"The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'
'Blessed is the king of Israel!'" (John 12:12-13)
As a child, to me, Palm Sunday always meant a chilly procession outside in the not-quite-warm weather, looking forward to a shortened school week ahead, and, of course, a day of my mother teaching me how to braid and weave sets of palms - in twos, threes, and fours. To this day, I still can't quite get the beginning to the four-palm fold right.
Growing up, I came to realize that Palm Sunday was much more important than the palms we are given at church. Jesus enters Jerusalem to a great fanfare, and the people of Jerusalem welcome him with praise and love, shouting, "Blessed is the king of Israel!" Despite this celebratory entrance with his apostles, Jesus is betrayed and crucified only five days later by hateful authority and angry crowds who mock him and beat him for being the Son of God. Jesus entered the city on a peaceful donkey, but wept over Jerusalem, knowing that his time of suffering was near.
Each of the four Gospels tells the story of Jesus' entrance to Jerusalem and the celebration that greeted him. Many Catholic churches have processions to imitate the procession of Jesus into Jerusalem. Red is worn by priests to represent the inevitable sacrifice that He faced as He entered the city. In 1970, Palm Sunday was combined with Passion Sunday, on which the narrative of the Passion is read in three parts - the narrator, Christ, and the people. The full title of the day is now Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.
Countries throughout the world celebrate Palm Sunday in a variety of ways. Processions are the most common form of celebrations, and palms or a similar branch are distributed and placed in homes. In India and Lithuania, flowers are used as well as palms. Malta, Belgium, and The Philippines decorate and carry statues of Jesus in large processions, and Spain and Poland weave and build elaborate shapes with their palms. Many palms are saved and kept until the next Lent, when they are used to create the ashes for Ash Wednesday.
So this year, when we receive our palm fronds in the back of church, we should remember the sacrifice Jesus made as he rode over the palms in Jerusalem, and look forward to the Resurrection on the following Sunday.