“I am thinking of starting a campaign to bring back Palm Sunday, without the additional observance of Passion Sunday. Palm Sunday was always one of my favorites growing up as a preacher’s kid, and it was all about the palms—and a lot of them. It was celebratory, festive, when as child I got a chance for a hands-on worship experience and a glimpse of what royalty could look like.
I understand the practical reasons for the more recent liturgical emphasis on the day’s dual themes: most people won’t be coming back during the week, so they need to hear the crucifixion story now. The church needs to make sure that the story of Jesus’ death is given its due before acknowledging any reports of resurrection appearances.
But are such practical concerns rationale enough for downplaying the Palm Sunday experience of faith?”
- Karoline Lewis, The Christian Century
I am, admittedly, quite old-school in my lectionary and liturgical practices, and my personal inclination is to keep Palm Sunday and the Passion of the Cross separate.
It seems to me that the only reason for combining the two is practicality - that no one’s coming to church on Good Friday so we’d better shoehorn in the Passion story on the Sunday before so that they get the death before the resurrection on Easter.
I guess this gets at the question that the postmodern mainline churches have to answer: how convenient can we make an inconvenient faith?
I like feeling that the rhythm of my life, for these few days, is following an ancient rhythm, that the heaviness of my heart on Friday hangs in solidarity with the women who hurried to cook through their tears so that everything would be prepared before the sabbath started at sundown.
Recognizing Palm Sunday the week before Easter is meant to follow the pattern of the story itself - that Jesus entered Jerusalem on a Sunday, got into trouble with the authorities, washed his disciples’ feet on Thursday, and died on a Friday. And - like a good Jewish boy - he waited until the sabbath was over, and rose on a Sunday morning.
My present church observes an Easter Vigil service on Holy Saturday, which is a time for recounting the great stories of creation, redemption, and salvation of the Christian faith. I like the service itself but dislike the early onset of joy. Perhaps I’m just a little more morbid than the average, but I like the waiting - living in the stillness and pain, for forty-some hours, until the moment when Mary comes upon the empty tomb. Our lives are like this - there are hours and days and weeks and years of pain, of waiting, of grieving, until the resurrection finally breaks in.
So I say - wait. Wait for it. Wait for Good Friday, wait for Easter. Exalt in the triumphal procession, and wait for the scandal of the cross. Grieve at the injustice and horror of Love crucified, and wait for the whisper of the resurrection dawn.