Palm branch

Photo courtesy of Scott Webb of

For Christians the world over tomorrow is Palm Sunday. It marks the day that Jesus made his way back to Jerusalem for the last time. He had spent the prior three years performing miracles, healing the afflicted, and preaching the tenets of the Kingdom of God.

Tomorrow we’ll wave our palm branches as we process into our churches.

But why? What’s the significance of palms? The gospels tell us that the crowds who had lined up for Jesus’ triumphal entry waved palms while shouting Hosanna as he rode past them on a donkey.

Biblical scholars offer several explanations. I lean strongly toward the answer that the Jewish people were thinking, “THIS IS THE GUY! The one we’ve been waiting for. Here comes Jesus of Nazareth, KING of the Jews. Our King! He’s going to rescue us from this Roman domination system. He’s going to free us from this tyranny and life will be good.”

And so they waved their branches of palm trees—a sign of victory fit for a king. In those times, victors of battle were greeted and honored with waving palms. It was also an old custom to receive persons of great authority in this manner.

Hosanna (from the Hebrew hosianna) was an age-old cry for help or saving. We now use it as a proclamation of joy, but clearly the people were longing to be rescued from domination and were crying out for help as well as acknowledging that this was the chosen one who would make that happen.

It’s believed that people expected Jesus to overthrow the Roman government by force in order to establish his own kingdom. Really? The most loving and compassionate human being (because we must always remember that Jesus was a real person) who ever lived on this earth was going to use force? They heard the words but they didn’t get his message.

And it’s clear that not even his disciples, the twelve who had traveled with him, experienced the teachings and healings and lessons first-hand, truly understood the meaning of Jesus establishing the Kingdom of God on earth.

With Billy Graham’s recent death, there have been many stories and programs about him. One of my favorite stories is his crisis with faith. Yes, you heard me. Billy Graham, surely one of the most secure men of God ever, had a faith crisis.

His grandson Will shares the story in the link at the end of this post. But here’s a quote about his grandfather and the crisis: “….he walked out into the woods and set his Bible on a stump – more an altar than a pulpit – and he cried out: “O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand. There are many problems with it for which I have no solution. There are many seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I can’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions…others are raising.”

So yes, we do have questions. We don’t understand it all. For instance, science has proved that the world is 4.5 billion years old, yet the age of the world according to the Bible is 6000 years. We can believe the creation story of the world and all that’s in it being created in seven days as we think of days, or we can believe that a “God day” of creation wasn’t just 24 hours. Or we can believe that God created the big bang and later inspired the writer of Genesis to tell the story in a more understandable way.

I love reading the story of creation each year at the Easter vigil. No science gets in my way of understanding that, however it happened, creation was by God’s hand.

I think God intends us to think about our faith deeply and talk about it openly.  And if the disciples and Billy Graham had some trouble understanding it all, I think we’re in good company.

Here’s the link to the story by Will Graham.