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Christ’s entry into Jerusalem

26 April 2013


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.

Peter Graystone (Reader)

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 Gospel.

(The Revd) Cedric Reavley
Burford, Oxon

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.

Howard Reeve
Whitchurch, Cardiff

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 palms.

(Canon) John Goodchild

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 (2009:

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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