|“Entry Into Jerusalem”|
Pietro Lorenzetti. c. 1320.
(Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, Italy)
It will be relatively easy this Sunday to imagine the roar of the Jerusalem crowd. Our own shouts of “Hosanna” will amplify it, and those palm fronds [and perhaps a grand procession] will make the tableau nearly complete. But if you listen very carefully, you just might hear strains of rejoicing – not at the gates of Jerusalem, but from a very different place in the Kingdom.
The Palm frond has long been a symbol of victory and rejoicing. Not only was it commanded in Levitical style by The Lord for His ancient people, but it was also a common victory symbol used by other cultures, including the Greeks and Romans. Being a showy and elegant bit of botany, the palm frond looked festive when waved, and regal when cradled in an arm. Like the laurel wreath, it took on specific meaning when used in celebratory context.
shown holding a palm frond,
the symbol of a martyr.
Carlo Crivelli. 1476.
(National Gallery, London)
For the Israelites, it was to be used to celebrate during the Feast of Booths – both in rejoicing before the Lord, and in construction of the booths themselves.
It was natural, therefore, that the citizens of Jerusalem utilized palm branches in welcoming what they thought was their “bread king” and the answer to foreign oppression. For a fleeting moment, it was a reason for celebration and rejoicing – if only for a very wrong reason. Their joy would quickly sour into calls for blood.
We should, however, be careful to not judge the Jews harshly for being fickle and ignorant. We know the Christ more intimately than they as our Savior from sin, death, and the power of the Devil, but how quickly we forget rejoicing that fact while facing the next storm or tribulation that comes down our path!
William How’s lyrics from the hymn, “For All The Saints,” remind us of a very different celebration.
|Palms decorate this detail of the Procession of Martyrs from a Byzantine mosaic.|
The Master of St. Apollinare. c. 526. (St. Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy)
“And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song...”
The Book of Revelation holds a close parallel to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem: An innumerable group, dressed in white and carrying palm branches, shout praise to The Lord. As is traditionally depicted in art, these are the noble army of martyrs, but it is also true that those coming out of the great tribulation include us, as well.
Wearing white robes that have been washed in the blood of The Lamb underscores, in unimaginable terms, an equally-great mystery that we shall resound with a joy that is neither fickle nor misplaced, but is inexpressible and without end. There, in eternity, our “Hosannas” will be the victorious realization of our prayers here, in time.