This coming Sunday is a very favorite of mine. It became a favorite after I was ordained as a pastor and began to serve my first church in West Boxford, Massachusetts. West Boxford in 1960 was a small rural community. It was a rather perfect place to begin a ministry. Situated on a small semicircle driveway, there was a small cape parsonage, the church and a library. Across the street was a small country store where you could learn in the morning what had happened during the night before in our small community and next to it a town hall. Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday were overwhelming to me for our attendance at worship was far beyond the usual Sunday service attendance. It is there in West Boxford that a love of Palm Sunday and Easter really developed in my heart. Palm Sunday was a joyous Sunday as Jesus had the courage to ride into Jerusalem and proclaim His Messiahship. That joy passes quickly for this will be the last week of His earthly life. Palm Sunday leads to the night of the Last Supper and His arrest and crucifixion. Then comes the next Sunday when our Lord is Risen from the dead – Easter Sunday.
How different it is going to be this year for we Christians are under a time of isolation in a time of a plague using Biblical terms. We will not be gathering in our churches to celebrate Palm Sunday, the closeness of our Lord on Holy Thursday, the sadness in our hearts on Good Friday or the celebration of His Resurrection on Easter Day. This Sunday, I will not see little children waving palms as they walk around the sanctuary, nor see little boys using palm spears as pretend swords. I will miss telling them not to do that, but they would have seen a smile on my face for that is what I would have done when I was their age.
While reading a favorite book this week about Christian Holidays and traditions, I learned anew how in some countries, palms were not used on this Sunday; rather branches from pussy willows, plain willows, yew bushes or spruce trees might be substituted. In the spring, my dad was one who always looked for pussy willows along the sides of country roads that were marshy and wet. We always had new pussy willow branches in our home as soon as they came to blossom in the springtime. In many churches, those branches, palms and “flowers of the season” were blessed. In many countries, Palm Sunday was called Flower Sunday or Blossom Sunday. I rather wish I had known about pussy willows being used as palms on Palm Sunday for I think it might have signified spring as well as the Sunday before Easter. However, I do think young boys might have injured each other with a branch rather than a flexible palm leaf.
Perhaps you will attend a church service online this week, but without a congregation and a gathering in the sanctuary, we will miss our fellowship one with another. HOWEVER, we can hold fast to the spiritual meaning of this Sunday. It is a Sunday to remember the courage of Jesus to inform His world that He was the anointed one of God. His mission was to exemplify what God was like and how God would have us live. To do that and show the great love of God, Jesus was going to have to die. He could have run away when He knew the anger that had arisen against Him by the religious leaders of His faith. Rather than run away, he confronted those leaders, and by His life, Jesus showed us that the love of God goes beyond this earthly life to eternal life. Had Jesus fled from those who hated Him, He would have betrayed his whole life and teachings. Like our Lord, we are called to be faithful to His teachings of love of God and love of each other. We are called by Jesus, “ To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” To follow those two commandments takes a lot of courage.
We are in a time a time of a serious virus, a modern plague. It is a time when out of love for human beings many are called to be courageous. This is a time when we have to think of our neighbors and to be thoughtful and considerate of them. It is a time when we are called to be strong in our faith and to be loving and supportive of others.
Dale and I have four adult daughters who are called to be unusually courageous in this time. Two of those daughters are in health care facilities and two daughters are in the field of education. Both daughters who are in education are called to find new ways to educate children who cannot leave their homes. Far more hours and teaching skills are needed by our educators to reach out to those students who can no longer be educated in a school room setting. Not only is that a concern, but also there is great nutritional worry for those children who depended upon school for their daily nourishment. It is too easy to forget that there are children who depend on lunch and breakfast meals at school. School is to educate but also to show a love for our neighbors who might not be as fortunate as you and me.
The two daughters in the health field have courage every day to go to where there is illness and disease. We have seen that over and over in our country at this present time. Often, those in our hospitals and physician’s offices must face the knowledge that the person they are serving may be ill with coronavirus. It takes courage to help those who are ill when much is still unknown about this deadly virus. Like our Lord, there are health care persons who live by their principles of serving others who are ill, or who are in need of protection and comfort beyond their own ability. How many of our elderly, including me, who are being helped by those in our families and our neighbors in this time of separation from society.
When there are times of stress and over tiredness, when you wonder if you have the courage to face the next day or even hour or minute, think of our brave Jesus Christ. He knew His Father would be with Him even at His time of trial. Rejoice as you see the powerful courage of our Jesus as He enters Jerusalem. When we have to enter Jerusalem, like Him we ask for God to give us the courage to live by the love of God and love of neighbor.
“Be strong, fear naught your God will come and save you.”
My friends who walk with me let us be of good courage. Let us love one another.
“And now may the Lord watch between me and thee while we are absent one from the other. Amen.”