Mount of Olives panorama

Mount of Olives panorama
A panoramic view of the Mount of Olives

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday

Matthew 21:1–17; Mark 11:1–11; Luke 19:28–46; John 12:12–19
  • Triumphal Entry (Matt 21:1–11; Mark 11:1–11; Luke 19:28–40; John 12:12–19)
  • Jesus Cleanses the Temple (Matt 21:12–17; Luke 19:41–48)
For Further Reading: Thomas A. Wayment, "The Triumphal Entry," in From the Transfiguration to the Triumphal Entry, The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ 2, edited by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006), 398–416.

Palm Sunday 2012
Celebrating Palm Sunday
On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem,  Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. (John 12:12–13)
Known as Shaa’nini in Arabic, Palm Sunday is one of the most festive and well-attended Christian celebrations among Christians in Palestine and Israel.  Throughout Christendom, but especially in the Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran traditions, it is marked with services and processions that recount how Jesus was recognized as the True King he really was when he descended the Mount of Olives and entered Jerusalem for the last week of his mortal life.

Samuel and Rachel at home, Palm Sunday 2010
While Latter-day Saints do not formally observe Palm Sunday as a community, for years now our family has read the accounts of the Triumphal Entry and sung the traditional hymn "All Glory, Laud, and Honor" as a way to remember the events of that day and to kick-off our week-long preparation for Easter.  This year we are actually in Jerusalem for the Easter week, so in addition to reading and talking about the accounts, we are visiting many of the places and joining some of the services and processions of fellow Christians.

About the purpose and symbolism of Palm Sunday, I wrote the following in God So Loved the World:
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught, “It is fitting that during the week from Palm Sunday to Easter morning we turn our thoughts to Jesus Christ, the source of light, life, and love.” Indeed, in line with the kingly theme of the Triumphal Entry, when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior—covenanting through baptism that we are willing to take his name upon us, always remember him, and keep his commandments—we accept him as our anointed King. Yet how often do we let our initial enthusiasm for our Savior fade? Often, even when we go through the motions of discipleship, lukewarm devotion belies our claims that he is our King. In truth, Jesus is our King now if our love for him burns brightly, leading us to remember him, follow him, and love those whom he loves.

In addition to this personal application, there is a well-established Christian tradition of considering the Triumphal Entry as a type, or anticipation, of Jesus’ eventual glorious return. Consequently, Palm Sunday is also an occasion to look forward to the Parousia, Jesus Christ’s final, triumphal return when all the world will recognize him as Lord and King. Having conquered death, in due course he will return to Jerusalem to deliver it temporally, as many in his day had hoped he would do then. He will at last govern all the earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 17:14; 19:16).

When Jesus comes in power and glory, crowds—both heavenly and earthly—will meet him at his triumphal return (1 Thessalonians 4:14–17; D&C 88:95–98). Whereas Jesus’ purpose at his first coming was to overcome the bondage of sin and death, his Second Coming will overcome all remaining forms of bondage, breaking forever the power of Satan himself. (God So Loved the World, 13).

Jesus' Triumphal Entry
Flags of boy scout troops and parishes begin the procession
Many of the crowds probably did not really understand who Jesus was and certainly did not understand what he had come to Jerusalem to do.  They probably had more conventional messianic expectations, hoping that Jesus would restore the kingdom and free Israel.  Appropriating symbols from the autumn festival of Sukkot, such as the waving of tree branches, associated the Triumphal Entry with both the dedication of the Temple and the coronation of ancient kings.  The selection of a donkey to ride was no doubt meant to emphasize that Jesus was coming not as a king to war, for which the Romans and others would have expected to be represented by the riding of a horse, but rather as a Prince of Peace (see Zechariah 9:9).  But donkeys were also the conveyance of early Old Testament kings, especially of David.  So while Jesus’ entry into the city on a donkey certainly suggests the arrival of a king of peace, it also underscores that Jesus was the Son of David.

Click here to view the LDS Church's new video clips on the triumphal entry.

What they, and perhaps some of the actual disciples, were expecting is what will happen when Jesus comes again, so for us it turned into a celebration anticipating the Second Coming, making the cries of the crowds, modeled on Psalm 118, all the more meaningful:
“Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord: O Lord . . .  Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord: we have blessed you out of the house of the Lord . . .Thou art my God, and I will praise thee: thou art my God, I will exalt thee.  O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” (Psalm 118:25–29)

Our Experience with Palm Sunday in the Holy Land
The rest of this entry recounts our experience today here in Jerusalem.  First you may want to watch this highlights video. It is longer than they usually are, and there are several more clips in the entry below it.  Hopefully they will help readers better experience what we enjoyed today.

Rachel and I started our Palm Sunday by going down to St. George's Anglican Cathedral to join the blessing of the palms, processional, and their Palm Sunday service.  We met a group of our students there.

Rachel and I before the Palm Sunday Service at St. George's Anglican Cathedral

Video clip of our start at St. George's:

The chancel screen festooned with palms

An Arab boy with his palm decorated with ribbons and Easter eggs!
Olive branches and palm crosses awaiting blessings
The Anglican bishop blesses the branches
With students who joined us for the Palm Sunday service

We then came home and later in the afternoon Elaine joined us, together with many of the students and branch members to walk across the Mount of Olives and over the Bethphage, where the annual Palm Sunday procession began.  The earliest account of the Triumphal Entry is probably that of Mark, who wrote:
And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples . . . And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him.  And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way.  And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord:  Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest. (Mark 11:1, 7–10)
Before we left on the walk to Bethphage, we met with students and members of the Jerusalem Branch.  I briefly reviewed the story of the Triumphal Entry and traditions associated with the celebration of Palm Sunday.  We sang "All Glory, Laud, and Honor," and I prayed.

Gathering at the BYU Center before heading to Bethphage

We then walked for about 20 minutes to the Church at Bethphage, buying palm branches a long the way.  We then gathered in the courtyard of the church as we waited for the procession to begin.  This was not a Samuel-friendly activity, so he had stayed home, where Hannah Harper was checking on him.  But it was wonderful to have Elaine and Rachel with me.

First, note Rachel's video testimonial of what it was like to be here this year for Palm Sunday:

Here follows just a sampling of the dozens of pictures we took:

It was stirring to join the crowds and walk down the Mount of Olives waving palm branches and singing, just as we can imagine many did at the Triumphal Entry.  In addition to local Christians from all over Palestine and Israel, there were pilgrims from all over the world.  We sang all kinds of praise songs with them as we walked up and over the Mount of Olives and then down towards the Kidron Valley.  We also sang a song that the students learned on the Galilee boat that they all enjoy, "Our God Is an Awesome God."  And a few times we also sang not only "All Glory, Laud, and Honor" but a few other LDS hymns as well, including "The Spirit of God" (which actually fit the occasion quite well), "Praise to the Lord," and a few others.

This exuberance of this great nun from Slovenia was infectious

I think the students really enjoyed the experience. I know we did.  But after over two hours we were starting to get tired, and we still needed to walk up to Lion's Gate and then a little down the Via Dolorosa to St. Anne's. But when we entered the complex built next to the Pool of Bethesda, it was like coming into Disney Land.  There was happy music playing and happy, friendly crowds all around.  The feeling was, "We've made it, we're home!"

Coming through Lion's Gate

It was a wonderful experience, and as Elaine said, it was a time when Christians here, a minority within a minority, are able to come out into the open to sing and praise the Lord.  It was a joyful beginning to what is otherwise a solemn, even sad, week.

It was a great day that we will always remember
The Cleansing of the Temple in Matthew and Luke 

While our Palm Sunday experience ended in St. Anne's, Jesus' continued right on to the Temple Mount.  There, in Matthew and Luke, as Jesus enters Jerusalem, he proceeds directly to the temple, where, in a familiar scene, he cast out the moneychangers and those who were selling sacrificial animals in its outer courts. Mark delays this scene until Monday for symbolic and literary reasons, while John had recorded a cleansing of the temple at the beginning of his ministry (John 2:13–25). Either there actually were two different cleansings, or John had moved it to the front end to illustrate that Jesus was always sovereign—he always had the authority and right to do what he did. For the synoptics, however, the cleansing can be directly connected with a royal interpretation of the Triumphal Entry. From the time of Solomon until the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians, the temple had been, in effect, a royal chapel adjacent to the king’s palace. There he was coronated and "adopted" as a son of YHWH (see Psalm 2:7), a clear type and foreshadowing of how Christ was not only the rightful king but also the actual Son of God. 

If one connects the Triumphal Entry with Jesus’ eventual return, the cleansing of the Temple can be seen as the eventual "cleansing of the earth" and especially Jerusalem and the establishment of Jesus’ reign there.

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