“Behold, your king is coming to you,
Mounted humbly upon an ass (and)
upon a colt, the foal of an ass” (Mt 21:5).
Palm Sunday (Oshana njayar) is celebrated in preparation to the great week of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection for the salvation of the humankind. On Palm Sunday Christians remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem as the promised Messiah. Jesus, however, is not coming as a warrior king on horseback, but as a king of peace riding on a donkey, as was the custom and entering Jerusalem (the city of peace). But the event is followed not by peace, but violence in which Jesus is arrested, condemned to death and crucified. Jesus endured all suffering and death in order to be victorious over all suffering and death. He defeated death and was raised to new life, marking the establishment of the Kingdom of peace. The peace promised at this birth is finally established at his resurrection.
The Gospel (Mt 20:29-21:22) unambiguously tells us that Jesus is the messiah, king whom the Jews expected and that he is at the door of the holy city. Contrary to all human imaginations this king comes not like any earthly king or as a conqueror, but comes as a humble person on a donkey. He is not to be misunderstood as a political liberator or conquering hero as some zealots expected at that time. His kingdom or reign is not territorial, based on population, wealth or military and missiles. It is and it ever remains as one of fraternity, peace, joy, reconciliation and life.
It tells us something about the way Jesus the king brings salvation and wholeness to the world. He comes as the suffering servant; he enters into city in the majesty of a king to die as a criminal and then to rise up again as the lord of death and life. Christians today work for the coming of this kingdom among us and pray for its coming as Jesus himself has taught us to pray: “Thy kingdom com!” St. Paul describes this best: “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17).
The people of Jerusalem gave a rousing welcome to Jesus: some spread their garments upon the road and some spread branches from the trees (Jn 12:13) and some scattered palm leaves (1 Mac 13:51) on the way, and shouted “Oshana to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Oshana in the highest!” ‘Hosanna’ is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew ‘hoshia’na, which means ‘save us’ as sung at psalm 118:25 which was sung on the feast of the Tabernacles. In context, hoshana meant ‘welcome’ to the promised Messiah.
The special ritual of the day is the blessing and distribution of the tender coconut leaves outside the Church, the community and the celebrants move in procession to the main entrance of the church and knocks at the closed door and sing, “Lift up your heads O gates! Doors! that the king of glory may come in” (Ps 24:7). And a choir responds from inside ask in song “Who is the king of glory?” Again there is the declaration, “The Lord of hosts, he is the king of glory” (v.10). It is a symbolic gesture reminding us of the Ark of the Covenant which represented the presence of God as king and was celebrated by the Hebrews.
The leaves distributed on this day are used to make a cross over Pesaha Appam and Paal on the Thursday of Pesaha. These leaves are kept in houses and vehicles as a sign of protection.