Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem–Palm Sunday meditation
To understand Palm Sunday, the first century roads leading into Jerusalem are critical to know. To understand Palm Sunday, the careful distinction that is made in the Scripture between the olive branch and the palm branch is critical to know. In other words, one cannot understand what happens on Palm Sunday without understanding both the roads leading into Jerusalem and the olive/palm branch.
In Borg’s and Crossan’s important book, The Last Week (2006), the authors make an important point about the two “royal” processions on their way to Jerusalem during the Passover. One procession, the “imperial procession,” began in Caesarea Maritima with all the Emperor’s power coming to keep peace in the out-of-the-way city called Jerusalem. Passover was the one time of the year that Rome felt it was necessary to keep the “Pax” in Jerusalem. The emperor’s representative, Pilate the Governor, as we know by Roman coins, would have been carrying a palm branch, a sign of imperial power. The road the Emperor’s procession would have taken to Jerusalem would have been from the west.
In contrast, the Jesus procession, the “peasant’s procession”, would have come up from the Wadi Qelt road in the east, from Jericho to Jerusalem, arriving on the Mount of Olives, near the Augusta Victoria Lutheran Hospital today, not that far from Bethphage. There Jesus asked for a donkey and a colt, fulfilling the prophecies of the Prophet Zechariah (9:9). As Jesus made his way along the Mount of Olives, as large crowd cut leafy branches (olive branches) and waved them as they shouted, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”
The olive branch symbolizes peace. The palm branch symbolizes imperial power. Entering Jerusalem on these two different roads, a clash of power was about to take place: the power of the Emperor and the power of the “highest heaven”. As the drama of Holy Week unfolds, the question that we have to remember is this: the Palm Branch or the Olive Branch?
This information comes to you as a courtesy of St. George’s College, one of more than thirty institutions of education, rehabilitation, and healthcare of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, covering Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. St. George’s College, a continuing education center of the Anglican Communion, offers educational pilgrimages.