Confession time: In my first year of preaching, I had no clue what Palm Sunday was. I was a sophomore in Bible College, preaching at a little country church outside of my hometown. Prior to that, my church experience was mostly high school youth group and a few services I stayed awake for. While I knew about Easter (even beyond the bunny and eggs), I had no idea there even was a Palm Sunday. I had never shouted “Hosanna!” and had never even seen a palm tree, let alone waved a branch!
It’s worse than that, though. In the weeks leading up to Easter, I had read the Gospels backward, counting from the Sunday Jesus was resurrected, backtracking his path through Jerusalem day by day, and uncovering that one week earlier, he entered Jerusalem. I was confident I was the only one who had made this discovery. I probably even started working on a paper to document my findings.
It’s still available for peer review if anyone’s interested.
I Decree it: Triumphal Entry Sunday!
I prepared my sermon for “Triumphal Entry Sunday” (what I decided to declare the day to be), ready to disclose my grand findings, when someone handed me that day’s printed bulletin. On the cover: palm branches. On the devotional on the back, the text I had chosen for the day, along with the words “Palm Sunday.”
Awash with flop sweat and PRE-flop sweat, I quickly re-wrote the introduction to my sermon and preached it sans amazing discovery. I was so embarrassed I destroyed my original notes and rewrote them as if I had always known it was Palm Sunday (I mean, who doesn’t know it’s Palm Sunday, right?) and preserved them for posterity. They’re now scanned into my sermon files, where they’ll mock my ignorance forever.
Palm Sunday: From Mystery to Majesty
Somehow, though, Palm Sunday has gone from complete obscurity to one of the most significant memorials in my year. Palm Sunday stops me in my path and puts me on Jesus’ path, walking with him through the week to the upper room, the cross, and the empty tomb.
Indeed, the Lord’s Supper on Thursday night will draw me into Christ’s presence, and the darkness of Good Friday will place me at the foot of His cross, but Palm Sunday starts me on that journey. Today’s “Hosannas” prepare me for next Sunday’s “He Lives!”
After the Hosannas
I once confessed to the difficulty of preaching on Palm Sunday. While we’ve got accounts of the event in all four Gospels and more preachable texts, if we look to Old Testament prophetic texts and allusions, how many different ways can we talk about Triumphal Entry Sunday (still a better name than Palm Sunday)? Add in the ramp-up to Easter (the Superbowl of preaching) in just one week, and Palm Sunday can be frustrating.
So, one more confession (It’s good for the soul, right?), this was actually a “retread” of an old sermon. It was originally the penultimate sermon in my 2016 series, “Jesus Set His Face to Go to Jerusalem.” I changed up the introduction, added some applications, and tightened up the dominant thought. Did anyone notice? Of course, they did! Did they mind? Not at all. I’m just pleased a seven-year-old sermon was still memorable!
What’s Palm Sunday?
One further consideration about Palm Sunday. I’m likely not the only person who grew up clueless about some of our church holidays. Some in your church are likely overwhelmed with new experiences and unfamiliar language every Sunday. Taking in communion, baptism, doxologies, and the like is overwhelming enough. Tossing in waving branches and shouting Hebrew words might send them over the edge!
So, be gentle, welcoming, and encouraging with all of our memorials and traditions. Some day, these elements might go from obscurity to the essential activities of their week, year, and life.