The Church Expresses Herself through Palm Sunday
Rev. Gaborone P Lesito, 19th District TCR Field Representative
The celebration of the Holy Week in South Africa takes me with awe each time this magnanimous event draws near. One hears either in passing or with deliberate conversations how AME pastors and ministers from different denominations, especially mainline churches, are oozing with excitement as the commemoration of the events comes close.
I am inspired to share with the broader connectional church how South Africa or perhaps closer to home the 19th Episcopal District celebrated Palm Sunday. At the top of the activity, one finds two distinct approaches. One where each AME Church celebrates on their own and one where there are joint services. The joint services sometimes become AME-only; whereas in other areas, it becomes an ecumenical event with as many denominations as possible. As some may have experienced through social media, the pictorial is evidenced as the skyline is darkened by the waving of the palm tree branches. All auxiliaries don their different uniforms as the clock, beat, whistle, and horn accompanies the singing in celebration of the coming in of the Messiah into Jerusalem. This rich heritage for some goes to an extent of using the donkey with pastors riding it in a dramatization of the Triumphal Entry. I am still to get the guts to do it. These services commence not in the usual processional within the church yard or from the parsonage to the church. This time services commence about an hour to an hour and a half from as far from the Church as a kilometre away. The community looks forward to this as they stand against their fences to wave their hands—even devoid of the palm tree leaves—as they join in the festivities.
For many who have come home for the holidays and seldom worship where they live, it is a worship moment for them. I got a confession this year from one of my new members who joined the church last year. She tells me she joined our church because of this Palm Sunday event. When I recalled the events of 12 months ago, I remember vividly moving with the congregation silently up the streets of Ekangala Township locating a good spot for us to begin our Triumphal Entry march back to church. I picked the spot and told the congregation, “We will start here with a prayer and march on.” Little did we know that that spot was the home of our prospective new member. She was awakened by the singing and watched from her bedroom window. To this day, she testifies that’s how the Lord spoke to her as she pondered, “Why did the church stop at my house to start the walk?” While her home was a turning point for us to go back to church, it was a turning point for her life.
This Palm Sunday event is a big deal and I pray it becomes an even bigger deal in future years. It is an opportunity to tell a story to the community we serve without being in the pulpit. It is an event that slows down busy people who find no time to be in church. They remember to take leave and dedicate the coming week up to Resurrection Sunday to reconnecting with their Creator. As I look at the pictures shared by many who were part of these services, my eye falls on the youngest and the oldest who struggle to walk yet enjoy the experience offered by Christ. Pastors walk ahead symbolically with robes on and Bibles in their hands, getting to the gates of the church as the music and excitement reach its peak. That, in the eyes of many, becomes the gates of Jerusalem. The procession leads all to the church and palm leaves cover the aisles. Some churches become very artistic at this point, creating an arch with the leaves as congregants pass through to take their seats. The teaching of the day ends with reminding congregants where these palm leaves will be seen again. So then, everyone has enjoyed the Palm Sunday and look forward to next year’s Ash Wednesday.