By Ava Pennington—

The crowds cheered. They spread their cloaks on the road.  They cut palm branches and placed them in His path as Jesus rode into Jerusalem astride a donkey. Two thousand years later, many churches celebrate Palm Sunday by distributing palm branches to commemorate that special day.

When I lived in New York, the church I attended observed many significant dates in the liturgical calendar, including Palm Sunday. I looked forward to receiving my strip of palm leaf as a tangible reminder of the coming of Easter each year.

Then we moved to Florida. The church I began attending is a contemporary church. Palm Sunday is not celebrated with the traditional distribution of palm leaves. I was more disappointed than I expected that first Easter season. Friends at church chuckled at the importance I attributed to tree branches. After all, we were in Florida. If I wanted a palm frond, it was easy enough to go into my backyard and cut one down myself! In fact, the following year, that’s exactly what they did, bringing it to our Bible study class on Palm Sunday morning.

Was the lack of palm branches in church really that important? I wondered about it as each Easter passed. The absence of the fronds didn’t change what Jesus had done for me two thousand years ago. I began to consider other traditional activities I have long associated with church. How much of it is ritual and how much is relationship? When the absence of traditional religious activities impacts my worship, what does that say about my focus?

Is there a place for tradition in our worship services? I believe there is. As the adage says, “No sense in throwing the baby out with the bath water.” Traditional activities provide visual reminders of what I believe. They connect me to the heritage of the Church, providing unchanging anchors in a changing world.

But I’m also glad my dependence on traditions has been shaken enough to prompt me to remember that I don’t worship the ritual. When the activity becomes more important than the object of my worship, I’ve lost my focus…and my way.

Palm Sunday without palm branches? No problem, because Easter Sunday is coming – when we celebrate a tomb without a body!

“They took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13 ESV).





© 2010 Martin Alan Grivjack PhotographyMartin Alan Grivjack PhotographyAva Pennington is thoroughly enjoying her second career as an author, teacher, and speaker. Originally from New York City, she relocated after a 20-year corporate career as a Human Resources executive. But don’t call her retired. In addition to writing and speaking, she teaches a Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class of 200+ women from September through May each year.

Her newest book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, is published by Revell and endorsed by Kay Arthur, founder of Precepts Ministries International. Ava has also written articles for magazines such as Power for LivingCalled, and Christianity Today’s Today’s Christian Woman. She has been published in 25 anthologies, including 18 Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

Ava is grateful for her husband, Russ, their marriage of 35+ years, and their home in south Florida. She is a passionate speaker and teacher, and delights in challenging audiences with relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit or contact her at



  1. 3-27-2015

    Oh, my friend…I went through such a “chuch transition” when we moved to FL from CA. Culture shock. Worship shock. Took us 3 years to find a church. God needed to do a work in MY heart before we finally “landed” somewhere. Appreciating your words today.

  2. 3-27-2015

    Thanks Ava for clarifying that difficult transition. I’ve run from tradition and run toward tradition and have finally come to a healthy balance. Thanks for mapping out that journey in words.

    • 3-27-2015

      Yes, Sharon, that balance is important…but sometimes difficult to find!

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