A week to my preaching appointment on last year’s Palm Sunday 2014, at Bermondsey Central Hall Methodist Church, I was rehearsing the children’s session slot on the Order of Worship when my mind ran over this potential question a curious child might ask: “Why is today described as Palm Sunday”? What simple answer could I give to him/her and the congregation?
Could I simply narrate the story of the day when Jesus, with his disciples and followers, rode on a donkey to Jerusalem to celebrate the Pass Over, and was met and greeted by a crowd of people who waved palm branches and shouted ‘Hosanas’ as stated in John 12:12; But would it be the only reason to name this unique Sunday a ‘Palm Sunday? Then another child may ask, ‘Sir, was the Palm tree the only tree found in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’? The obvious answer would be NO. There were other trees such as the sycamore trees (Luke 19:4), Olive trees (Luke 22:39), fig trees (Matthew 11:13) and many others. Why then was that Sunday not named after any of those trees but the Palm (Tree)?
Deeply thinking of this, my mind was thrown back to my country Ghana, where the palm tree stands supreme for strength, durability, power and sustenance among other trees. The Palm Tree is the strongest tree in the universe. No amount of natural forces like hurricane, tsunami, and a violent storm could either break or uproot it. There is a local saying that ‘the mightiest elephant cannot uproot or push down a palm tree’. Its steadfastness is not taken for granted.
The palm tree has multifarious purposes; to mention a few, which are as follows:
The branches and the leaves are used for household purposes e.g. basketry, brooms, mats, fencing, building.
The fruits and nuts are used for food, soup, soap, creams and oils (edible and medicinal)
The distal section of the tree is storage for sweet wine which could be distilled into African gin.
The roots have inherent medicinal properties for curing toothache, malaria and others.
Its fossils produce edible larvae and special tasty mushrooms locally known as ‘domo’.
Economically, the palm industry contributes to the life blood of the nation.
The usefulness of the palm tree among other trees, cannot be underrated.
In his interactions with the people, Jesus used parables and allegories for illustrations to bring meaning and understanding to his teachings, among which were the parable of the sower, the wicked husbandmen etc. Similarly, the Palm Tree allegorically represents Jesus, who is indomitable and unconquerable as compared with any other spiritual or worldly powers. The devil with all its treachery and deceit could not break Jesus down in the desert.
The use of the palm tree also brings in an element of simplicity and accessibility. It can endure adverse weather conditions because its roots are firmly anchored in a source that feeds and firmly supports it. It is the same with the Christ we welcome on Palm Sunday. His strength and power is from the Creator and sustainer of life.
We have just discovered many pluses the palm tree provides to mankind. Similarly, Jesus scores many pluses to mankind. The poet John Newton clearly describes some of the many roles that Jesus plays in the life of believers in his poem “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds” found in H&P 257; SF 322. The third verse reveals these roles more vividly. “Jesus is my shepherd, brother, friend; my Prophet, Priest and King; my Lord, my life, my way, my end…………” God in Jesus has got the whole world in his hands.
As mentioned above, the palm tree branches and leaves provide useful products for household purposes and God in Jesus in the same vein we find love, emotional and spiritual sanctuary, forgiveness of our sins, compassion, and kindness.
The palm tree gives food for sustenance; similarly, God in Jesus offered his body as ‘bread’ to his believers. Mark ch 14:22 says, ‘While they were eating, Jesus took a piece of bread, gave a prayer of thanks, broke it and gave it to the disciples, “Take it”’ he said, “This is my body”.
The palm tree produces wine as said above. Symbolically and comparably, the blood of Jesus is a spiritual drink that nourishes the soul and ‘seals God’s covenant’ with believers. Mark 14:24 ‘Then he took a cup, gave thanks to God, and handed it to them, saying “This is my blood which is poured out for many, my blood which seals God’s covenant.”
Within forty days, the felled palm tree begins to rot away and fossilize. In death it continues to produce life in the form of edible larvae that transform into colorful beetles. To crown its benevolence to mankind, the fossilized palm tree produces unique edible mushrooms which are like a hot cake for human consumption.
The majesty, authority and power of Jesus nakedly came to life after his death and subsequent resurrection. Indeed it was in death that the true identity of Jesus was realized by his adversaries. Luke 23:47 “The army officer saw what has happened and he praised God saying, ‘indeed, he was a good man’.
Jesus was a healer who made the lame walk, the deaf hear, the leper clean and the blind see; the palm tree has healing property in its roots.
As the dead palm tree produces ‘life’ so did Jesus after his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, send down the COMFORTER, the HOLY SPIRIT to give life to believers.
Indeed ‘Palm Sunday’ allegorically reveals the greatness of Jesus to mankind and it was the day when the Kingship of Jesus revealed itself to the world. John 12 :15; Luke 19:38
Jesus Christ is accessible to the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, the child and the adult. Come , let us all join in this celebration on Palm Sunday, let us wave the palm branches to welcome the long expected Messiah, who is our Lord and Saviour.