The walkway leading from the Great Hall to the front door of the sanctuary at St. George’s Church was strewn with palm fronds Sunday.
Parishioners tread solemnly on them on their way into the church on the cloudy, cold morning, their voices raised in song. Tombstones huddled in the small, snow-covered churchyard. The trees that towered above showed no signs of spring, but the palm fronds, vibrant green against the gray cement, spoke of hope for brighter days to come.
According to the Bible, palm fronds were thrown in the street in front of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on a donkey, one week before Christians believe he rose from the dead following his crucifixion.
The procession into the city is remembered annually on Palm Sunday, which signals the beginning of Holy Week in Christianity — the week preceding Easter and the last week of Lent.
Palm Sunday is always a memorable day for parishioner Patty Craig of Scotia, who attended Sunday’s service.
“Just the symbolism of the palms being thrown in front of Jesus as he enters, Jesus on a donkey just riding in, and he’s a king, but yet he comes in so humble and meek,” she explained.
Sunday’s service at St. George’s began in the Great Hall, with a remembrance of Jesus entering Jerusalem.
The choir sang and the air was hazy with incense.
“Christ entered in triumph into the city of Jerusalem to complete his work as Messiah, to suffer, to die and to rise again,” the Rev. Paul Blanch told parishioners.
“Metaphorically, today we are in Jerusalem and Jesus is coming to us,” he asserted. “And by next week at this time he will come to us in all the glory of his risen life. He is coming in anticipation of his coming in glory at the end of all time and he’s coming also to enter our lives and to share them until the bitter end, and to change our bitter end, in a sense, into an unending blessing.”
Congregants held up small, tan crosses made from palm fronds, and Blanch blessed them, sprinkling holy water housed in an ornate silver receptacle.
The palm frond crosses came from villages near Masasi, Tanzania, the church bulletin noted. Proceeds from their sale are returned to Africa to help with disaster and refugee relief, public health programs and other initiatives.
Parishioner Lynn Paska of Schenectady said the symbolism of receiving the palm crosses on Palm Sunday has stuck with her from when she was a child.
“We always hung them up on a religious picture in the bedroom,” she recalled.
Following the service in the Great Hall, parishioners proceeded to the sanctuary, where they sat on narrow, red-cushioned benches in enclosed pews.
In the choir loft, an organ and trumpet played as the choir and the congregation sang, “The people of the Hebrews, with palms before thee went; Our praise and prayers and anthems before thee we present.”
During the service, The Passion of Christ According to Luke was read by the clergy and congregation, beginning with The Last Supper and ending with Jesus’ burial.
In his sermon, Blanch urged parishioners to ponder the story of Christ’s final days on Earth and to make it more than a story.
“Who is the king who comes on a donkey? Who is this, the king who will hang on Calgary’s cross?” he asked. “Who is it with outstretched arms, the one who befriends, identifies, embodies and carries each of us because he is the one who has the capacity of sympathy and love for all?”
He encouraged congregants to take part in all of the events going on at the church during Holy Week. Those include daily Masses, an all-night vigil on Maundy Thursday and an Easter vigil and feast on Holy Saturday.
“Please, for God’s sake, don’t just come today and breeze back through the doors on Easter Day,” Blanch implored. “Every single day this week, this story unfolds.”