Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday

The Sacred Palm
Palm Sunday is a Christian moveable feast that falls on the Sunday before Easter. The feast commemorates Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, riding upon an ass. In many lands in the ancient Near East, it was customary to cover in some way the path of someone thought worthy of the highest honour. Because of this, the scene of the crowd greeting Jesus by waving palms and carpeting his path with them and their cloaks has become symbolic and important.

The symbolism of the ass or donkey may refer to the ancient Eastern tradition that it is an animal of peace, versus the horse, which is the animal of war. Therefore, a king rides upon a horse when he was bent on war and rides upon a donkey when he wanted to point out he was coming in peace. Therefore, Jesus' entry to Jerusalem symbolized his entry as the Prince of Peace, not as a war-waging king.

The sacred tree in Assyrian mythology is a palm that symbolizes Ishtar connecting heaven, the crown of the tree, and earth, the base of the trunk. Palm stems represented long life to the Ancient Egyptians, and the god Huh was often shown holding a palm stem in one or both hands. The Kingdom of Nri (Igbo) used the "omu", a tender palm frond, to sacralize and restrain. The palm tree was a sacred sign of Apollo in Ancient Greece because he had been born under one in Delos. In ancient Mesopotamia, the date palm may have represented fertility in humans. The Mesopotamian goddess Inanna, who had a part in the sacred marriage ritual, considered herself the one who made the dates abundant.

Before the advent of paper, an early book form in the Indian subcontinent was the palm-leaf manuscript, known as pothi. It had a long and narrow horizontal format and was seldom more than 60 cm long and 6 cm high. Despite its diminutive size, it was a durable instrument for communicating Indian religious thought for over 2,000 years. The manuscript was intended to preserve and disseminate Indian sacred texts in the service of religion, as well as the great literary epics.

At one of the Fourth Buddhist Councils, convened in Sri Lanka in the 1st century BCE, the Tripitaka was written out on palm leaves. After centuries of being memorized and chanted, the Pali Canon finally existed as written text.

In 16th century Europe, Palm Sunday was marked by the burning of Jack-'o'-Lent figures. This was a straw effigy which would be stoned and abused. The effigy represented the hated figure of Winter whose destruction prepares the way for Spring.

The river so white, the mountain so red
and with the sunshine over my head
The honky-tonks are all closed and hushed

It looks like Palm Sunday again

The sky is so green, clouds of canary
Blood moon rise like a fat ripe cherry
Sunset quiet as a benediction
One true love, the rest is fiction

If I stay longer, trouble will find me
An epitaph and a sheet to wind me
A passable day for the least of men

It looks like Palm Sunday again

It must be Palm Sunday again…

- Robert Hunter