It was the wrong time of year, but in all of the excitement of the moment no one seemed to care. For normally among the Jews in the first century, it was during the fall festival of Sukkoth or “Booths”—easily the most popular holiday of the year—when worshippers would parade through Jerusalem up to the Temple as they waved a makeshift bouquet of willow, myrtle, and palm branches known as a lulav.
Along the way, they would also recite the scripture for Sukkoth, Psalm 118, including the words of verse 25, “Lord, save us!” (howosiah or hosanna in the Hebrew) and quite literally, “Lord, rush us to success!” And that, in turn, was followed by the next verse of the psalm, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Even if the season was wrong, however, the sentiment was exactly right. For when Jesus descended down the Mount of Olives that spring day to begin the week of Passover the crowd around Him couldn’t help but honor Him just as at Sukkoth, or as they might have done for any king or conqueror who entered the city. The palms themselves not only symbolized victory and grandeur—the majestic date palms which grew at Jericho often reached fifty feet or more, for instance—but they were regarded as tokens of joy and goodness as well. Images of palms were even used extensively on Jewish coinage and came to be representative of the land of Israel itself.
And so the crowd began to pick up palm fronds and line the roadway ahead of Jesus, making it all the smoother, as well as wildly wave those branches to celebrate, just as the words of Leviticus 23.40 and Nehemiah 8.15 had instructed them. Some may likewise have thought of the experience of the Maccabees more than a hundred years before when the Jews revolted against the Seleucids and once again entered Jerusalem with praise and palm branches, as recorded in the Apocrypha (1 Maccabees 13.51-52).
But for whatever the reason, it all got so rambunctious that the Pharisees in the crowd told Jesus to shush his supporters. Jesus replied, though, that if His followers kept silent, even the stones themselves would cry out. And as churches across the world gather for another Palm Sunday this weekend—largely bereft of any onsite worshippers at all—it may indeed be up to the stone walls of those buildings to pick up the mantle of praise this year.
Wherever you may be, however, I hope you will get a little rambunctious on your own. Wave a branch of whatever you’ve got. Go out in the backyard and yell “Hosanna” as loud as you can. Put a picture of a palm tree or frond in your front window. For just as He did long ago when the world was also a bit mixed-up, Jesus will be riding into our lives once again on Sunday. And though we may all be a bit in enforced solitude, it’s not a time to put our praise on silent mode as well.
The world still needs—especially now perhaps—to hear us rejoice that the King has come to town.