3 Ways to Celebrate Palm Sunday

A day rich in spiritual rewards while a prelude to a week filled with sorrow

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Silhouette cross on mountain sunset; Getty Images

Holy Week begins on Sunday with joyous cries of “Hosanna” and a flurry of palms. It seems an odd way to begin a week that is filled with sorrow and agony. At week’s end we will all exclaim “Happy Easter!” but we’re much less likely to wish each other “Happy Palm Sunday!” It’s a day filled with ambivalence and yet rich with spiritual rewards.

1)  Step into the story.
Jesus’ ministry on earth is reaching a crescendo. All that He has said and all that He has promised is about to come true. Enter into the Holy Week story.

As Jesus and His disciples approached Jerusalem He gave His disciples a task. They are to fetch the donkey for Him to ride on (in the gospel of Matthew they are also to fetch a colt, too, for good measure). If anyone asks them why they are taking it, they are to say, “The Lord needs it.” That is enough.

Often in our faith journey we have to do things on trust. The higher purpose of some action might not be at all apparent to us. We follow God’s call, even if the role we’re taking is not immediately clear.

I like to think that the owner of that donkey or that colt got the animal back, but at this moment all he can do is obey. The Lord needed something from him, and he gave it.

2)  Shout your “Hosannas.”
At our church on Palm Sunday, we gather at a playground outside and march together to the church, carrying palms as that crowd did on the first Palm Sunday.

I’m always a little embarrassed by it. What are people going to think when they look out their windows at us? I wonder. Don’t we look a little silly? It’s one thing to sing “Hosannas” inside the church, but marching around beneath a cross on the sidewalks of New York City…?

And yet, stepping out in faith takes courage. It can mean shrugging off embarrassment. Perhaps some of those people looking out their windows on a Sunday morning might just want to join us today or another day. Perhaps they will be reminded of a holiday they had long forgotten.

“Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid,” goes an old saying.

3)  Take on the different roles.  
The whole power of Holy Week becomes clearer when you identify yourself with the different players in it, when you see yourself in the cast.

I think of Jesus’ faithfulness as He heads to his destiny, one that will involve pain, unimaginable suffering and worst of all, utter abandonment by his followers, those He loved most. I think of the disciples getting it all wrong before they ever get it right. “His disciples didn’t understand these things at first,” says the gospel of John. They wouldn’t until after the Resurrection.

And I think of the crowd shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” They want a king, but is He the king they want? Are they ready for the peace He has to offer? Will they be calling “Crucify Him!” on Friday?

Soon the palms will become greenery among the lilies of Easter. Soon we will all exclaim, “The Lord is risen!” and sing “Alleluias.” But for now there are these “Hosannas” and palms.

Happy Palm Sunday. Easter is coming.

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