Why did they wave palm branches? Well, palm branches were a symbol of victory. From about 400 BC onward, a palm branch was awarded to the victor in athletic contests.
The palm became so closely associated with victory in ancient Roman culture that the Latin word palma could be used as a synonym for victory itself. A lawyer who won his case in the forum would decorate his front door with palm leaves.
When Julius Ceasar secured his rise to sole power with, a palm tree supposedly sprung up miraculously at the Temple of Nike, the Greek goddess of Victory.
So, the people cut down palm branches and waved them while they shouted out Hosanna, which comes from a Hebrew phrase meaning, “Save us, we pray.” This was a deliberate challenge to the Roman empire, which at that time occupied Jerusalem and all Israel. The Jews hated the Roman occupation. They longed for freedom from Roman rule. And so, here comes Jesus. They’d heard about His miracles, His teaching, His authority over demons, His calming the storm. His walking on water. And so they thought, “This is the one we’ve been waiting for!”
However, Jesus wasn’t here to set up an earthly, political kingdom. Instead, He went above and beyond what the people imagined. He was a spiritual king, not an earthly one. And His victory—the ultimate victory over sin and death—would be more than freedom from their current oppression. It would be the victory that restored all of creation and made a way for every person to have a right relationship with God.
I hope you can join in the celebration Sunday as twelve palm frond bearers will bring 10’-12’ palms into the sanctuary to enhance our service of reflection and remembrance.
See you Sunday,