Previously, I said that I would add more reflection about some of the days as we travel through Holy Week. So as promised, here is some pondering about Palm Sunday.
In many congregations on this day, people experience the joy and triumph as they join shouts and the singing of “Hosanna.” We hear the Palm Sunday story read (this year from the Gospel of Matthew if your congregation is using the common lectionary), and join in the shouts of excitement. What does it mean to proclaim:
“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Perhaps you have had a moment in life where you were the most excited and just overjoyed in community? There are many instances in life which might highlight the sort of excitement that we seem to attribute to this day. Think of the pomp and circumstance experienced in the build-up and actual celebration of a commencement or graduation. (As this is April many of you may have family, friends, or even yourselves going through such festivities soon.) Think also of countless people lining a sort of impromptu parade route. If you are a sports fan, think of the possible parade that would be thrown if your team won its championship. (For Seahawks fans this should be pretty easy to picture given this just happened two months ago for us.) These ideas speak to the excitement.
Now, as we come and worship, joining the crowds of today and of the ages past, we join some of the same excitement, but also with an awareness of what comes next. I asked on Twitter what you consider your favorite thing or practice is that you do to observe Palm Sunday. I got a couple responses.
Ayame, I think most people would agree with you that they love the procession of the palms. Call me crazy, but not only do I love when the kids process in with the palms, but when the whole congregation does. The gospel doesn’t say only the children waved palms, it said the crowd of people cut branches and implies no partiality among the crowd. So for congregations, if you only have the kids wave the palms perhaps you aren’t most fully enabling your community to celebrate? Maybe consider sharing palms with everyone. The smiles that are on the kids faces, might be on the adults’ too. Who knows.
Aaron, I can safely say that I did that growing up too. If my brother and sister and I weren’t using them to annoy each other or to have palm like sword fights, we were trying to one-up each other with a more creative palm shaped cross. Do any of you take a palm from Palm Sunday and then weave or fold it into a sort of cross as a reminder and Holy Week practice?
As we observe Palm Sunday, we do so knowing what comes next in the story. We know that having such a procession is politically dangerous and threatening to the priests and Roman leadership. We also know that the answer to the question of “Who is this?” by the crowds of “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee,” is dangerous and threatening to the powers that be. Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, but also brings to a climax questions of faith and purpose. What questions strike you this Palm Sunday?
In looking ahead to the rest of the story, many congregations may even read the whole passion narrative, observing the Sunday of the Passion. I see the merit, but I think by doing that we lose some of the opportunity to focus on the whole gamete of the journey to and from the cross (Karoline Lewis it seems would agree with this, at least she did three years ago). Thus, at least for this year I am offering Palm Sunday pondering and not Passion Sunday pondering.
Based on what I have seen, it seems that more congregations have moved from observing Passion Sunday back to Palm Sunday this year, and I wonder if its because of similar sentiment that I (and Karoline Lewis before me) have? Do you have any thoughts or feelings on the subject?
Looking ahead, I’ll offer some more Holy Week thoughts on Thursday and Friday this week. Until then, what questions (of any kind) are you wrestling with this week?
Image Credit: Palm Sunday celebration