Today is named for palm branches, which must have been the best party favors available in first-century Jerusalem when Jesus was welcomed into the city as if they were welcoming their king.
In most churches on Palm Sunday, leafy branches are waved around and brooches in the shape of the cross made from bark are pinned to our lapels as we welcome Jesus as king at the beginning of the week that will end with his rejection and death.
Palm branches are explicitly mentioned in two of the four Gospels, Matthew and John. Mark does mention “branches of the field,” but Luke makes no mention of any branches at all.
As I’ve noticed this for the first time as I’ve read over the Gospel accounts this morning, this is not to say that palm branches aren’t as important as we think. But, I’ve also noticed something else for the first time:
Taking all four Gospel accounts of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday into account, what the disciples and the crowds do with their clothes is a more prominent feature of these accounts than what they do with branches.
In Matthew and Mark, the disciples put their clothes on the animal (animals in Matthew) for Jesus to sit on, and the crowds take their clothes and spread them on the road for Jesus to ride on. In Luke, where no branches are mentioned, clothes are still mentioned–they are laid upon the animal and spread out on the road (in Luke it appears that it’s only the disciples who do this).
Only in John, who so often is the exception, are palm branches brought out to welcome Jesus but clothes aren’t mentioned at all. Overall, however, there is a whole bunch of clothes being given up.
I doubt that branches–whether from the field or from palm trees–were any more valuable in first-century Jerusalem than they are today.
But our clothes. The crowds weren’t bringing out what they had set aside to take to the Salvation Army, they were taking off the clothes they were wearing–probably their outer layer, which, just like for us today, would be the most expensive layer.
I’m not sure what I think or even want to say about this observation, other than simply sharing that as I’m waving my palm branch outwardly, I’ll be doing my best to inwardly strip away my Sunday best down to my undershirt for it all to be trod underfoot as Jesus comes to be enthroned.
Afterward, maybe I’ll be thinking about next year’s Ash Wednesday, as once again, I’ll kneel, be reminded that I’m going to die, that I’m from dust and I’m returning to dust. What difference will it make for me to think of the cross of ashes on my forehead to be made of what’s left of what I had given up, to welcome my king …?