Sunday, April 5, 2020
Palms or Passion, Again. . .
It is true for most of us that we (over the age of 40) grew up with at least the name Palm Sunday but also with the elephant in the room, Confirmation. As one whose catechism instruction often suffered under an early Easter, I do not lament the loss of Confirmation on Palm Sunday. But neither do I lament the loss of focus on the palms. In fact, I don't think palms are given short shrift at all.
Palms are not sacramental but symbolic and you can have them and the Passion Sunday emphasis as well. We have, after all, an elaborate entrance rite that is all about palms. It has its own Gospel and gives the people a chance to cry out as did the people of Jerusalem in welcome of the coming King -- all the while preserving the reason for His entrance into the city -- the cross!
Some complain that the reading of the Passion overshadows the rest of the week and renders the individual stories of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday superfluous. I disagree. We do have palms and hosannas -- where they belong in the great procession that enters Holy Week by following Jesus through the crowds to the cross. We do pay attention to the grand welcome in which the Savior came to His appointed destiny humble and mounted on a donkey. But we do this in the context of the larger outcome. Jesus did NOT come for the crowds or the accolades or the welcome. He came for the cross. In the past the palms gave us a glory moment which was not Jesus' primary glory. He came for the glory of the cross.
Of course, it is cumbersome to read the whole Passion story in one fell swoop. It is long. It taxes the skill of the reader and the listener. And it is true that we have short attention spans (especially for a story whose ending we already know). The sad truth is that too few of us hear the whole story. So it is important at least once or twice a year to hear it all -- from beginning to end -- before we explore the smaller stories inside the big one. Yes, it does kill the surprise ending but the Church and those who have gathered to celebrate the Sunday of the Passion have already heard the story before and know the surprise. Jesus dies but does not remain dead. He rises again. Oops. Spoiler alert. This is exactly why we come. To hear it all again -- the old story retold again, not for dramatic effect, but because this IS, after all, the Gospel.
So sing All Glory, Laud, and Honor and wave the palms and shout the hosannas. But make sure that on this Sunday everyone knows where this procession goes -- to the cross. And don't forget to sing one of the great Lenten chorales (O Sacred Head, A Lamb Alone Goes Willingly, etc.) or one of my personal favorites, No Tramp of Soldier's Marching Feet. Palms mean nothing without the Passion to which they lead. So pastors, do not fret about what to preach on -- the Passion does not need much of an assist in the pulpit. Just preach the for you aspect of all that the people have heard.