They were Lutherans and Roman Catholics, young and old, black and white, all mingled in a stream of Christians parading up 15th Street yesterday to Meridian Hill Park for their traditional neighbourhood Palm Sunday Service.
"We have come here together because we recognize Jesus Christ as our Savior and Messiah," the Rev. John Mudd, a priest of Sts. Paul and Augustine catholic Church told nearly 300 persons gathered in one of the bays of the ornately sculptured park. "We are here because we count ourselves followers of Him," Mudd continued.
The gospel reading at outdoor service told the story that is recounted throughout Christendom on Palm Sunday: how Jesus, nearing the climax of his controversial ministry, approached Jerusalem with his disciples; how he made preparations to enter the city in triumph; how the crowds hailed him as a prophet, covering the dusty roads before him with palm branches.
First in English and then in Spanish, the Rev. Leo Beato of Augustana Lutheran Church cited the problems of cities today and challenged Christians to confront such evils as poverty, racism and war.
"Let us exchange the sign of peace," declared the Rev. Raymond Kemp, pastor of Sts. Paul and Augustine. Everyone shook hands with-whomever stood near, murmuring the traditional liturgical greeting: "Peace be with you." The children joined the adults in offering their hands to strangers and friends alike.
Then as bundle after bundle of the pale green palm fronds were laid before them, the clergy blessed the branches, and aides distributed them to the eager crowd Clutching their palm branches and waving them, the impromptu congregation followed the choirs of the two churches out of the park in a procession back to their respective churches.
For churches generally, Palm Sunday is both a joyous and a solemn occasion. In recent years it has been marked increasingly wit h ecumenical clelbrations such as the one at Meridian Hill Park.
For many churches it is a time for special music. Choirs rehearse for weeks to master a special anthem or prelude for the morning service.More ambitious choirs work harder and longer to perfect full conceits of sacred music which were presented yesterday afternoon and evening in numerous area churches.
Palm Sunday preaching varies from strictly biblical exposition to comment on contemporary events depending on the preacher and the tradition from which he comes. Sermon topics yesterday ranged from "The Coming Armageddon" (at the Church of Christ) in Northwest Washington to "Which Way Southern Africa? American Responsibilities" (Silver Spring Unitarian.)
Several local churches marked the day with unusual events.
First Baptist Church in Alexandria held an early morning panel discussion on abortion. Charles Wesley Church in McLean laid the cornerstone for a new sanctuary.
Luther Place Church, an activist congregation at Thomas Circle in the District of Columbia, turned the day into what it termed "Mobilization for Survival." Following traditional morning services in the church, the group held an afternoon prayer service for the city's problems at Lafayette Park, across from the White House. The rest of the day was spent in a "Save Our Communities" street fair on N Street benind the church, which also focused on human need in Washington.
Another activist congregation, St. Stephen and the Incarnation, poured from the building at 16th and Newton Streets NW after mourning services. Perceded by a rough-hewn cross, parishioners trooped through the neighborhood, singing hymns to the accompaniment of accordionist Carlos Van Lear, and bestowing palm branches on residents.
In brief remarks at the outdoor service on Meridian Hill, Father Kemp recalled that it has been 10 years since the tense Palm Sunday which followed by only a few days the murder of Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. and the subsequent turmoil in Washington's inner city.
Just as in Jesus' time, he continued, "we live in a society which specializes in killing prophets."
Both our recent history and Christian history would indicate that "those Christians who preach that "if you believe in God everything is going to work out good for you' don't understand the message of Holy Week," he maintained.
"Yet we come back, year after year week and week, calling on the Lord for strength" which can enable the faithful he said, "to face even those who will kill the prophets."