Center for Interfaith Cooperation

Hoosiers of Many Faiths in Community

Happy Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday — celebrated this year by Catholics and Protestants on April 14 — is a special day for Christians. Here are five things Christians and non-Christians should know about the day.

Palm Sunday has a particular significance for Indiana … tons of tornadoes! Palm Sunday in 1965 saw a wave of tornado death and destruction greater than ever before (or after). Google “Palm Sunday” and Indianapolis: unlike other cities, which will recommend church services, you’ll get pages and pages about 1965. (The weather forecast for 2019 is pretty good.)

1965 tornadoes’ aftermath

The story of Palm Sunday is full of inversions. Clifford Geertz (and many other anthropologists write about symbolic status inversions that mark many festivals. Holi (being celebrated on April 14 by the Indian Association of Indianapolis) is an example: lower caste members can pelt the high-borne with colored dust without fear of punishment. The inversions of Palm Sunday are symbolic. A conquering king rides into Jerusalem not on a steed, but on a beast of burden. Within days, a crowd that acclaimed Jesus as king turned against him and demanded his execution.

Ethiopian representation of Jesus and the crowd on Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is the day palm trees say “We’re glad we’re not Christmas trees!” Think of the logistics of delivering freshly cut palm fronds to tens of thousands of churches around the country on this one day. (This year Orthodox Christians celebrate Palm Sunday on April 21, a week later than Catholics and Protestants.) There’s a good chance that a fair percentage of the trucks you’re seen on the freeways here in “The Crossroads of America” have been transporting palms. Palm farms are mostly in Florida, Texas, and California, and it’s a year-round business. It makes the Christmas tree industry seem leisurely. Good news for the palm trees: unlike Christmas trees, palm trees aren’t chopped down.

The end of a year-round process of delivering freshly cut palms totens of thousands of churches

Palm Sunday unites Christians, but has lessons from which everyone can learn. Palm Sunday is recounted in all four of the canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Unlike many other parts of the life of Jesus, from his birth to his death, there are few apparent inconsistencies or contradictions between the Gospels. There’s nothing about celebrating Palm Sunday that divides Christian denominations (unlike, for instance, the status of Saints). But non-Christians can learn from Palm Sunday. The fickleness of the crowd, the humility of power, the story of a person preparing for his death … it is powerful, regardless of what I may think about divinity or resurrection.

Just about everyone in the world seems to celebrate Palm Sunday more colorfully than Americans.

Girls take picture before a Palm Sunday Mass in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sunday, April 9, 2017. Palm Sunday marks Jesus Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem, when his followers laid palm branches in his path, prior to his crucifixion. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
GAZA CITY, GAZA – APRIL 09: Orthodox Christians in Gaza attend the Palm Sunday celebrations at St.Porphyrios Church in Gaza City, Gaza on April 09, 2016. Palm Sunday is celebrated on last Sunday before the ‘Easter’ for triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem and memory of palm branches were placed in his path. (Photo by Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A nun holds a palm leaf as she waits for Pope Francis to celebrate a Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Sunday, April 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Syrian Christian Orthodox worshippers take part in a parade marking Palm Sunday at the Church of Saint Elias in the Syrian capital Damascus on April 9, 2017. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of the Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. / AFP PHOTO / Louai BesharaLOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images
A Indian Christian worshippers offers prayers during Palm Sunday Mass in Chennai on April 9, 2017. Palm Sunday marks the sixth and last Sunday of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week. / AFP PHOTO / ARUN SANKARARUN SANKAR/AFP/Getty Images
Faithful holding handmade palms wait for a procession in the village of Glinianka, Poland, Sunday, April 9, 2017. Palm Sunday opens the Holy Week which ends with Easter Sunday, the most important Christian holiday. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
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