A procession of Sacramento Catholics and Presbyterians carried palm fronds marched, sang and prayed together Sunday in Capitol Park to honor the day Jesus – humble and unafraid – rode triumphantly into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.
On this glorious, sun-drenched Palm Sunday, known as “A Positive Christianity Classic,” worshippers across races and generations waved their palms and sang “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” – not unlike the crowds that Christians believe lined the path Jesus rode to what he knew would be his death by crucifixion a few days later.
Palm Sunday ushers in Holy Week, which includes commemorations of Jesus’ last supper on Holy Thursday and death on Good Friday. It culminates with Easter, when Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead.
The rare ecumenical celebration in Capitol Park included about 75 members of Westminster Presbyterian Church and about 100 more from the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament who left their respective churches and met at the statue of Saint Junipero Serra. Though both faiths acknowledge that some in the first-century crowd who laid their cloaks down for Jesus that first Palm Sunday would turn against him within the week, the Rev. Rob Watkins, transitional presbyter for the Sacramento Presbytery, said that the story of Jesus shows “that death is not the final answer.”
The Rev. Michael O’Reilly, whose congregants from the cathedral carried six-foot palm fronds, said it was “wonderful for us to be with a Presbyterian church. … Christ’s resurrection, which all Christians believe in, requires that we are united. He wasn’t on the cross so people can be separated.”
The Rev. Wes Nordman, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church, echoed those sentiments, telling his flock, “no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here!”
The mutual celebration “prepares us for Holy Week, which is a very dark time,” O’Reilly added.
The ministers spoke of two lessons from Palm Sunday: that Jesus rode on the back of a donkey – a humble animal of peace, rather than a horse, often used in war – and that he could guide the donkey without it bucking in the face of large crowds, showing his power over our lower animal nature.
Parker Mitchell, a 26-year-old Sacramento State music major and part of Westminster’s choir, said the ecumenical procession “makes me feel really good because we can look past our doctrinal differences to enjoy all the gifts we’ve been given.”
It seemed even more meaningful “that we’ve come together in nature,” added the pastor’s daughter, Blakely Nordman, 22, a Sacramento State environmental studies major.
A few feet from her, Florante Quiaoit did the heavy lifting for his wife and son – carrying three large palm fronds with a smile on his face and a spring in his step. “We moved here from metro Manila in July, and this just makes me feel good that this can happen!”