Palms and Victory
Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

This coming Sunday brings one of the sharpest contrasts, one of the most remarkable twists in the life of the Church. As Jesus Christ enters His holy city of Jerusalem, He is receiving praise by all the people except His explicit enemies. They wave palm branches and sing, “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” But as the week progresses and Jesus continues to push buttons, we see that the mood changes, the acclamations die down, and the atmosphere sours.

But did you ever wonder … why palms? Growing up, I loved palm branches; they were a symbol to me that we were getting close to Florida, my favorite place. In Scripture, palms had a deeper symbolism for God’s people. In the Old Testament, palms were utilized and symbolic of the Feast of Tabernacles (or tents). All Jewish men were required to celebrate it in person every year in Jerusalem to remember how God provided for Israel during the forty years in the wilderness. During this feast, they came with leafy boughs and palms, and they lived in tents. In this way, the people of God remembered how God provided for His people in the wilderness. He gave them manna, meat, and water.

Unlike the high feast of Passover in the spring, the Feast of Tabernacles occurred in the fall, usually in late September or early October, close to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On this day, the high priest would take two goats. One would have all the sins of the people confessed over its head and be released as a scapegoat. The other goat was sacrificed, and the high priest took that blood when he entered the Most Holy Place in order to place it on the Mercy Seat. During the Feasts of Atonement and Tabernacle, the Israelites recollected their unfaithfulness and rebellion against God in the desert. Further, they knew that most of the first generation who exited Egypt never entered the Promised Land.

When Israel camped in Jerusalem every year, they not only remembered their past failures and sin but beyond that, they remembered all of God’s wonderful and generous provision. Their sandals never wore out, they ate manna and meat, and they had water every day. Moses said, And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD. . . . You shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year.

This upcoming Sunday, we will each receive a palm branch, not only to remember and celebrate Palm Sunday, but more importantly, to joyously celebrate the victory that is yours in Christ! It will be a high feast day of jubilation and celebration, but it will be the first day of Holy Week that we honor and remember. We will later witness our Lord instituting His Supper, battling Satan in the Garden of Gethsemane in prayer, and being betrayed by Judas. We will witness Good Friday and Christ’s suffering and Passion. But remember why Jesus does it all: to give you an eternal victory. Therefore, you wave palms now, as. John shares in His Revelation vision of heaven. There, all the saints will hold palm branches in their hands with white robes, washed in the blood of the Lamb, crying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10).

Soon, other leafy plants, especially Easter lilies, will be placed in front of the cross in the baptistery around the corner. Such greenery symbolizes rest, beauty, peace, and tranquility for the people of God. Therefore, many of you still provide greenery and flowers for God’s house to joyfully celebrate people, family, God’s gift of life, or an anniversary. Palms and green symbolize life and strength, and baptismal white robes are your covering.

In the Song of Solomon, the palm tree is referred to as a symbol of strength, vigorous life, and abundance. In a hot Mediterranean climate, the shade of a palm offered relief from the direct heat of the sun. Palms were also carved in the walls of Solomon’s temple. Rest today and recline joyfully, baptized and clothed in white through Christ’s blood. That is why you will hold palm branches in your hands! You are baptized into Jesus Christ, washed in His blood, and are now spotless! Your sins, which once stained you crimson, are washed away, leaving you white as snow! And this is not of yourselves; no, your eternal victory is won by Jesus!

Even when your life drastically turns upside down from the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat, remember who always holds the ultimate victory for you! Jesus Christ is why we will be holding palms this upcoming Sunday, and in Jesus, you are baptized and given white robes washed by His blood. Never lose heart! You are always His child, protected under His heavenly wings. That is a promise. So celebrate the thrill of victory that is yours in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that the agony of defeat never lasts.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.