Despite lockdowns and quarantines, Christians throughout the world found innovative ways to observe Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. Some people taped construction-paper branches to their doors or windows, while others waved branches during online worship services.
Palm Sunday 2020: Hosannas Amid Social Distancing
In a modern-day nod to Jesus’ Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem, some churches held “car parades,” with worshipers waving fronds out windows. First Christian Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky, took that approach, disinfecting palm branches before distributing them drive-thru style. Cars of palm-wavers paraded through downtown, and then church members returned to their homes to worship via livestream.
Other congregations marked the holy day by distributing free meals and supplies. In Winterville, North Carolina, members of The Rebuild Christian Center Church wore gloves and face masks while handing out food and supplies to passing cars. Musicians from the church played and sang from a nearby tent, as vehicles waited in line.
All donations came from church members, according to Pastor Darron Carmon. “We wanted to do that because we care,” he says, adding that Rebuild is planning similar events for the community. “As long as COVID-19 is aggressive, we’re going to be even more aggressive. We’re up for the task.”
Empty Pews, Full Hearts
In a historic first at St. Peter’s in Rome, Pope Francis livestreamed Palm Sunday Mass from an almost-empty basilica. The few invitees and musicians who were present practiced social distancing. Traditionally, worshipers fill St. Peter’s Square for Palm Sunday. This year, with the coronavirus upending all aspects of daily life, the pope urged Christians to dedicate themselves to service.
“The tragedy we are experiencing summons us to take seriously the things that are serious and not to be caught up in those that matter less—to rediscover that life is of no use if not used to serve others,” Pope Francis said. “May we reach out to those who are suffering and those most in need. May we not be concerned about what we lack but what good we can do for others.”
Throughout Italy, where the pandemic has hit especially hard, Catholic priests celebrated Palm Sunday Mass on rooftops so homebound residents could participate.
Olive branches were visible throughout Jerusalem on Sunday, with one priest calling them “the sign of new hope.” Although the traditional procession of palms through Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter was cancelled, a small group of Franciscan monks and worshipers marched from the top of the Mount of Olives into the Old City.
In Lebanon, priests conducted open-air Mass, with some driving in pickup trucks decorated with palm and olive branches. Panama’s archbishop went even further, using a helicopter to deliver Palm Sunday blessings from the sky. After celebrating Mass at Howard Air Force Base, Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa flew over Panama City’s empty streets with two other priests. Speaking through a face mask, he said, “We are living through an unprecedented event in the history of Christianity, celebrating Holy Week without a congregation in our churches.”
As part of Panama’s lockdown, no one is allowed to leave home on Sundays. Archbishop Ulloa dedicated this year’s Holy Week observances to medical personnel “and so many people who are determined to advance our country at the cost of risking their own lives.”
President Trump Attends Online Church, Urges Prayer
On Saturday, President Trump tweeted that he’d be “tuning into” Palm Sunday worship with Pastor Greg Laurie at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California. “Palm Sunday is the beginning of a Holy week for many people of Faith and a great day to lift our voices in Prayer,” wrote the president.