Palm Sunday 101

Palm Sunday 101


What is Palm Sunday?

Palm Sunday (also called Passion Sunday) is the beginning of the Christian observance of Holy Week. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, the celebration of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem before the Passover Festival (see Mk. 11:1-10, Mt. 21:1-11, Lk. 19:28-40, Jn. 12:12-19). The name, Palm Sunday, comes from this same story. "A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds ... were shouting, 'Hosanna to the Son of David! / Blessed is the one who comes / in the name of the Lord." (Matthew 21:8-9, NRSV)

Why is Palm Sunday also referred to as Passion Sunday?

Though these two were once separate observances, the Sunday before Easter is now known as Palm/Passion Sunday. In the "Palm" portion of the service, we remember Jesus' joyous entry into Jerusalem. Often, palm branches are handed out and festive hymns are sung which remind us of this triumphant story. (See Mt. 21:1-11, Mk. 11:1-11, Lk. 19:28-40.)

In the "Passion" emphasis of this Sunday, we lean into the events of Holy Week, to the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus. The origin of the word “passion” is the Latin pati meaning "to suffer." Passion refers to Jesus’ suffering between the night of the Last Supper and his death. The Passion story is told in Matthew 26:14-27:66, Mark 14:1-15:47, and Luke 22:14-23:56.

Where do churches get the palms used in Palm Sunday?

Churches order palm branches for Palm Sunday, sometimes from florists or church supply companies. Palms are also ordered from a companies such as Ecopalms that harvest branches in an environmentally sound and sustainable manner.

How are the palms used in the Palm Sunday service?

Some churches distribute small palm crosses for members to wear on Palm Sunday.

Other churches distribute whole branches or fronds which may be waved in the air during the singing of a hymn or a prayer during the Palm Sunday service. This reminds us of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the crowds of onlookers who welcomed his arrival with shouts of “Hosanna” (see Mk. 11:1-10, Matt. 21:1-11, Lk. 19:28-40, Jn. 12:12-19).

What happens to the palm branches after Palm Sunday?

The palm branches used in the Palm Sunday service are used to create the ashes distributed on the following Ash Wednesday. The palm branches or crosses are dried and then burned to create the ashes which are used to symbolize our mortality and repentance.

How Can I Observe Palm/Passion Sunday?

1. Attend a Palm/Passion Sunday service at a local church.

2. Pray this prayer for Palm/Passion Sunday.

3. Listen to a guided meditation using the Gospel Reading for Palm Sunday. 

4. Read “The Radical Way of Jesus” by Trevor Hudson. Hudson explores the two processions into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday as a way of helping young people choose between two radically different ways to live their lives.

5. How do we welcome others? Reflect on how we view migrants.

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Lent 101 • Holy Week 101 • Palm Sunday 101
Maundy Thursday 101 • Good Friday 101 • Holy Saturday 101 • Easter 101