This week we will celebrate Palm Sunday, the second Palm Sunday under the pandemic and the second time without real palm fronds. But you don’t need to be sad. We only need to recognize that the presence of those “Palms” at the time of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem are far from certain.
The earliest record of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem is in the gospel of Mark (11:8) and it does not mention any palms. People were spreading their coats on a road and also some vegetation. Gospel is using a relatively rare word ο στιβας. It was derived from stepping, stomping, and walking. Later it acquired the meaning of bedding for animals in stables and also humans in a form of ancient mattress material - straw, hay, simply some soft vegetative matter upon which it was possible to rest comfortably. In the Gospel people were spreading on that road their coats and also straw, hay, and reeds creating for Jesus an improvised soft red carpet.
Luke in his gospel probably did not know what it was and what was its purpose and so he did not mention any vegetation - people were just spreading their coats.
Gospel of Matthew (21:8) tries to explain and also simplify. People were placing on the road their coats and also branches or shoots of trees and bushes (τα κλαδια των δεντρων). Both words indicate wooden plants and certainly not palms.
We have to wait until the gospel of John almost a century later before any mention of palms at Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem. And we also hear for the first time that people were waiving with those “the palm branches of palms”. John clearly overcompensates and uses quite awkward and unnecessary pleonasm (τα βαια των φοινικων).
This is what less than a century of tradition can do – from straw, to branches, to palm fronds; from spreading them on the road to waving them up high; from an archaic improvised middle-eastern red carpet to exuberant celebration; from a solemn self-dedication to cheerful festivity.
But palms were certainly not the original part of Jesus' entry to Jerusalem - and that is something you might not know about your bible and your religion.
So don’t be sad if you don’t have palm fronds this Sunday. Use what Europeans did for centuries in their colder climate. They used budding and blossoming branches. To the point that Palm Sunday was often called the Flower Sunday. For this Pandemic Palm Sunday worship buy pussy-willows or blossoming sakura branches or just any spring flowers or any flowers. We will celebrate the Flower Sunday.