Lenten Reflection: The Palm and Passion Sunday Liturgies

March 27, 2015 Comments Off on Lenten Reflection: The Palm and Passion Sunday Liturgies

palm-54467_640Palm Sunday is a very unusual day.  We begin with the triumph of the Liturgy of the Palms, lots of Hosanna’s and a huge exuberant welcome party for Jesus upon his entrance to Jerusalem, The texts for the Liturgy of the Palms, Hosanna to the Son of David, All Glory Laud and Honor, and Ride on, ride on in Majesty, all reflect an almost shocking and sudden burst of enthusiastic joy and triumph toward the very end of the annual Lenten journey.

Then it is gone. Suddenly. Violently. Finally.

Immediately following our triumphal entrance into our sanctuary, we are suddenly reoriented, as if grabbed by the shoulders and turned to look in a different direction, by words of the collect of the day. The collect in no way reflects, or even hints at, the place of triumph from which we have just come.

Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

We are by that action compelled not to turn away from the emotional portrayal of the Passion that is to come.

What happened to Hosanna?

We live two liturgies on that day.  Although we know how the story ends, each year we anticipate and cherish this moment of respite as we are suddenly unburdened from Lenten austerity with momentary exultation. We transition from sobriety to exultation just as we will again transition from despair at the foot of the cross to the unrestrained and uncontainable joy of the Resurrection. But, it is around this ongoing theme of opposition and tension that lies the spiritual inspiration of the days to come. Triumph to despair, confession to absolution, preparation to fulfillment, death to everlasting life.

I invite you my brothers and sisters to experience the dual liturgies of Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday by casting away your palms at the end of the first liturgy. Actually throw them on the floor. Let them remain there, ignored, stepped upon, and unnoticed, until the altar party has departed by that very powerful silent retiring procession, during which you will notice that the palms have even been removed from the processional cross.

The palms are a symbol of life, a living thing cast away, yet they are blessed with holy water. We meditate on this as we reclaim them after the mass, as we carefully fold them into small votive crosses, or place them behind the crucifixes that adorn our homes where they remain until Shrove Tuesday the following year. They become a daily reminder of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the anguish of the Christ’s Passion, the joy of Resurrection, and the victory over death itself.  It remains a subtle ever-present reminder throughout the year of the important annual journey upon which we embark.

– John Bradley

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