Sunday, March 7, 2010

Palms OR Passion

As we approach the end of the Lenten Season I am reminded of the distinct character of Holy Week.  It was not always so for me.  Growing up, Palm Sunday was less about the Lord than it was about the confirmands.  Jesus may not have ridden in to palms and hosannas but we had confirmation with as much to do as if it were indeed a sacrament.  The obligatory questioning took place in front of the congregation (who would not wet your pants if you had to memorize the catechism and all its Bible passages and then repeat them at will in front of your assembled friends, relatives and fellow parishioners).  The only redeeming feature of it was the big party after wards and the many cards with cash given to the honoree.  So I did not grow up paying much attention to the Lord on Palm Sunday.

When it shifted to Passion Sunday with a Palm Sunday entrance, this was a new thing for me.  Some folks were disappointed that the palms, children, hosannas, and such were no longer the central focus of the day.  I had not known it when it was so it was not so big a deal for me.

The Sunday of the Passion is given to the Passion -- the Palm Sunday entrance is an entrance to that for which Jesus entered Jerusalem, namely, the destiny of the cross.  The whole character of the Lenten journey is different than this Holy Week focus which is narrowly on the Passion and only the Passion.  We begin the week with it all (the whole reading of the Passion according to the Gospel appointed for that year).  The color is scarlet -- not the festival red of martyrs, saints, and church nor the rich purple of Lent, but the deep red that flows toward a bit of purple, distinguishing this week from all other weeks.

It is as if it is its own season -- Monday through Saturday of Holy Week.  Daily propers guide us to the full celebration (can you even use that word) of the week that begins and ends with death -- but not some ordinary passing away, no, this is the death that gives life to the world.

Then it culminates in the three day service, the Triduum.  Maundy or Holy Thursday is a brief but bright moment in which we follow the Lord to the Upper Room and give thanks for this wonderful sacrament that feeds us life and salvation.  But it is all too brief.  We end with the sad and lonely words of Psalm 22 as the chancel is stripped of all its appointments and the house of God becomes a tomb itself. 

We erect a large but rough wood cross which will be the focus while the tabernacle door stands open and empty, the paraments gone, and the place looks as it people left in a hurry.  Palms from the entrance processions lay drying up on the floor.  Good Friday holds a noon day office of prayer and then a service that ends in darkness of a grave opened and now closed up, holding the last hope of all humanity. 

And then we wait...

Holy Saturday brings us to the Easter Vigil when we trace the ancient story of redemption through water and promise -- from Exodus through the various readings.  It all begins with a darkened church and the procession of light, new light and Easter light, that brings back what was missing.  We continue with the blessing of the font, baptisms, and the renewal of our baptismal promise, dipping our fingers in the water and making the sign of the cross upon us.  Then we end with Easter -- the dawn of hope still speaks year after year to restore the Alleluia that was put away on Transfiguration Sunday.  The first news of Easter's victory and the first Divine Service of Easter brings us full turn.  The chancel is redecorated and everything appointed fit for the celebration of life that is Easter, the Resurrection of Our Lord.

Palm Sunday could not carry such a weight.  Palm Sunday entrance into Passion Sunday does... and it marks the holiest of weeks, whose focus is on the Passion of our Lord before we can sing again of the Resurrection of our Lord... and in both of these bookends of time, the Gospel is played out before us in the events that define it -- the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ...

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