Picture: Palm tree with dates, Mount of Olives, 2020
In the Gospels, Jesus’ followers cut palm branches for his way into Jerusalem. In the Bible, palm branches are associated with the celebration of the Festival of Booths or Sukkot (Lev. 23:40).
But the Festival of Booths is a fall festival, after the palm dates are harvested. The story of Palm Sunday takes place in the spring, at the Passover. To cut branches from the palm tree in the spring means that the tree will die. When the tree dies, there will be no dates to harvest for eating or for market later.
And so the palm tree becomes a symbol of Crucifixion, of life cut short too early. The palm becomes a symbol of sacrifice through its association with the death of Jesus.
The power of the palm tree as a symbol of martyrdom extends into Islam. After last year’s New Zealand mosque murders, Imam Mustafa of the Islamic Society of Greater Concord remarked during his Friday sermon: “They may strike us, but like the palm tree, we bend but we do not break. They may strike us and we do not break even though we give up our best fruits.”
Remember the symbol of palm: in times of loss and sacrifice, we bend but we do not break. Even though we lose some of our best fruits, we bend but do not break. And this power of this symbol is found in the Cross of Christ whose grace is sufficient and whose power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).
Yours in faith,
Rev. Jason Wells, Executive Director