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May 23, 2018

Understanding the essence of Palm Sunday

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Palm Sunday is one of those major Christian festivals which has gradually become Paramount in the Church’s liturgical Calendar.  Like the ash Wednesday ritual which begins the Lenten season, the palm Sunday practice which used to be a purely Catholic Church ceremony has been appropriated by the entire Christendom worldwide. Simply understood, it is a spiritual carnival commemorating the historical solemn but triumphant entry of our Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem about two thousand and seventeen years ago.

 

Here in Nigeria and Owerri town in particular almost every Christian irrespective of his or her denomination participates in the open air religious parade which heralds this yearly spiritual rite with relative joy. Bona-fide Catholics normally carry palm fronts singing and chanting pleasant choruses unto Jesus the son of David. At the end of this divine all encompassing fiesta, true Catholics are seen on their way home carrying beside their Bibles, Sunday missals or bulletins palm fronds with cross adjustments to match the occasion of Palm Sunday. This formal ritualistic procedure portrays the sacredness and importance of the palm fronds in the Holy celebration of the Easter which is the culmination of our salvation history.

 

The gospel according to Saint Matthew Chapter 21 verse 9 and following gives us a true imagery and insight concerning all that took place in Jerusalem many years ago on this special day popularly ascribed to palm. The Scripture has this to say, “And the Multitudes that went before and those who followed Jesus cried out saying, Hosanna to the son of David, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest”.’

 

One remarkable incident was that when Jesus Christ, the beloved son of our heavenly father ventured into Jerusalem the entire city stood still. This showed the greatness, influence, power, majesty and Omnipotence of our Lord and master in whose honor we file in procession today jubilating.

 

In the midst of this sacred fun-fare, one significant lesson was that Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem on an ass which is the most humble and peaceful animal and not on a war horse as one would imagine, yet his glory shrouded humanity. He did never appear as one who was going to face his detractors and enemies that later crucified him. Nothing portrayed him as a monarch, king or ruler. He had no siren, no police orderlies, no bodyguards or any pretentious paraphernalia. Even at that, the crowd in Jerusalem recognized Jesus Christ contrary to his desire. What a contradiction!

 

Though humble, yet some extra biblical records have it that the people of Jerusalem acknowledged him as Saviour, King and Royal Majesty. He was clearly identified as a shoot springing out from the branch of David. Jesus Christ’s kingship no doubt was unlike our present day modern monarchs who deck themselves with pump and ostentatious spectacles. He was not like some of our present political leaders who have turned themselves into demi-gods or modern day colossus that bestrides the narrow world. The triumphant entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem forms a wonderful image of meditation for different generations in Nigeria and the world at large. His kingdom manifested the kingdom of God on earth; that kingdom best located in the hearts of men. Invariably, Christ was showing that in the kingdom of God Almighty, the uncreated creator, the uncaused cause must be worshipped in spirit and in truth.

 

It is important to note that this annual celebration significantly sanctifies the use of palm frond in our ordinary set up. For instance, in our African traditional  religion, palm fronds have far reaching symbols and signs which are for the most part negative.  It is worthy to note that Christianity with its purifying effect transformed the connotation of palm frond with this ceremony. Therefore the placing of palm fronds along the roads that lead to our places of worship reminds us that we are celebrating something holy, sacred; solemn and deeply religious. Other leaves are not used because their parent trees shed their leaves once a year unlike the palm tree.

 

The lessons of Palm Sunday are so numerous. The ceremony lays emphasis on the need for us human beings to be humble and unassuming. It calls us to regard and respect one another, to obey constituted authorities and to be prepared at all times to serve and not to be served following the life style of Jesus Christ our Saviour. At all times, we should be concerned about what we shall do for people and not what people should do for us. By extension, let us also ask what we can do for our nation, our state or our local community to enable it advance economically, to move forward and not backwards.

 

The passion is God saying to us, “No matter what you do, I will keep on loving you, I will never let you down. If we reject him, betray him, scourge him, crown him with thorns, even if we crucify him, he will continue to love us and he always re-echoes, ” Father forgive them for they know not what they do”. What he expects from us is that humility to ask for forgiveness like Peter.

 

Jesus Christ the only begotten son of our heavenly Father who was crucified, died and buried took the lead through his humility on Palm Sunday. It is left for us to emulate his pattern of life in giving ourselves up for the good of others. Carrying the palm fronds in our hands with our Bibles may not be enough but applying the shining examples and lessons of Jesus Christ in our daily lives wins the race. The Palm Sunday which is part of the Lenten season should be a big and enduring lesson to all of us in our Christian lives. We wish every Christian in Nigeria a very happy celebration of Palm Sunday.

 

Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu

Director of Communications/Media

Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri


 

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