Christ Unto All Nations
A Christian lesson for a Mormon on Palm Sunday
  Don O. Thorpe, "Christ Unto All Nations," This People  Magazine
The early morning breeze is almost cold as I stand on the summit of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem waiting for the famous Palm Sunday Procession to begin. The pilgrims from all over the world are not yet assembled at the starting point of the procession.

Palm Sunday has always been somewhat of an enigma to me. More than a dozen years ago I had been in Jerusalem and had shrugged away the possibility of seeing this procession. I was a little put off by the large crowds of people and the trouble getting to the procession site --  and there was a general lack of reverence that bothered me.

Besides, Palm Sunday was never a special day like Easter or Christmas to me. Of course, I knew that the holiday commemorates the triumphal entry of the Savior into the city of Jerusalem, when he rode the white donkey from Bethphage to Jerusalem. I honored that event like many of the other events in the life of the Savior, but I hadn't thought of it as a holiday -- a day of celebration.

The rustle of dust and litter move along the road in stark contrast to my thoughts and the stirring in my heart. I can feel the soft touch of the wind as I stand at the top of the Mount of Olives looking out over the valley. This time I am determined to stay and see it through, and to photograph the Palm Sunday Procession. Still, I wonder what my feelings would be if I were a pilgrim participating in this popular Christian religious holiday.

People begin filling in the somewhat designated sections of the procession -- different Christian denominations group together, and an Arab Boy Scout troop heads up the procession. Banners and flags begin waving together with the palm branches. It is becoming crowded along the route of the procession which starts at Bethphage, several miles from the old city of Jerusalem.

As the line of people grows longer and more crowded, I notice some clusters of confusion here and there. Much to my surprise, I see people pushing and shoving each other to get a favorable position along the procession route. A few Boy Scouts fight loudly with some spectators over who should be first in the line-up. All of this seems quite out of harmony with the real intent of the procession to honor the Savior's triumphant entry into Jerusalem. I wonder what the message of Christ's entrance into the city really means to these shoving and shouting people.

Finally, the river of pilgrims begins flowing down the road towards Jerusalem. I race ahead, to the side and above the stream of people, to gain a photographic vantage point. Then I move in close enough to feel the palm branches brush against me as they march past. Some are singing hymns in unison, and some are stoically silent. Not many smile, and no one seems to even notice me standing almost in their way at a turn in the road, so intense is their concentration.

The crowds of pilgrims file down the steep road on the Mount of Olives and across the Valley of Kidron to the huge stone arch of the "Gate Beautiful" of the Old City of Jerusalem. It is a long procession, the longest in history, a news report will later testify. The multitude of branches, flags and feet seems nearly endless, so I walk away and into another part of the old city of Jerusalem.

All this makes me wonder what the crowds think about as they push each other down the hill and up the valley to Jerusalem. What do they feel as they move together in fervent groups? I wonder if they feel kindness and love for those who march with them. Or are they oblivious to their surroundings, and only intent on their own personal experiences?

I am beginning to feel a little ambiguous about pilgrims and religious holidays as I walk into the Old City of Jerusalem through a small side gate. For a while I wander aimlessly through a maze of side streets inside the Old City. Then I round a walled street corner and run almost head-on into another crowd of people at an ancient Greek Orthodox church.

My first reaction is to turn around and leave. But I stand still and watch for a minute as a man in a long black robe and a tall ornate black hat walks down the steps of the church. An old woman, also in black, rushes forward and falls onto her knees to kiss the man's ring. Again, my initial reaction is of disapproval for this exaggerated display. Then an unexpected feeling comes over me. Somehow I seem to sense, beyond my own perception, the old woman's simple faith and love of Christ. But more remarkable, I can almost feel, in me, the unconditional love that Christ feels for her. Suddenly I am filled with an overwhelming sense of love and compassion for this little old lady as she kneels at the feet of this seemingly ostentatious religious leader.

For a long time, I stand there, wondering at the feelings of respect and gentle love that I feel for an old woman on her knees in the middle of the road. And then it strikes me. Perhaps I have misjudged the long procession entering Jerusalem on this Palm Sunday. In spite of the confusion and even the contention, most of the pilgrims have made great sacrifices to be here and to give their respect and worship to the Savior on Palm Sunday. This feeling of love begins to reach out of me to all those who worshiped the Savior during a long and tiring procession on this religious holiday.

Their conduct isn't always praiseworthy or even suitable, but then, neither is mine. Maybe someday, someone will say to me, "I accept your genuine devotion and I love you in spite of your flaws." And I trust that someone will be Jesus Christ, the Son of God. My knowledge and testimony of the restored gospel has continually taught me this simple truth, but it took a jostling crowd of Christian Pilgrims on Palm Sunday to help me see the breadth of it.

 




 








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Photography Don O. Thorpe 2009