Palm Sunday Pilgrims
Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathering in my name, I am there among them” (Matt 18:20). Christians trust these words as we gather week after week, year after year in churches across the planet, in buildings grand and modest; in homes where Christians are few; in open-air, roofed structures in temperate climates. We know, we believe, that Christ is among us, that his presence is not limited by space or time. And yet, the pull of pilgrimage to the place where Jesus was born; where he traveled during his public ministry, preaching, teaching, and healing; where he suffered, died, and rose is powerful. That we call it “the Holy Land” implies that the presence of God Incarnate in this land during the first century makes the very ground on which the pilgrim walks holy.
Writing about Palm Sunday, the fourth-century pilgrim Egeria says,
“So at the seventh hour all the people ascend the Mount of Olives, that is, on Eleona, in the church…. And when the ninth hour begins to approach, they go up with hymns to the Imbomon, that, the place from which the Lord ascended into heaven, and there they sit … And when the eleventh hour begins, there is read that passage from the gospel when children with branches and palms meet the Lord, saying, ‘Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.’ And immediately the bishop rises and all the people go forward from there entirely on foot from the summit of the Mount of Olives” (par. 31).
This ancient tradition is still practiced in Jerusalem, with the gathering place for the procession now at the church at Bethphage, named as the starting point of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in the Synoptics. Pilgrims from around the world and resident Christians from Israel and the West Bank gather in the afternoon and, like Egeria and the fourth-century crowd, follow in the footsteps of Jesus and his disciples down the Mount of Olives and into the city of Jerusalem. My husband Mark is in Jerusalem this spring and joined the procession on Palm Sunday. Like many gathered on 2023, he used his smart phone to record the experience.
The video begins as the people are singing and waiting for the arrival of the Latin Patriarch. After the first cut, watch for the processional cross and entourage of vested clergy moving through the crowd from the left to the right of the screen. The singing and festive atmosphere continues as the crowd slowly moves down the Mount of Olives.
Our Lutheran liturgy on “Passion Sunday with the Procession of Palms” imitates this Jerusalem practice and unites us with Christians across space and time as we enter into this most holy week, walking with Jesus and his disciples to the mystery of salvation through the cross and resurrection. We pray that this week will be a holy time that deepens the faith of all who gather in Christ’s name.
Quotation from The Pilgrimage of Egeria, translated and edited by Anne McGowan and Paul F. Bradshaw Liturgical Press, 2018).
Image: View of the Palm Sunday procession 2019, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem
Date: 14 April 2019