The rustle of palm fronds and the snip of scissors broke the peaceful silence at Columbia’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral last week as women of the altar guild prepared the delicate palm crosses that parishioners will wear today in celebration of Palm Sunday.
“It’s meditative,” said Susie Dibble, the altar guild leader, who bent, folded and shaped the pale green fronds into the iconic crosses. She fortified her volunteer crew with almonds, dark chocolate and clementines as they prepared 1,000 of the crosses that worshippers will wear on their suit lapels and dresses.
For many, it is a Lenten ritual that goes back decades and represents a key element of their Christian life.
“I started at my first church in Virginia,” said Trinity member Leighton Barton, “and I’ve probably been doing it for 50 years.”
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week for western Christians, the most sacred period on the Christian calendar. The week is marked by a multitude of emotions. Christians enter the week rejoicing and waving palms as they recall Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, then suffer with Christ through his trial and crucifixion until Easter Sunday and the celebration of his resurrection.
On Palm Sunday, Christians will listen to the familiar story of Christ’s jubilant arrival in Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, an account recorded in all four of the New Testament gospels.
In Matthew 21:7-8, it is told like this: “They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ (Matthew 21:7-8)
Many congregations around the Midlands will enter their sanctuaries singing and waving palm branches, a particularly joyous ritual for children.
Children love the palm crosses as well, sorting through the baskets to find one that is the perfect size for their Palm Sunday outfits, Dibble said.
Dibble and Trinity member Karen McLeod employed a poem to help novices understand how to properly fold the palm fronds.
Start with the vertical frond where “Jesus stands tall.” Dibble said. Then the frond is bent: “when he bends down for us, he is Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”
As the frond is brought back upward through the formed loop: “He rose from the dead to come tightly into our hearts.” And then, as the arms of the cross are formed, “When we take him tightly in our hearts we have the arms to love and serve him.”
Allison Way Hank demonstrated a slight variation on the Trinity palm-folding, a “criss-cross folding thing” she learned when she was a parishioner at an Episcopal parish in Evansville, Ill. “It’s like a weave, sort of like a palm basket,” she said.
She recalled teaching it to children who made crosses for residents of nursing homes.
“I found they loved making things when there was a purpose,” Hank said. At Trinity, the children helped in the palm cross enterprise on Wednesday night.
The ritual drew others into the effort through the day. Volunteer docents Connie Britt and Sharyn Shaw picked up a sheaf of palm fronds and carried them into the hallway Wednesday as they waited to take visitors through the renovated sanctuary.
The palm crosses and palm branches in sanctuaries today will be set aside until next year when they will be burned and used during Ash Wednesday services.