions raised because of this. The Babylonian Talmud preserves a question asked by the Persian King Shevor: “Why doesn’t your Messiah come riding on a horse? If he lacks one, I’ll be glad to provide him with one of my best (Sanhedrin 98a).” Indeed, why should the Messiah come on a donkey? The answer stays in the symbolism of the donkey, which in some Eastern traditions seems to be seen as an animal of peace, versus the horse, which is the animal of war. Therefore, it was said that a king came riding upon a horse when he was bent on war and rode upon a donkey when he wanted to point out that he was coming in peace. Thus, the king riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey complies with the epithet gentle or lowly and strongly implies the message of peace. This message of peace was always fundamental with Jesus, but it is not clear how well understood was it in those days.

In the book Sanhedrin from the Babylonian Gemara, it is written that the Messiah will appear as a poor man on a donkey only if the Jews are not found deserving of the salvation. Otherwise, the Messiah will ride on a horse. Since all humans are sinners, including Jews, it is obvious that the Messiah will always ride on a donkey. However, this is a Christian belief and is not supported in Judaism.

Various customs have developed to celebrate Palm Sunday. In the Slavic countries, the faithful walked through their buildings and fields with the blessed palms, praying and singing ancient hymns. They then laid palm pieces on each plot of ground, in every barn, building, and stable, as a petition was made for protection from weather and disease, and for a blessing upon the produce and property.

In the Philippines, there are some places that present a re-enactment of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The priest rides a horse and is surrounded by the congregation, bearing palms. Sometimes women spread large cloths or aprons along the procession route. Palm branches, called palaspas, are taken home after the Mass and are hung beside, on or above doorways and windows. Although the real objective of placing the leaves in front of houses is to welcome Jesus Christ, some Filipinos say that the palm leaves turn away evil spirits.

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