Palm Sunday is the day that launches Holy Week, the seven days marking the final hours of Christ’s earthly ministry. Churches across the globe traditionally use the day for special reflections on the life of Jesus.
Some ceremonies are bright, like theatrical pageants with children waving actual palm branches, or homemade designs to replicate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem at the start of Passover week.
Some reflections are intense, such as copiously produced Passion Plays with casts of hundreds, viewed by people from multiple denominations or no Christian belief, who feel compelled to put aside their differences and learn more.
Not to be overlooked are the cinematic Holy Week notations when television airways are filled with reruns of Biblical movies, ranging from forgivably, dated, stylized epics; to animated children’s attractions, which are curiosity creating if light on Biblical accuracy; to technically sophisticated, actor-intense updated versions, perhaps more biblically accurate and graphically realistic, put not without doses of modern cynicism.
Without COVID-19, church leaders would have spent the last several weeks feverishly preparing for Holy Week rituals — Palm Sunday followed by Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Resurrection (Easter) Sunday, maybe with an Egg Hunt on Saturday. Big churches, small churches, even no-churches (those without buildings) would be putting last-minute touches to attract people inside their doors “for Easter.” There would be mad dashes producing, planning, preparing the music, the orders of service, the guest cards, the colors, the dramatic flair to interact with individuals who’ll be coming to church for the first time this calendar year – whose last visit was Christmas.
Come Unto Me…
Right after Ash Wednesday.
The start of the season of sacrifice.
That I AM
So, the ballgames, and schools, and businesses, and, yes, paychecks, and hugs, and running around stopped.
Pageants, rehearsals, speeding to meetings ended.
And the earth is resting.
Sick, but resting.
ADDITIONAL READING: An Invitation from Jesus Matthew 11:28-30
What Are You Giving Up?
A friend has called stay-at-home, shelter-in-place furloughs God’s imposed Sabbath. A rest period.
Another friend has called this epoch God’s response to those who ask, “What food or activity do I give up for Lent?” Their decision has been made.
So, none of the usual Easter season activity is happening. Not even the dart to the grocer for eggs to color and hide. Of course, things could change before next Saturday. There still could be eggs… if you dared go to a grocery…and felt like putting on a mask…and standing behind a blue line. Or you could just #ChurchChannelSurf and hunt virtual eggs.
So where is the opportunity among these sobering thoughts, you may be thinking?
The opportunity is recognizing that Palm Sunday will come (“If the Lord wills”), followed by Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and, Resurrection Sunday, even under our current circumstances.
The opportunity comes in realizing that although there won’t be real donkeys to ride, nor actors dressed and undressed to play Jesus, nor seven stations or fire stations to stop in front of and reflection about the cross, we have chance to better understand how to withstand what is going on around us because of our circumstances.
Biblical Life In These Times
Among those opportunities is realizing the ironies of God’s timing, what we call #HolySpiritMoments, as gifts from God. Such as this:
Palm Sunday this year also happens to be the first Sunday of the month. The first Sunday is when many churches commemorate Jesus’ final meal with His disciples, and the instructions He gave them.
The general public is aware of this meal as “The Last Supper,” mostly because of the Renaissance painting by Leonardo DaVinci, that has become a source of mystery and mockery for centuries.
The actual dinner itself has greater purpose than speculation and conspiracy theorists imply.
ADDITIONAL READING: How “The Last Supper” Mural Has Survived
ADDITIONAL READING: History and Cultural Interpretations of “The Last Supper”
The Final Meal Meaning
Christ-followers from assorted traditions recognize that final meal in various ways and names: The Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Communion. By any other Christian name, the ritual is a variation on the Passover meal Jewish celebrants hold honor their ancestors’ escape from Egypt centuries before Cecile B. DeMille or Disney’s people revealed the exodus to masses. It was to celebrate the Passover and hold this celebration meal with his friends and disciples the brought Jesus, a Judean (Jew), to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Christians can tend to forget Jesus’ Jewish lineage.
But because of COVID, this Palm Sunday, Communion involving live congregations is now passed over. Those who wish to guide their congregations through the ritual must give televised instructions for their viewers at home. And therein is yet another opportunity: just as “home-schooling” has been thrust upon parents as education centers have closed, God is making “a new thing” by turning the home into a center of worship.
Indeed, before stationary buildings were erected, the home was the center of religious celebration and activity. Perhaps among the other things that have happened because of COVID, God has stopped the world around us so we can remember THAT.
Just as the original Passover celebrants did, as Jewish families do today, and Jesus did as his “last supper,” for stay-at-home 21st century celebrants, The Lord’s Supper is now a family affair. The sacred, worshipful environments many people clamor to have when they “go to church” will become their responsibility at home.
The head of the house is now pastor of Shelter-in-Place Church. The head of the house is thus responsible to create a reverent, worshipful atmosphere whenever communion is held. Here are some things to consider if you’re hosting communion in your house.
Purpose of the Meal
Although The Lord’s Supper is to remember the death of Jesus, the point of remembering His death is emphasizing its purpose — liberation for those who believe in new life through His resurrection, which came a few days later. This paradox is clearer today because we know what happened. But those at the table with Him didn’t.
Imagine being in the place of the disciples who assembled that night to celebrate how God liberated their ancestors from Egyptian slavery, only to have Jesus suddenly turning the tables, changing the conversation from God’s freedom of one people group to God’s freedom for all people groups…and for that to happen He would have to be executed in a few hours (John’s Gospel, Chapters 14-16). What on earth was going on? Why was it important for the apostles, on the night He was betrayed, to take the wine and bread and repeat the exercise as He did, and for Jesus to tell them, “Do this in remembrance of me.”?
Accordingly, just as the Jewish people come together on Passover to remember and re-read the passages of the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) , the pastor of the home should prepare the household to do the same for Maundy Thursday or Good Friday.
Following Communion Online
Traditionally, we are accustomed to certain people serving the elements. Regular church attendees may expect this to be the duty of the pastor, deacons, designated shepherds, etc. Over the years, there have been church “debates” as to whether women should serve communion. What’s important now is your shopping list and setting the table to have the elements assembled at home and ready when it’s time.
- Purchase, or pull out the representative unleavened bread: crackers, toast, wafers, etc.
- Set up the Lord’s Supper around a kitchen or dining room table like any other family meal.
- Assemble the representative wine: juice, water, wine (be clear about the purpose and restrictions of actual wine).
- Once assembled, put the elements in place where people will sit at home, or designate who will serve as the online pastor directs.
Conducting Communion At-Home
Churches hold communion on a schedule. There’s no restriction to holding a Lord’s Supper to that location or Sundays. Jesus There are Christ-following families who hold Communion on a weekly basis, similar to Jewish families observing shabbat. Other believers include communion as part of small group worship or Bible studies. In either case, if conducting Communion aside from the church’s online guidance, here are some other steps to include.
- Read the Scripture’s traditionally associated with Communion, 1 Corinthians 11:23-34.
- Read the account of the dinner included in chapter 17 of John’s gospel,, especially the prayers of Jesus for his disciples and those who will believe in His work.
- Following John’s description before leaving to Gethsemane, “And when they had finished eating, after they had sung a hymn, they went to the Garden,” select songs to sing to celebrate the life of Christ.
Whether partaking of communion online, as an autonomous family, or daily reflecting on changes of connecting because of COVID-19, Darryl Jenkins, pastor of Faith Community Church in Itasca, IL, tells congregants to look at the word “communion” and its base language “community.”
“People are looking for community today,” he says.
Imagine, therefore, on Palm Sunday and the other nights of the week, that although millions are apparently isolated from each other because of a shelter-in-place edict, millions more…billions, perhaps — are virtually, simultaneously united in the community of one faith, one baptism, one God — The Lord Jesus Christ.
Another friend envisions that perhaps the current situation will have some reprieve on Easter morning, with the possibility of there being hours of billions of people standing and singing in honor of seeing and understanding Christ in the middle of COVID-19, even among the difficulty. It’s a vision to consider.
If you’re so inclined, lift your hands upward when you come together Sunday. You’ll see a palm Sunday as never before.