ATLANTIC CITY -- Services at Asbury United Methodist Church here are usually upbeat to help members of the congregation make it through the week ahead.
But on Sunday, church members sang, prayed and hugged each other to begin what many Christians around the world believe is perhaps the holiest week of the year.
Sunday was Palm Sunday, the day Christians celebrate the arrival of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. The week continues with Holy Thursday, Good Friday and finally Easter Sunday, the day Christians celebrate Christ’s resurrection.
According to Christian tradition, many people laid palm branches on the ground in front of Christ as he proceeded through Jerusalem. Christians see the palms as a symbol of victory and joy.
“This is a very special Sunday,” church worship leader Carolyn Pendleton said.
Ushers walked up and down the aisles of the church, shaking hands with congregation members. Palm fronds were laid on table in front of the altar and were handed to the congregation at the end of services.
Much of the sermons were about what Christians believe Christ did for mankind.
“A great man of God who had done wonderful things, many things we have never seen before,” Rev. Alma Dobson, the church’s assistant pastor, told the congregation. “He is giving people hope who have had no hope before.
“He entered into Jerusalem as a conqueror, but not the kind of conqueror that people thought. He came humbly before them.”
“It is a journey to Easter Sunday,” said Rev. William Willams, the church’s pastor. “Thank you for bringing us this far.”
Still, while the focus of most of Sunday’s services was on Holy Week and its religious connotations, congregation members said the next few days are also special for their families.
“We get the family together,” Atlantic City resident Rose Fluellen said. “We pray a lot. Then we have a big dinner. It is a busy week for me.”
Fluellen said Holy Week is different from the week that leads up to Christmas in that it is far less hectic.
“It’s a more quiet week,” she said.
Dorothy Gallagher, 81, lives in Winslow Township, Camden County, but said she returns to Asbury United Methodist Church for services as much as possible, because it is the church she attended as a child.
Gallagher said her family will spend the next few days preparing for an Easter reunion, something that will include a traditional Easter egg hunt for the youngsters. That hunt is getting easy each year, she said.
“The children are growing up,” she said. “They’re not as little as they once were.”