Area churches mark beginning of Holy Week

Monday, April 14, 2003

Waving palms as they entered the sanctuary, an action reminiscent of the triumphant entry Jesus received in Jerusalem a week before his death, many area Christians celebrated the beginning of Holy Week on Sunday.

At Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Jackson, parishioners received an African palm cross when they entered the church for Mass. The palm crosses serve as visual reminders of Jesus' crucifixion but also help support mission work in Africa. Churches pay for the crosses, and the money is used by the villages to help with projects like schools, agricultural training and disaster relief.

Palm Sunday marks the start of Holy Week, a time when Christians remember the events in the last week of Jesus Christ's life. "I call it the week that changed the world," said the Rev. Barry Pfanstiel, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau.

"It's possible to worship every day in tracking with the life of Jesus," he said.

In addition to Palm Sunday observances, most churches will hold special services on Maundy Thursday, which is also the Jewish Passover, and on Good Friday, the day of Christ's crucifixion.

Lent, a 40-day season that focuses on repentance, will end Easter Sunday. Many Christians often give up something of value, whether a favorite hobby or food, for the duration of Lent, which began on Ash Wednesday.

'A better perspective'

With so many luxuries surrounding us, it's easy for Christians in America to lose sight of how lucky they are to be able to worship, Pfanstiel said.

"I think what's happening in the world puts Holy Week in better perspective," he said. This year, the war in Iraq "has put it into the context of eternity."

Pfanstiel said many of his sermons lately have focused on sacrifice and how Christ sacrificed his life on the cross.

World events from the war in Iraq to the threat of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, has "brought out the fragile nature of this world," said the Rev. Grant Gillard, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson.

Gillard said that perhaps those things will make Easter more significant for some people, but "I'm not sure it's going to show up in terms of church numbers."

During his sermon Sunday, Gillard put Palm Sunday into a local perspective for his congregation. He talked about how Jesus' walk from Jericho to Bethany and finally to Jerusalem would be like walking from Scott City to the courthouse square in Jackson, picking up followers along the way -- all of them hoping Jesus was headed to Jerusalem to overthrow the Roman government.

During his children's sermon, Gillard explained the significance of the palm branches and how the people waving them were designating Jesus as king but not the kind of king people were expecting, he said.

For many churchgoers, there is comfort in knowing the Easter story of Jesus' triumphant entry, Last Supper, crucifixion and resurrection hasn't changed, Gillard said.

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