There’s a palm leaf in my heart.
Easter is by far, my favourite holiday. I grew up attending Episcopalian schools, and many of the religious ceremonies of that faith, particularly those surrounding Easter, such as Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday, remain near and dear to me.
While members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) do not observe Lent nor other markers of the days before Easter, this season always takes me back to my childhood. I owe much of my appreciation for Easter to the Bible classes and chapel services I participated in as a child.
It was through them that I began to realise the power, majesty and all-encompassing love of the Saviour, even as a small child.
Now as an adult, my own children are developing their own understanding of what it means to be a Christian.
Palm Sunday is observed by many Christians the Sunday before Easter. It celebrates the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, when believers recognised him as their King, shouting “Hosanna” and laying down palm leaves in front of his donkey to cover his path.
Every branch was a testimony that the bearer knew Jesus is the Son of God, the promised Messiah. The story is in the books of Matthew and Mark, and I am never tired of hearing it.
So last Sunday, my sons and I joined our Episcopalian friends outside their chapel and listened to that account once again, while we each clutched a palm leaf. The congregation sang a hymn and walked around the building to enter the sanctuary from a different door, giving us time to reflect on the original holy procession.
Would we have been among those who laid a palm branch in the King’s path? I surely hope so.
The reading of the Passion, the period of time between Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem to the placement of his body in the tomb, is always profoundly meaningful for me. I considered the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi’s teaching: “It must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. . . If they never should have the bitter they could not know the sweet.” The bitterness of Gethsemane and Calvary make Easter morning’s resurrection and new beginning all the sweeter.
The Sharing of the Peace, when members of the congregation shake hands and tell each other, “May the peace of Christ be with you,” was beautiful and satisfying. In that moment, we were not people with polite skepticism of the details of each other’s doctrine, we were just brothers and sisters, imperfect, to be sure, but finding relief in the grace of Christ and our shared love of our Saviour.
My children jealously eyed the acolytes’ candles and were thrilled when the deacon allowed them to help ring the church bells as the service ended. The kindness and unity we felt will be memorable for them, and help them build sincere friendships with people of all faiths, I hope.
Later that day, we joined our own LDS ward in partaking of the sacrament. While I am often wrestling with toddlers as the bread and water are passed, my older sons and I noted we had a much easier time than usual keeping our thoughts centred on Jesus Christ and the blessings we enjoy because of his sacrifice.
Considering the more sombre aspects of the Easter story sort of pushed our spiritual reset buttons and gave us humbler, renewed perspectives.
“Why do we call the day Jesus died ‘Good Friday’?” my boys wanted to know.
“Well, it feels sad to hear about how hard the Atonement was,” I said, “but we can also feel happy because we know he did all that for us.”
“Yeah,” agreed my oldest son, “but I think I prefer to call it Good Outcome Friday.”
Me, too, I thought.
Easter is more than a holiday, it’s a feeling of joy and peace that no matter how discouraging life gets, the Saviour has overcome it all, and death is not the end. The triumphal entry can be every day in our hearts, and our every action can show we do, indeed, have a palm to lay before the King.