On Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter Sunday) Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish festival of Passover. Many people gathered on the streets to catch a glimpse of him, waving palm branches as he rode by. However, it's important to remember that Jesus was a controversial figure. Some people, in particular the authorities, were extremely suspicious of his teachings and claims - today they would have regarded him as something of a troublemaker.
Today people remember Palm Sunday by decorating churches with palm branches, and giving palms out to the congregation, in some cases fashioned into the shape of a cross (in remembrance of Jesus dying on a cross).
Jesus understands his time on Earth is nearly over. He gathers his friends and followers (his 12 Disciples, including the saints John, Matthew, Mark and Simon) together to share a final meal - the 'Last Supper'. Jesus passed round bread (which he told his disciples was 'his body') and wine (his 'blood'); his way of explaining to them that he would soon die. He also told his friends they should love one another - the 'mandate' or command from which the term Maundy is derived. It was on this night that Jesus was later betrayed by Judas, who identified Jesus to soldiers working for opposing religious authorities (the 'High Priests') in return for money - those authorities then passed Jesus over to the Roman soldiers who were to eventually execute him.
The ceremony of eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of Jesus' life is practised today in Christian churches in the form of the Eucharist or communion.
The Roman soldiers who arrested Jesus took him to Pontius Pilate, who was in charge of the province at the time. On Good Friday, Jesus' fate was sealed - Pilate decided to ask a crowd of people outside whether Jesus should be put to death for making claims about being the son of God. They said he should. The method of his execution was one of the most brutal known to man - death by crucifixion, or being nailed to a cross. This is why the cross has such great significance to Christians and is behind the tradition of eating hot cross buns on Good Friday.
Jesus was made to carry his own cross to the spot of his execution, a hill overlooking the city. Here he was nailed to the cross and placed alongside two criminals. A sign was placed above Jesus' cross which read 'The King of the Jews'.
The Bible tells that suddenly, just before Jesus took his last breath, the sky turned black. He was removed from the cross and buried in a tomb.
Christians today often commemorate Good Friday by attending a 'Stations of the Cross' service, where Jesus' last hours on earth are retraced. As Good Friday is seen as a day of mourning, services are very solemn; churches are left unadorned with flowers or similar decorations, and in some churches pictures and statues are covered over.
Jesus had told his disciples in advance that he would rise again on the third day after his death. He had been buried in a tomb guarded by an enormous stone so that no-one could steal the body. When some women came to visit the grave a couple of days after his death they found that the huge stone had been moved and the tomb was empty. Jesus was seen that day and for several days later, and revisited old friends who realised what had been foretold had come true - Jesus had indeed risen from the dead.
Easter is, therefore, a time of great celebration for Christians. Churches are sometimes decorated with white lillies, traditional Easter flowers, and the mood is joyful and uplifting.
Sunday, March 27, 2016