Entering Jerusalem (Palm Sunday)
Perhaps you have heard of Palm Sunday, but aren't quite sure what Palm Sunday is. This is the story of Palm Sunday as I learned it when I was a Unitarian Universalist child. This story took place two thousand years ago, and today different people tell many different versions of this story. But this is the story as I heard it.
Once upon a time, there was a Jewish teacher named Jesus. Jesus lived in a land called Judea, and he went from town to town teaching about religion. Jesus wasn't an official Jewish religious leader, as the Pharisees were. Many people listened to his teachings anyway, probably because he treated everyone with respect, even people who were poor or homeless or sick. People also liked to listen to Jesus because what he said made so much sense. He said religion was simple:— love your God with all your heart and all your mind, and treat other people the way you would like to be treated.
Jesus taught in the countryside, not in the great city of Jerusalem. But at last he and his followers (who were called the disciples) decided they would go to Jerusalem for Passover. Just as it is now, Jerusalem was the most important city for Jews, and celebrating Passover in Jerusalem was especially meaningful for anyone who was Jewish.
They left the town they were in, a town called Jericho, and began to walk to Jerusalem. There were no cars or planes or trains in those days (even if there had been they would have been too poor to take them), so Jesus and his disciples had to walk all the way to Jerusalem. But Jesus was tired. He had been teaching and healing sick people and he was just plain worn out. He was so tired that when they all got close to Jerusalem, Jesus asked his disciples to see if they could find an animal for him to ride. The disciples managed to find someone who loaned them a foal for Jesus to ride.
There were crowds and crowds of people on the way in to Jerusalem for Passover. Quite a few of the people had seen Jesus before, and had heard his teachings about religion. Some of these people thought Jesus was the greatest religious teacher and leader around. They began to point at Jesus, and call out to him.
All these people were pouring in to Jerusalem for Passover, one of the most sacred days of the year for Jews. Someone began to sing a hymn that seemed to fit what they were doing, and other people joined in. They sang:
Enter into the gates with thanksgiving
And into the courts with praise.
Serve God with gladness,
Come before God's presence with singing.
Blessed are those who come in the name of Adonai, our god!
People were in a happy, festive mood. They gathered flowers, and picked leaves from palm trees, and carried them along. Someone started singing again:
Enter into God's gates with thanksgiving,
And into God's courts with praise.
Blessed are those who come in the name of Adonai, our God!
All these people singing and walking into Jerusalem together! Someone who thought Jesus was a great religious teacher and leader gave him flowers, and suddenly lots of people were giving him flowers, and lots more people were waving palm leaves over him.
I think at this point Jesus became uncomfortable. He didn't mind that people liked him. He didn't mind that they thought that he was a good religious teacher. But the singing, and people giving him flowers and waving palm leaves over him,— those were the kinds of things that people did for new kings of Jerusalem, back in the olden times, hundreds of years before Jesus lived. In Jesus' time, the Romans were the rulers of Jerusalem. It was dangerous for these people to treat Jesus like one of the kings of old. Could some of the people hope that Jesus would stand up to the Romans, or even rebel against them? Jesus knew that it was dangerous for them to even think about such things. Would the Romans believe that someone was planning a rebellion? As Jesus rode into Jerusalem with all the people waving palm leaves over him, he began to think about how the Romans might react.
Now you know why Palm Sunday is called Palm Sunday: it celebrates the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem while the crowds waved palm leaves over him. And if you want to know what Jesus did once he got into Jerusalem, if you want to know how the Romans reacted to him, you'll have to read the rest of the story.
Adapted from the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke.