Palm Sunday

Greater St. Luke AME Church member Walter Wright Jr. hands Hazel Smalls cut palms in a wooded area off Parkers Ferry Road on Thursday, April 11, 2019. Church members will decorate their sanctuary with the palms for Palm Sunday. Brad Nettles/Staff

For the past few years, Hewitt Dominick has ventured into the woods under warm spring weather to gather palm branches for one of the holiest Sundays of the faith.

While some congregations order palms in bulk, Hewitt and others will cut them by hand in a wooded area in Adams Run.

Afterward, they'll lay them across the aisles and pews in time for Palm Sunday service at Greater St. Luke AME. 

Dominick doesn't complain about the hard work, as he reflects on the biblical story of Jesus' crucifixion.

“Cutting these palms ain't nothing compared to what my Lord and Savior went through," he said. "This is mediocre. If he did what he did, we need to cut these palms a little better.”

Palm Sunday

Greater St. Luke AME Church member Walter Wright Jr. gathers palms in a wooded area off Parkers Ferry Road on Thursday, April 11, 2019. Church members will decorate their sanctuary with the palms for Palm Sunday. Brad Nettles/Staff

Palm Sunday, a religious festival that commemorates Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, marks the beginning of Holy Week for Christians. Believers will recount the biblical events that led to Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.

In many congregations, worshipers celebrate with the blessing of palms and waving of the branches while singing hymns.

The New Testament Gospels recount the story. Riding on a donkey, Jesus made his way into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover festival. The people placed their clothes and palm branches on the road before him, shouting "blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord."

The Roman leaders, who ruled Jerusalem at the time, took notice, said the Rev. Spike Coleman, pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church.

Early claims of Jesus as Lord would've been viewed as treason and as a threat to Caesar's authority, Coleman said. He said this helps parishioners gain a greater appreciation for Jesus' actions.

“It’s deepened when we understand the cultural and religious context," he said.

Palm Sunday

Adams Run resident Willie Johnson (right) helps Greater St. Luke AME Church member Walter Wright Jr. gather palms in a wooded area off Parkers Ferry Road on Thursday, April 11, 2019. Church members will decorate their sanctuary with the palms for Palm Sunday. Brad Nettles/Staff

Holy Week also includes Maundy Thursday, which honors the foot-washing and the Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples, according to the Gospels, and Good Friday, which marks the night of his crucifixion. 

Some churches will remember Jesus' execution with a seven last sayings service where speakers offer sermons based on Jesus' final statements.

For many Christians, the Bible's story of the innocent man being killed to save humanity tugs at the heartstrings.

"It brings tears to my eyes," Dominick said.

But while the coming week is sacred to Christians, it will also contain celebrations important to other faiths. This year, Good Friday for Christians also marks the Jewish Passover, which begins at sundown. 

The week-long festival includes the Seder, a meal that commemorates the ancient Hebrews' escape from Egyptian captivity, recorded in Exodus.

Palm Sunday

Adams Run resident Willie Johnson helps members of Greater St. Luke AME Church gather palms in a wooded area off Parkers Ferry Road on Thursday, April 11, 2019. Church members will decorate their sanctuary with the palms for Palm Sunday. Brad Nettles/Staff

The meal contains symbolic foods, such as matzo, which is unleavened dough. Exodus says the Jews were in such haste to leave Egyptian captivity, they couldn't wait for their dough to rise.

Free from Pharaoh, the ancient Jews could worship their God. They made a long passage through the desert to the Promised Land.

Historically, Jews celebrated with animal sacrifices. Today, many gather with family and friends to cite prayers and dine together.

The story inspires Jews and Christians alike, many of whom engage in social justice efforts and advocate for liberation from current oppressive systems.

Dr. Joshua Shanes, professor of Jewish Studies at the College of Charleston, said its important for individuals to study different faiths because the comparison bridges humanity and brotherhood.

"If you know only one religious tradition, you don’t know any religious tradition," he said.

Yet, Shanes said it's important for faiths to retain humility. Those who assume they have the only path to salvation are prone to persecute others, he said.

"Other people have different ideas," he said. "If you're too convinced that you're definitely correct, that leads to strife."

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Follow Rickey Dennis on Twitter @RCDJunior.