Palm Sunday is one of my favorite days of the year. It marks the beginning of Holy Week, when we tell in story and song and pageantry of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem the week before he died and rose again. All four gospels recount that he came into the city not astride a great white stallion as would befit a king, but on a humble donkey, and thousands hailed him, laying down their cloaks and palm branches on the path before him, singing “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
For the second year in a row, we’ll not be at church on Palm Sunday, and I won’t be in charge of the donkey. One Lent my friend Hershey and I thought it would be fun if we could find a donkey to lead the Palm Sunday procession for five blocks along Broadway in lower Manhattan, from St. Paul’s Chapel to Trinity Church. Can’t you just see the stunned tourists and charmed children? We never actually thought our boss would agree, but he did, and each year thereafter, it was my job to wrangle the donkey. Just finding one was a challenge, for as Rob in Yonkers once pointed out to me, “Palm Sunday is like New Year’s Eve for donkeys.” So that’s something you don’t need to worry about at home.
You also don’t need to worry about palms. As my friend Bruce Jenneker explains in this short video, “All over the world people have chosen to use the branches that are common to them.” Since we aren’t parading in the streets these days, you could decorate your door with palms or any leafy branch, because one of the most touching things about Palm Sunday is the element of public witness, of welcoming the King of Kings. Last year my friend Roger Hutchison asked folks at church to decorate their doors with palms and send him photographs, which he then made into a lovely video montage that began the prerecorded Palm Sunday worship service at the aptly named Palmer Memorial Church in Houston, Texas. Illustrated Ministry even has a free downloadable palm branch to print and color, as in the photo above from a family participating in online worship at my church last year. It says so much about what’s possible even now. We enter into the story, we find ourselves connected to it, to Jesus, to our communities of faith, to one another.
This year I encourage us to let Palm Sunday be just that, without the Passion. The point of fitting all of Holy Week into one Sunday service was for those who couldn’t get to church daily. Since we aren’t gathering physically this year, we could take time, and not even a long time, with the scriptures each day, using a technique from Ignatian spirituality called Imaginative Prayer. What I love about this is that it works well with people of all ages, and could be done at home or with others on Zoom. It’s best when one person reads the Gospel aloud. I suggest using the Common English Bible. The readings for all of Holy Week can be found here. As you listen, put yourself in the story, or imagine that you are one of the people in the story. Think about where you are, how you feel. Read the story again. Name, or draw, or write down what you smell, taste, touch, see, and hear, giving at least one detail in each category. Remember that in scripture, we find ourselves–at the gates of Jerusalem, in the Temple courts, having supper in the Upper Room, falling asleep in the garden, hearing the cock crow three times, trembling at the foot of the cross, wondering at the empty tomb.
Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.
*All the Holy Week and Easter at Home posts are gathered here*