Harford to celebrate Palm Sunday, Passover

Beginning Sunday, Harford County's Christian and Jewish residents will usher in a week of some of the most important observances of their respective faiths.

For Christians, Sunday is Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of Holy Week, when the last week of the life the Christian Messiah Jesus Christ is recognized.

Palm Sunday is when Jesus' triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem is remembered.

"We read in the Gospels about Jesus coming into Jerusalem on a donkey, and some of his followers weaving palm branches," the Rev. Corey Sharpe, pastor of Hopewell United Methodist Church in Havre de Grace, said Thursday.

Catholic and Protestant churches throughout Harford County will hold Palm Sunday services Sunday – many will feature children walking in a processional carrying palm fronds.

Hopewell will also hold an Easter Cantata, with singing from the church's Adult and Children's Choir.

Holy Week observances after Palm Sunday include Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, when the Eucharist is celebrated, Good Friday, which marks Jesus' torture, crucifixion and death, and Easter Sunday, when Jesus' resurrection from death is celebrated.

The Rev. Mrs. Merritt Schatz, pastor of Grove Presbyterian Church in Aberdeen, said children will walk around the church sanctuary with palm fronds and then lay them at the foot of a cross.

"It's a reminder that Christ intentionally went into Jerusalem knowing what was facing him in there, and going in for our sake," Schatz said.

The New Testament of the Bible states Jesus was sent to Earth by God, his father, to die for the sins of humanity, and he returned to Jerusalem knowing he would be executed for trying to free the Jewish people from Roman rule.

"They expected him to be a great leader and a Messiah, but they had very different expectations of what the Messiah would be," Schatz explained.

She said the residents of Jerusalem expected an active revolt, not Jesus' sacrifice of his life, which she called "servant leadership."

"God freed us from being prisoners of sin and so it's a different way of approaching things and doing things," Schatz said. "By God's giving of God's own self in Jesus Christ, this was the example of how we are supposed to care and change things."

Passover begins

Monday will be the first night of Passover, when Jews recall their escape from slavery in Egypt and their return to the Holy Land.

"Passover is a holiday that celebrates the freedom of the Jewish people from slavery, but also the establishment of the Jewish people as a nation," Rabbi Kushi Schusterman, executive director of Chabad of Harford County in Bel Air, said Thursday.

The local Chabad affiliate, which was established in 2010 to serve the growing Jewish community in Cecil and Harford counties, hosted a class on Passover Wednesday, the most recent in the Chabad's series of Wednesday classes on Jewish culture and traditions.

More than 4,200 Chabad learning centers have been established in communities throughout the world.

Harford's Chabad will also be the site of community Seder dinners next Monday and Tuesday. The Seder is a festive meal and a service in which those around the table tell the story of the Jews' escape from Egypt.

Schusterman said the Chabad has hosted the community Seder for several years, and many in attendance have not been to a Seder for decades.

"They say that it reminded them of their bubbie," he said, using the Yiddish word for grandmother.

Schusterman stressed people of all Jewish denominations and non-Jewish faiths are welcome – the rabbi encouraged people to "RSVP" if they plan to come.

"No one should feel like they're a stranger to Passover; everyone can feel like it's a meaningful experience to them," he said.

Schusterman called Passover "a holiday of community building, when we became a nation; it's very important that we should act as a nation, act as a community."

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