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Palm Sunday celebration marks start of Holy Week

By Pat Gee

LAST UPDATED: 3:14 a.m. HST, Aug 7, 2011

Palm Sunday tomorrow sets the stage for the significant Holy Week events that encompass the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter, the ultimate celebration of the year for those of the Christian faith, said the Rev. Ruth Peterson of the Joy of Christ Lutheran Church in Pearl City.

“That’s what our whole faith is based on — that he died and rose again and ascended into heaven,” Peterson said. And then on Easter (April 24 this year), “we will gather to shout and proclaim the joyful news that Christ is risen,” she said.

Palm Sunday refers to the day Jesus entered Jerusalem, riding a donkey on a “road was lined with palm branches— that’s usually done for royalty. They hailed Jesus as a king, a great leader. Five days later he was nailed on a cross,” Peterson said.

That’s why some churches want Palm Sunday to be renamed Passion Sunday, using the Latin word “passion” for “suffering,” because it’s more than just a celebration of Jesus coming, she said. “It’s looking ahead to the suffering of Good Friday. We call it ‘good’ because of the good that was done for us (salvation) through the crucifixion. We should never deny the sacrifice that was made. The cross is an ugly, ugly type of torture, a horrible way to die,” Peterson said.

A common practice is for churches to hand out crosses on Palm Sunday as a devotional aid for Holy Week. This year Joy of Christ, at 784 Kamehameha Highway, is joining the nearby St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Aiea in its long-held tradition of making crosses out of palm leaves to reinforce the emotional connection with something made by your own hand, she said.

Many other churches celebrate with palm-waving processionals to music. Central Union Church is one of the few that will feature a donkey in a procession of children at its 9 a.m. service tomorrow.

Maundy Thursday on April 21 is named from the Latin “mandatum,” which means commandment, specifically, Jesus’ direction to his followers: “Love one another,” Peterson said. On that day, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples after the Last Supper, normally a slave’s duty, demonstrating that a true leader sacrifices himself so others can be cared for, she said.

Peterson usually invites her parishioners to come to the altar so she can wash their feet. “It’s a symbolic act, and as I do it I say a prayer for the person.”

Afterward a 24-hour prayer vigil will be held, and “people are invited to give an hour as a sacrifice,” symbolically waiting with Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemane before he was taken to be crucified. In the garden, “Jesus knelt in prayer and cried out in agony to God — do I have to do this? (May this cup be taken from me?) All his disciples had fallen asleep, and Jesus asked, Couldn’t you stay up for at least an hour?” Peterson recounted.

Good Friday is noted for the dramatic evening service of Tenebrae (Latin for “darkness”) at many churches. It starts with nine candles being lit on the altar, including the special “Christ candle,” usually the tallest one. As Scriptures describing the events leading to the crucifixion are read, one by one, each candle is extinguished except for the last Christ candle.

“It’s removed from the sanctuary because the light of Christ is never extinguished,” leaving the people in hushed darkness to pray, Peterson said.

At the Waiokeola Congregational Church in Kahala, the Rev. Christopher Eng said the Tenebrae service is “something you’ll never forget. The organist makes it sound like an earthquake is happening when Christ is crucified. It’s just awesome; it’s just incredible! It wakes them (the congregation) up to the reality of the suffering of Jesus.”

Organist Barbara Gossard makes this happen by pounding out refrains of discordant notes reminiscent of the signs of doom that took place during the crucifixion — the earthquake, midday darkness, the heavy temple curtain torn in two and the emptying of the tombs.

All Holy Week and Easter services for Joy of Christ will be held at St. Timothy’s, 98-939 Moanalua Road, as “both congregations have been discussing ways in which they can share in joint mission and ministries,” Peterson said. After 11 years at Joy of Christ, Easter Sunday will be Peterson’s last Sunday. She has been called to be a chaplain with Pacific Health Ministry’s Legacy of Life, Hawaii, a nonprofit which helps to facilitate organ/tissue donation.

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