Notes from the Pandemic: Palm Sunday & COVID-19

Over the weekend, I had a pretty awful mental health day. I spent much of the weekend in tears. Since writing has always been how I've processed and made sense of the world, I decided to write about the experience. The simple act of writing did my heart and mind good. So, I've decided to publish some of my musings here, in a fairly unedited form in the hopes that perhaps others can relate to them (and maybe even find solace in them) as well.

In my Lutheran tradition, Palm Sunday – the day when we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem – is typically celebrated in one of two ways, either with a full scale observance of Palm Sunday OR as Passion Sunday, which begins with a quick celebration of Palm Sunday before then pivoting to the events of Holy Week – the footwashing, last supper, arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus.

Recognizing that many people cannot or do not attend Holy Week services, churches often lean towards Passion Sunday.

This year, as my colleagues and I have wrestled with the newfound realities of social distancing, we’ve also been wrestling with the question:

What’s more timely: The celebratory message of Palm Sunday or the solemn message of Holy Week?

This has been an interesting question for me to wrestle with.

I’m no stranger to the timeliness of the Holy Week message. Seven years ago, when I miscarried, I was SO comforted by the message of Holy Week. When everyone around me was happy and content in their life, I wanted Holy Week – and its inherent grief and sadness – to last forever. I found deep, deep solace in it.

This year, however, I’ve been an advocate for letting Palm Sunday be Palm Sunday.

In so many ways, this seems counter-intuitive, even to me. After all, in a time that’s so dark and grief-stricken, shouldn’t Holy Week comfort me, just as it did when I miscarried?

Maybe.

And it might well be the message that some – if not – many people need right now.

Yet, it’s not where I’m at.

For me, I’ve had to carefully limit my news consumption because ALL of the news is SO bad. (NBC nightly news is trying SO HARD to find uplifting stories to end with that the other day they basically told the story of social distancing from a dog’s perspective…)

In that kind of climate, I don’t want to dwell in dark and grief and sadness for one second longer than I have to.

I’ve had enough of the solemnity of Lent.

I don’t want the grief of Holy Week.

I want the hope of Easter.

And let’s face it, Easter is going to feel radically different this year. In so many ways, it’s going to feel delayed until we’re back in our churches, celebrating together again.

Given that, let me pause all the depressing and instead celebrate Palm Sunday.

With eyes wide open and the cross on the horizon, let me make a palm and happily parade around my house with my kids shouting, “Hosanna,” “Hosanna in the highest!”

Because this year, amidst rising death counts, increased cases of COVID-19, and all the other horrors that seem to surround us on a daily basis, that’s what brings me hope.

Jesus is king… Not just on the cross and on Easter, but the week before, when he parades into Jerusalem amongst screaming people.

And Jesus is still king today… Not just when we return to our churches on some undisclosed Sunday in the future… But now, when we temporarily break from the sadness of the world to yell “Hosanna” from our homes.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

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