Sunday, April 2, 2023

Palms and Passion. . .

Quite frankly I have never understood why there must be a choice between the Sunday of the Passion and Palm Sunday.  Of course, growing up in the 1950s, my own experience of Palm Sunday was shaped by the Confirmation Rite more than by Zechariah's promise or the Palm Sunday entrance of Jesus.  We never had palms blessed or distributed nor did the sermon ever focus on either the prophecy and its fulfillment of Jesus riding into Jerusalem upon a path of palms and garments while the people shouted Hosanna to the Son of David.  I do not know of anyone who grew up in that era (or anytime before) when there was any other focus than on the well groomed young men and women in their confirmation suits and white dresses ready to be confirmed in their baptismal faith.  It is an presumption not based in fact that Lutherans who confirmed on Palm Sunday ever paid much attention to the pericopes.

Any cursory review of the history of the pericopes shows that in addition to the account of the entrance, the Sunday was well associated with an included readings for the Passion of Our Lord long before the lectionary revision of the 1970s.  If your concern is with Jesus as the final King, David's Son, who sits upon His throne forever, you might begin by moving confirmation to another Sunday (we confirm on Reformation).  In reality, I have always included the joint and complementary themes of Jesus as not  another king in the line of David but the new and eternal King who sits upon David's throne! Hosanna in the highest!

One way to connect the themes is to have a genuine Palm Sunday procession.  Weather permitting, we do this outside.  We gather with the congregation outdoors for the reading of John 12, the blessing of the palms, the distribution of the palms, and then the loud procession of voices crying out Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!  Even when the weather does not permit, we gather away from the nave and in the Fellowship Hall to do the same.  It is hard to miss what is happening and it is easy to connect Zechariah and John as they point to Jesus (especially in Series B).  But we do not forget why Jesus entered.  He did not process into Jerusalem only to fulfill Zechariah's promise but to fulfill all the voices of the prophets in His obedient suffering, life-giving death, and atoning sacrifice upon the cross.

We touch on the whole of this in the Palm Sunday sermon as well as in the ceremonies and rituals associated with this unique day.  Add to that hearing the Passion from the three synoptic Gospels on Monday through Wednesday at Compline and the Passion from John twice on Good Friday, we hear in repeated detail the most significant content of the New Testament.  Although it is not typically my practice, many have followed the pattern of making the Lenten Midweek themes into an extended Holy Week in and of themselves -- elaborating on the smallest details of the Passion so that nothing is forgotten.  Is this too much?  Given the way Christianity is moving and the many ways the cross is either ignored entirely or seem as mere example of profound love, it is hardly overkill.

This I will say to those worried about Zechariah and Palm Sunday getting lost.  You are the planner of the liturgy and you are the preacher.  You are not without ample opportunity and resources to connect all of this together -- which is the genius of Palm/Passion Sunday -- the people of God get the wide view from the prophecy fulfilled in palms and hosannas to its fulfillment upon the cross in the Passion of our Lord so that they know what to listen for as the full week unfolds.  Happy Palm Sunday!

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