History of Palm Sunday: How it starts Holy Week


The week we now call Holy Week or Passion Week, started with Palm Sunday. Why was this week so important that three of the gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) devote a full third of their contents to reporting this week, and The Fourth Gospel (John) dedicates its entire last half?

Jerusalem, which had a normal population of about 50,000 at the time, had at least tripled in size because of the influx of pilgrims celebrating the Jewish holiday Passover. Early Sunday morning Jesus made his dramatic public entry into the city. This was the end of any privacy and safety his ministry had afforded and marked the beginning of what would be an inevitable collision course with the religious and political authorities: Jewish and Roman.


The procession started at the Mount of Olives, across the land bridge of the Kidron Valley, and through the eastern gate into the city. There is some debate among scholars as to which of the two current gates on the eastern wall of the city Jesus would have entered.

Jerusalem GatesThe Sheep Gate on the northeast corner of the Old City, which I’ve walked through myself, is a natural choice from the land bridge, and a common gate that Jesus used to enter the city. It was so named as lambs destined for Temple sacrifice entered here. They did not leave alive. For centuries, during Easter Week, Christian pilgrims begin their procession inside this gate. The route is called the Via Dolorosa, “the way of pain” and marks the stations of the cross.

Others contend that the Golden Gate on the center-eastern part of the city is the one, though it’s currently sealed up and has been for five centuries since the mid-16th century by Suleiman the Magnificent, a sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Jewish tradition states that the Messiah will enter through that gate when he comes in the new age to rule.

Crowds began to gather to see the rabbi from Galilee. The procession began accompanied by shouting and singing from the throngs as they threw down their garments on the pathway to cushion his ride — an Oriental custom still observed on occasions — as well as palm fronds, the symbol of triumph. The Old Testament prophet Zechariah had foretold the arrival of the Messianic king in Jerusalem via the humble conveyance of a colt. Here the crowd hailed Jesus as “the son of David”, a loaded name used at a loaded time. The Bible had predicted that the Messiah would be the son of David. The priestly establishment was understandably disturbed, as the palm was the national emblem of an independent Palestine. These were Jewish flags. What if Jesus should claim to be the heir of King David?

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History of Pontius Pilate: his Background Before Good Friday


The name Pontius Pilate provides two valuable clues to his background and ancestry. The family name, Pontius was that of a prominent clan among the Samnites, hill cousins of the Latin Romans. They had almost conquered Rome in several fierce wars. The Pontii were of noble blood, but when Rome finally absorbed the Samnites, their aristocracy was demoted to the Roman equestrian or middle-class order, rather than the higher senatorial order. It is Pilate’s personal name Pilatus that proves almost conclusively that he was of Samnite origin.


Pilatus means “armed-with-a-javelin.” The pilum or javelin was six feet long, half wooden and half pointed iron shaft, which the Samnite mountaineers hurled at their enemies with devastating results. It’s hardened iron tip could pierce shields and body armor. The Romans quickly copied it, and it was this pilum in fact, during the Late Republican period that made the Roman Empire possible.

By the way, the picture above is called Ecce Homo, “Behold the Man.” It depicts Pilate gesturing to Jesus in the gospel narrative from the Latin Vulgate translation of John 19:5 and is by Italian painter Antonio Ciseri. It hangs in the Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy where I saw it there on an Easter Day many years ago. We know of Pilate in the Bible from the four New Testament Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and First Timothy. He is described in several later apocryphal writings. Roman historian Tacitus talks about Pilate, as well as Jewish writers Philo of Alexandria, and Josephus.

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History of Easter: Historical Climate

Historical Climate of EasterHISTORICAL CLIMATE OF EASTER

As we begin Passion Week this weekend, what was the historical climate of Easter Week almost 2,000 years ago surrounding the last week of the life of Jesus of Nazareth? This was a man born to die, not just in the normal sense, but in some special sense. Jesus entered Jerusalem amidst a torrent of turbulence: religious, political, military, social, and economic. The events in Palestine at that time are rarely linked to the larger context which controlled the province: the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, the culmination of Jesus’ career was a tale of two cities – both Jerusalem and Rome. In this series on Easter we’ll discuss:

The Events

  • Palm Sunday: what was the climate of the city when Jesus entered?
  • The Trial: what took place during the trials, what laws were involved?
  • The Crucifixion: what was involved on Good Friday?
  • The Resurrection: what do we know about it?

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History of The Spring: What is the Vernal Equinox?


In Colorado we have a saying, we begin the first day of Spring in the same way we began the Fall: with snow. This symmetry is relevant as both the beginning of Spring and Fall coincide with the Equinox. This word is made up of two Latin root words aequus and nox meaning “equal night” referring to the fact that daylight and night time are equal in duration.


This year, the vernal equinox (Spring) occurs on March 20 at 10:28 am UTC. This means Temps Universel Coordonne, or Coordinated Universal Time if you don’t speak French, roughly equivalent to Greenwich Mean Time if you’re British, or Zulu Time if you’re a pilot. The Autumnal Equinox occurs 6 months later. Since each equinox occurs at the same time whether in the northern hemisphere as the southern hemisphere, though the seasons are reversed, it is becoming common to call the (northern) vernal equinox the March Equinox and the Autumnal Equinox the September Equinox.

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History of Easter: Why Bunnies and Eggs?

Easter Lily

Easter Lily


The most joyous of Christian festivals and one of the first celebrated by Christians commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is set on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. The English word “Easter” corresponding to the German “Oster,” reveals the association of many Easter customs with those of the Teutonic tribes of central Europe. When Christianity reached these people, it incorporated many of their “heathen” (of the heath) rites into the great Christian feast day. Easter month, corresponding to our April was dedicated to Eostre, or Ostara, goddess of the spring. There was in common the time of spring and the triumph of life over death.


The practice of eating eggs on Easter Sunday and giving them as gifts to friends and children probably arose because, in the earlier days of the church, eggs were forbidden food during Lent (the 40 days before Easter) and were therefore always eaten on Easter Sunday. But the custom of coloring eggs goes back to the ancient Egyptians and Persians, who practiced this custom during their spring festival.

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