Thousands of years ago, individuals and families were planning their pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the annual celebration of Passover. Jesus was making arrangements to secure a donkey for his ride into Jerusalem as the “Prince of Peace.” The authorities were on the look out for him as he was a wanted man, a threat to the order established by the Romans. In ancient times, palm branches symbolized goodness and victory. In Revelation 7:9, people from every nation raise palm branches to honor Jesus.
For centuries, Palm Sunday has been celebrated all over the world in a myriad of ways. In many churches, palms are used for processionals inside and outside the church. In Belgium, a wooden statue of Christ is carried around town while children go door to door offering the palms for coins. Similarly, in Finland, children dress up as Easter witches and go door to door exchanging decorated pussy willow branches for coins and candy as they chant, “I’m wishing you a fresh, healthy upcoming year, a branch for you, a prize for me!” In India, flowers are strewn about in the sanctuary showing their honor to Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, a practice adapted from an older Hindu custom. In Italy, palm leaves are used along with small olive branches and placed at house entrances to last until the following year’s Palm Sunday. In Latvia, pussy willows are blessed and distributed to the faithful as a symbol of new life. In the Philippines, palapas’ (ornately woven palm branches) are brought home from the church celebration and placed on altars, doorways and windows as a sign of welcoming Christ into the home.
In previous years, we have processed from our beautiful, sunlit (some years anyway) atrium into the sanctuary, holding our palms high while singing “Hosanna in the Highest.” On this coming Sunday, we will gather greenery from our yards and neighborhoods and celebrate Palm Sunday from our respective homes. We will gather in community from a distance and experience the presence of the Christ through the words of welcome, song, prayer, scripture and communion. And while we’ll experience this Palm Sunday a little differently than in past years, it is my hope that we will celebrate, honor and Christ into our homes just as Jesus was honored as he entered Jerusalem.
In this blessed and challenging time of where some are isolated and others experiencing an abundance of community in tight quarters, may you experience and find comfort in the peace and love of God.
In Great Hope,