Yes. I want palms on Palm Sunday. I want a long procession, singing Hosannas, waving my palm in the early morning sunshine of a perfect Atlanta spring day. And I don’t want my palms folded into little crosses. We aren’t there yet. We have five days before Good Friday. Let’s take them as they come. It seems we all know the story so well that we want to just jump right to the back of the book. Like if we pull the bandage off quickly, it won’t hurt quite so much.
You see, there are two liturgical calendar camps on the Sunday before Easter. The camp that celebrates Palm Sunday and the camp that celebrates Passion Sunday. You have some who profess to celebrate both, but that really just means they fall into the Passion Sunday category. The Palm Sunday celebration’s gospel reading ends with Jesus’s so-called Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. The people are waving the palms, Jesus is riding on a donkey. His fans are going wild. Passion Sunday celebrations, on the other hand, continue the gospel reading all the way through the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’s betrayal, trial, crucifixion, and burial. All of Holy Week crammed into one very long sitting.
In case you still have any doubts, I am a big proponent of the Palm Sunday approach. But, it only works if you go back during the week.
Maundy Thursday where we are sequestered in the upper room. Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, breaking bread and sharing wine with those who would betray and deny him.
Good Friday where we are there through Jesus’s trial, humiliation and crucifixion, where the story seems to end abruptly with earthquakes and the tearing of the temple curtain, as the line that separates the holy and profane is rent apart.
Holy Saturday where we wait and wonder, where we look at the situation as the disciples surely must have, hopeless and confused.
And in this moment of juxtaposition – of the Palm Sunday Celebration with the utter loss and hopelessness of Holy Saturday, a mere six days later – we begin to glimpse the full range of experience for the disciples and for a Triune God whose very being was ripped apart out of love for a fickle, adoring, denying, betraying humanity.
I’ve had several pastor tell me that their parishes had chosen the Passion Sunday option because no one ever came back for the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. So, without opting for the Passion Sunday liturgy, they would get the Palms and the triumphal entry on one Sunday and then jump straight to Easter and the resurrection the following Sunday. No “way of the cross” necessary. Convenient but not really Christian.
I can understand the dilemma that pastors and worship planning teams face. But throwing it at me all at once, page after page of text, I simply can’t take it all in. So for me, today is all about the celebration. The Messiah, the Savior, the Deliverer has come. Dance in the streets. Feast. For today I bring you good tidings of great joy. A savior has come, a savior who is Christ the Lord. Today it all seems to be coming together. The plan. We’ll build three tents, one for Moses, one for Elisha and one for Jesus, right? The Kingdom of God is among us. We just know how this is going to end! Israel restored, Jesus is King. Our troubles are over. No more Roman oppression. No more oppression, period. Rejoice! Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!