Friday, April 10, 2009
While I was exhausted and not really looking forward to waking early and getting out to more activities - Shabbat gave me a great day of rest and relaxation and rejuvenated me for Palm Sunday. A beginning to the Holy Week for the Christians in the Holy Land and near to the time of Passover, Palm Sunday marks the beginning of a very bush week in Jerusalem and the lands surrounding. I didn't know much about the activities of the day so we spent some time researching what woudl be best to do, and decided to attend a Luteran service at the Church of the Redeemer in the heart of the Old City. A crusader aged church that has a beautiful atrium in the center - it was a beautiful location which was very fitting for the beautiful service that took place within. The services began outside the church with a processison of palm fronds and singing, afterwhich we all took seats in this small church (the "Mormon University" students taking up a good half of the congregation). The service was all in English (fortunately), and was really very beautiful and inspiring. They read a portion of the Passion account from the book of Matthew, but it was read in a more theatrical form in that there were several readers and a narrator so that you could differentiate really well where the dialogue existed. This along with prayers and hymns made up the rest of the service. I'm not sure quite how to describe the spirit that accompanied this meeting, but I can say that I defintely felt what I think they term Spirtual Envy similar to what I felt at the Western Wall. After the service concluded we were able to mingle with the congregation and find out about them - a Presbyterian lady who was in attendace made a comment to one of the students that she "liked the Mormon people - who liked to be called Latter-Day-Saints", right? It was neat to talk to someone from the States who had heard about us and had positive feedback. Most the people here in the Holy Land know who the Mormon's are, but are not allowed to know much about us. But anyway! That was a very inspiring way to start the day.
After this we spent a bit of time in the city before heading back to the Center to meet up with the rest of the students and members of the Branch as well to attend the Palm Sunday walk. I heard from the Lutheran pastor that there were 50,000 people who would attend this Palm Sunday walk, and while this may still have been a bit of an exaggeration...there were a lot of people there to commemorate the Triumphal Entry of the Savior. Young children lined the streets with Palm Fronds asking for a shekel or two so that you could hold a palm frond yourself as you walked. Beginning in Bethphage (I belive) the Mormon students joined in many other Christian faiths in walking the route the Savior walked as he entered Jerusalem, and came through the city gates. The heat was almost unbearable and the walk was long but it was definitely worth it. We held back until almost the end of the long procession and sang some Hymns as a group before a smaller group of us decided to try and make it further ahead in the procession and move a long a bit more quickly. This was a great idea because it really helped me to be able to enjoy many of the different sects and see how they each worshipped. Songs were sung in many differing tongues and people each raised their voices in praise of their Lord. We passed by many important sites including Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives, and were able to visualize the many people that would have been there welcoming the Savior in to the city gates. We were able to study this account just yesterday, and once again it was a great coming together of personal experiences and scriptural accounts. We were even interviewed by an Italian television cast and appeared on TV! One of the local Monks familar with us as students even saw us.
Instead of turning around and making our way back to the Center, we decided (maybe foolishly) to continue on through the Old City in to West Jerusalem. There we treated ourselves to some frozen yogurt (it had been a long hot day), and then ordered a cab back to the Center. I'm not quite sure what I did for the rest of the evening, although I'm sure was pretty insignificant compared to the events of the day.
I think I'd like to commemorate Palm Sunday more conscioulsy from here on out because it's a really great way to begin focusing and thinking about Easter earlier on - an event often overlooked in the Western World.