Palms for Palm Sunday in Trinity Church

The Two Themes of Palm Sunday

So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
the King of Israel!’ John 12:13

Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, the most solemn and significant seven days in the annual Christian calendar.

Palm Sunday Triumphal Procession

Palm Sunday has its basis in the scriptures; all four Gospel accounts prominently mention the triumphal arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey and greeted by enthusiastic crowds throwing tree branches and clothing on the ground while cheering him as a coming king.

Palm Sunday has been celebrated by Christians in the Middle East since at least the late fourth century. Details of those observances, including street processions as a reenactment of Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem, came to Europe primarily due to an account in the diary of Etheria, a pilgrim from the Galicia region of northwest Spain.

As the first day of Holy Week, the manner in which the Church has historically observed Palm Sunday includes all the major themes of the final week of Jesus’s life on earth, when loud, public affirmation was quickly followed by betrayal, arrest, trial, and execution. 

In its worship bulletin for Sunday, Trinity Church Wall Street, like all parishes in The Episcopal Church, describes the liturgy as The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, clearly noting the day’s two areas of focus. After the blessing of the palms, and the Gospel recounting the triumphant entry to Jerusalem, with the cries of “Hosanna to the son of David,” and the singing of a hymn of praise, the liturgy pivots to its second theme with the reading of the entire Passion from one of the gospels; this year it will be the Gospel according to Luke. In the midst of that reading, worshippers will again be asked to shout a response, but this time it will be “Crucify him, crucify him.”

Trinity offers four morning services of Holy Eucharist on Palm Sunday, April 10, three in Trinity Church at 8am, 9am, and 11:15am, with the Family Service at 9:15am inside the Parish Hall. The services at 9:15am and 11:15am will be live-streamed at All four services will include the traditional blessing of palm branches. It will mark the first time Palm Sunday has been celebrated at Trinity with an in-person congregation since 2019, and the first in-person Palm Sunday worship inside Trinity Church since 2018, shortly before the start of the building’s rejuvenation.  

Raising of Lazarus

The day before Palm Sunday also has a name: Lazarus Saturday. While not at all familiar to people whose tradition is Western Christianity, Lazarus Saturday is still observed, actually celebrated, in the Eastern Orthodox Church as the day that Jesus raised his friend Lazarus of Bethany from the dead, as recounted in great detail in John chapter 11. 

Lazarus had been dead four days and his resurrection is Jesus’ final miracle (or “sign” as described in John’s Gospel) until Jesus’s own resurrection. Lazarus Saturday as an observance provides context to the accounts of Palm Sunday and what happened soon after. John’s Gospel ties Lazarus’s resurrection directly to the crowds in the streets affirming Jesus as a king which, again according to John, directly results in the desire of religious leaders, and very likely the civil authorities of the Roman Empire, to end Jesus’s life and the perceived threat to their power. 

In the Eastern Orthodox Church calendar, Holy Week and Easter usually fall one week later than in the Western Church. So, if you have friends who are Orthodox Christians, remember to wish them a “Happy Lazarus Saturday” on April 16 and “Happy Easter” on April 24. 

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