First, we try to do so much in one Sunday because let’s face it, not everyone will be able to make one of the other services of Holy Week. Just sayin’, it might happen. The problem with this is for those of us who plan and lead worship is that you could come to church on Palm Sunday and unless we read about the Passion of Christ as well you could come on Easter and not have heard, “the rest of the story.” Easter follows Holy Week. You can’t have Resurrection without Passion. And if you think you know the story well…let me just suggest that you might hear something new this time around.
The phrase Palm Sunday comes from the scriptures. It is the image of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and the people who have been waiting for him cutting down branches and waving them in the air. We presume they are Palm tree branches and so we make some florist’s day and buy one for each of the kids and everyone else to wave around. We shout this word, “HOSANNA!” which means something like, “God saves us.” or “God helps us.” If it feels sort of like it’s a lot of fun, sort of like a parade, it’s suppose to be.
But the reality is that, at the time of Jesus, palm branches were an almost violent, certainly a revolutionary symbol against the Roman occupation and the internal participation of the religious leaders. But the people have got what kind of Messiah Jesus is claiming to be wrong. All they had to do was look what he’s riding on; a donkey. I mean who rides into lead a revolution on a donkey.
The Passion part of Palm/Passion Sunday is about what happens next. The phrase “The Passion of Christ” refers to the events of the last week of Jesus’ life; the confrontation with religious leaders at the temple, the last supper and Jesus prayer in the garden, “not my will but thine be done,” as well as his arrest, trial, crucifixion and death. It’s called “The Passion of Christ” as shorthand for what Jesus is willing to do, what he feels “passionate” about, which is, in a word US.
The Passion is a long story to just read and so we’re going to do something like a “readers theater” experience with several readers. Sometimes, not this year I’ve invited everyone to have a part in this reading. It comes when the crowd shouts to Pilate at Jesus’ trial, “Crucify Him.” Doing this helps everyone participate but it also puts us in our place in this story. At the beginning of Holy Week we are part of the crowd.
Next week we’ll have services which go into more detail about the passion of Christ on both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Maundy Thursday centers on The Last Supper where Jesus says in the Latin translation, “I give you a New Commandment that you love one another,” or “Novum Mandatum.” Good Friday centers on the seven last words of Jesus at his Crucifixion. It’s called good because it’s good for us but it is certainly the worst possible thing for Jesus. We call Good Friday’s service, Tenebrae which means ‘’Shadows.” There we start with seven candles lit and one by one extinguish them as the light of the world, Jesus dies.
I hope this Sunday stirs you to attend one or both of these services. I also hope that you listen for the real rest of the story which comes at Easter, I’ll tell you about that next Thursday.