The Sunday Palm branch thing finds its origin in Jewish story and lore from the period of the Maccabees. The Jewish people had been under the tyrannical and oppressive dictatorship of Syrian Secuelids (the Syrian dynasty which followed Alexander the Great). During this time their temple had been desecrated with a pig being offered on the altar of the Lord as a way of mocking YHWH and the people of God. Judas Maccabeus miraculously led Israel into victory over the Syrian occupation and upon their victory the crowds celebrated by plucking palm branches off of trees and waving them ecstatically. An ocean of waving branches did more to capture the essence of that moment than anything else. Children and grandparents, soldiers and girlfriends, vinedressers and stonemasons rushed into Jerusalem waving palm branches; the picture was unforgettable. In fact, so memorable was the moment of freedom and national dignity that Judas “The Hammer” stamped an image of a palm branches into their coins, symbolizing victory for the Jews over the occupational force. The palm branch from that point forward was minted onto the temple coinage; a reminder of what really mattered.
During the time of Jesus crowds would swell into Jerusalem during the Passover. In order to keep the peace and quell any uprisings, Rome would send the Roman Occupational Guard into Jerusalem with a large contingent of foot soldiers, horsemen and the Prefect riding in on a powerful stallion. The military entourage would arrive from the West (Rome) and enter through a western Gate and into the occupational fortresses on the west. Rome came in brut force, military muscle, and power as they sought to intimidate the people into submission. One year, almost 200 years after the Maccabean Revolt, while Rome was making its annual ascent into the City, Jesus was making his ascent into the City but from the East, riding on a donkey. The polarity of the moment--Rome's Pilate on the West and Heaven's Jesus on the East--was such a stark contrast and an alternative hope that people once again grabbed palm branches and cried out, "Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." "At long last! Salvation has come."
Palm Sunday is a day we embrace the radical meekness of our King, its a day we praise he who became powerless and how that powerlessness is the posture God works his greatest grace through. Its a day we embrace humility, a day we acknowledge out utterly otherly this Kingdom that God has brought to us in Jesus.