By Meg Bucher, Crosswalk.com
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many churches have moved online to stay connected. God is faithfully connecting us to the people He has purposefully placed around us. Nothing, not physical separation nor pandemic, can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ, the hope we share in Him, and the celebratory anticipation of His assured return. Through these uncertain times, when nothing looks the way we expected it would or are used to, one thing remains the same: God. “On the heels of Palm Sunday, as we begin this Holy Week,” writes Debbie McDaniel, “may we constantly be reminded of its significance and value for our lives today. That very important day in history, when Jesus began His journey towards the cross.”
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What Is Palm Sunday & Why Do Christians Celebrate It?
“They held palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna!’ (John 12:13)
Palm Sunday is the celebration of Jesus’ entrance into the Holy City of Jerusalem, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies such as Zechariah 9:9: ““Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a cold, the foal of a donkey.”
“Those words- written 575 years earlier- predicted that when the Messiah came to Israel, he would come riding on a donkey,” writes Dr. Ray Pritchard. Jesus riding in on a donkey was significant, not only to fulfill prophecy but to assume His status as royalty. Otherwise, He could not have commandeered an animal of someone else’s, recorded in Matthew 21:2-3. The people cheered, “Hosanna!” which means “save,” as Jesus rode into the city. “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Mark recorded in his gospel account, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 1:9-10, ESV)
Christians celebrate Palm Sunday as a reminder of God’s faithfulness. Messiah Jesus came from the line of David, just as God promised. The long generational line, and all of the very human things that happened- both good and bad …including seventy-year exile- rode through the streets that day in Jerusalem. God’s plan was always forgiveness for His people, and Jesus came to earth as a substitutionary sacrifice on our account. We are forever forgiven and saved eternally when we come to God through Christ. He made a way. We celebrate who Jesus is …both then as He rode into the city, and now as He sits at the right hand of God.
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“When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’” Matthew 21:10
“Jesus had become somewhat of a celebrity among people who had heard of the miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead,” wrote Liz Kanoy, “and they wanted to see Him and treat Him like a king.” Palms are mentioned in the Old Testament and the new. Ezekiel recorded the carvings of palm trees on a temple he envisioned (Ezekiel 41:20). Palms were symbols of Jewish nationalism (NIV Study Bible). People waved them as a sign of victorious celebration, and they are present in John’s gospel account of Palm Sunday, being waved in victorious welcome of the long-awaited, Messiah. “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” (Mark 11:10a)
Though He was not the victorious military leader they expected, Jesus defeated death to save humanity from sin. Revelation 7:9 tells of how we will again wave palms in victory when Jesus returns: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the thrown and before the Lamb. There were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”
If you've celebrated Palm Sunday before, you probably celebrated in your church or a friend or family member's church. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, gathering in person in large groups isn't an option this year. So how can we celebrate the start of Holy Week at home?
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Here Are 5 Ways to Celebrate Palm Sunday at Home This Year
1. Read the Gospel Accounts
Jesus’ fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures on Palm Sunday is recorded in all four New Testament Gospel Accounts: Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19. We can draw close to God by reading the truth of His Word. Scripture promises, where two or more are gathered, He is with them! Scripture also says, when we seek Him with all of our hearts, we will find Him. God is … close! When Jesus rode into the city on Palm Sunday, He was God the Son coming close to us. Because of His sacrifice, He remains with every believer through the Holy Spirit. Reading the story of Palm Sunday aloud, or in private, is an intimate way to draw close to God and celebrate.
2. Prayer and Fasting
Prayer and fasting help us to focus on and draw closer to, God. Jesus, Himself, prayed and fasted when He walked the earth.
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” – Luke 5:16
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” – Mark 1:35
In these uncertain times, drawing closer to God brings healing and encouragement to our souls. Setting aside time to sit in prayer with our Father and sacrificing distractions in order to focus on Him allows us our understanding of the significance of Jesus riding into the Holy City on Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to be sharpened. Prayer and fasting are a facet of worshipping our great God. He craves closeness with us, and we are filled and settled by His presence.
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3. “Go” to Church
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as in the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV
Quarantine has not kept the church from meeting together. Faithful church leaders have been establishing an online church presence long before the need we face now. Connecting with the local church and tuning into the truth God is speaking through leaders locally, across the country and the globe has never been easier. In fact, anyone with a smartphone can tune in from the palm of their hand. It’s not a replacement for physically meeting together. But, in these uncertain times, we feel like we’re together, even though we’re apart. Tune in and celebrate with brothers and sisters in Christ. Even though we may not know each other or be in close proximity to each other physically, now more than ever we feel connected through Christ.
4. Gather “Palms”
“When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:” Luke 19:37
Depending on where we live, it may be possible to walk outside of our doors and gather palms. If so, put on some worship music and wave them proudly. Clutch onto them, knowing the significant history in the victorious waving of palms. For those without access to actual palms, we can look to the flowers coming up with the first signs of spring, and celebrate the life coming through the cold ground in God’s time regardless of the calamity that surrounds us. We can draw palms, print off pictures, and wave them in celebration of Christ’s entrance into the “Holy City.” Especially for families with children, consider reenacting the parade through Jerusalem. Sing songs of worship together, and help children to understand that though you may not be able to do the same activities that you normally would this time of year it is still a time to be joyous and grateful!
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5. Adorn Windows, Prepare the “Sidewalk,” and Fill the Eggs
“Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” Genesis 9:16
There are many activities circulating online we can use to celebrate Palm Sunday from our homes. No matter our age, these activities can bring joy to our hearts, and those of our family and neighbors. Many are putting “quarantine rainbows” in their windows as a sign of hope. Anyone can join, and perhaps we can add a cross to remind us Who we put our hope in. Prepare the “sidewalk” with the truths of Palm Sunday scriptures, and visuals that represent this day: a donkey, palms, Jesus, music notes and the word “Hosanna.” For all who walk that path, they will witness God’s truth and the celebration of Palm Sunday. Finally, fill some eggs to be opened from Palm Sunday to Easter. Fill them with Holy Week Scriptures, and hide them around our homes and yards to be found gradually. These little reminders make a big difference in continuing to celebrate Jesus through these uncertain times.
Prayer for Palm Sunday at Home
Praise You for Palm Sunday. This is the day You have made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Father, thank You for Your plan to forgive us through Jesus' substitutionary sacrifice on the cross. You pursue us, Father. Help us to set aside time to intentionally celebrate and worship You and Jesus’ entry into the Holy City on Palm Sunday. Though we face uncertain times, we know You are the same. You are good. You are not moved. You are … close.
In Jesus’ powerful name we pray,
God’s promises remain true. His love reigns. His purposes are good. God’s Word will be established on this earth. Pandemics will not stop the gospel. Just look at how we are finding ways to rally together, even though we are physically distanced. Love is unstoppable because God is love. This year, as we celebrate Palm Sunday in our homes and across screens virtually, we can anticipate the hugs and the high fives that will come again. This won’t last forever, but God’s promises will.
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