St Luke's account of
Christ's entry into Jerusalem makes no mention of palms or
branches. Why might that be?
It is correct that there are
no palm trees in Luke's account. There are no palm trees in
Matthew's, Mark's or John's accounts either. This is because there
are hardly any palm trees in Jerusalem. It is too cold for them to
thrive. The trees from which branches were pulled by crowds hailing
Jesus were almost certainly olive trees.
The only account that
mentions palms is in John's Gospel. Here the crowds come out of the
market in the city holding palm leaves. The most likely explanation
for why palm leaves should come to hand in the Jerusalem market is
that they were used for packaging, bringing dates up from the
warmer towns such as Jericho.
The real significance of
Palm Sunday lies not in the branches, but in the cloaks. The crowd
threw their cloaks beneath Jesus's feet in the way they had done
for centuries in order to proclaim someone king. It is, for
example, what the crowds did for Jehu (2 Kings 9.13). To put your
only cloak under your only king is a serious commitment.
To return authentic
symbolism to Palm Sunday, it could be renamed Overcoat Sunday.
Instead of distributing palm crosses, the congregation would be
invited to throw their overcoats on the floor for their
fellow-worshippers to walk on. I expect it would speedily become
the least popular Sunday in the Church's year, and be renamed
Charity Shop Overcoat Sunday.
I suggest the reason is that
"Beautiful branches and also fronds of palm" were used in
celebration of the purification of the Temple after defiling
Gentiles had been expelled (2 Maccabees 10.7). As a Gentile
himself, Luke preferred to emphasise the universality of the
(The Revd) Cedric
The Gospels often differ in their accounts of the same incidents,
usually, but not always, owing to their individual theological
perspectives. In the present context, for example, John mentions
palms or branches, but not strewn cloaks. All the Evangelists want
to emphasise Jesus's triumphal entry, but riding on a colt, as a
man of peace. Maybe, then, Luke wants to reinforce this by omitting
reference to palms to distinguish this from the victory parade of
Simon Maccabeus a couple of centuries earlier (1 Maccabees 13.51),
sensitive to the feelings of his Gentile readers.
Luke uses Mark, but abbreviates his narrative to limit the length
of his Gospel; so he mentions spreading garments but not branches
on the road (Mark 11.8; Luke 19.35). Only John 12.13 mentions
Why do so few C of E
bishops speak out about the Christian obligation to attend church,
Sunday by Sunday, whether or not we find it pleasurable, like our
parish priest, or have other more exciting invitations? The
previous Archbishop of Canterbury chose a Lent Book
Why Go to
Church? by Timothy Radcliffe OP) that explained why the
eucharist mattered; but a Lent Book is likely to preach mainly to
the converted. Wouldn't a clear message from the bishops jog more
consciences than a parish sermon or parish magazine can, strengthen
congregations (before they sink to a level where viability is in
doubt), and be far more useful than yet more pronouncements on sex?
Isn't leading people to give God his due in worship regularly with
the Church a neglected priority?
Why have we become
so craven and apologetic about it - or let it become all about
getting the kids into a church school? A. M.
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