Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

(Entry into Jerusalem, by Fra Angelico)

Both Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday have a common theme: triumph and victory, peace and glory, joy and love. Solemnly and enthusiastically the liturgy today begins by proclaiming: "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!"  The Preface in the Liturgy of the Palms continues the theme: "On this day [Jesus] entered the holy city of Jerusalem in triumph, and was proclaimed King of kings by those who spread their garments and branches of palm along his way. Let these branches be for us signs of his victory..."  But all this appears against a background of shadow and darkness cast over humankind by the Enemy: Death.  With realistic awareness of what will follow after this day, we pray that we "may ever hail [Jesus] as our King and follow him in the way that leads to eternal life..." At the conclusion of the joyous procession into the church with palms, the celebrant pauses and the mood of the service shifts as this Collect is offered: "Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace..."

Jesus' entry into the Holy City was his only visible earthly triumph.  Consistently he downplayed who he was and what he did; consistently people rejected him, blew him off, hearing his seemingly wild claims.  But the week before his death he enters Jerusalem humbly yet openly, leaving know doubt in any spectators' minds, through the symbols of palms, the royal donkey, and the resounding acclamation, "Hosannah", that he was being recognized and acknowledged as the Messiah, the Holy Anointed One of God.  The very choice of Jerusalem, the Holy City, indicates the universal character of God's new reign on earth which he is bringing, a reign embracing all people and all creation.  Jesus had said (John 12:27): " is for this reason that I have come to this hour..."  This is now the ultimate hour, the hour in which God fulfills all God's promises and decisions. From now on the presence of God's reign judges and transforms all human history.  

The palm branches which we receive today indicate three things: 1) 0ur proclaiming of Christ as our sovereign ruler and our commitment, through his grace and presence, to bringing the reign of God to reality as the ultimate meaning of our life.  "For all things are yours...and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God."   2) The palm branches also signify our determination to follow Christ in the way we live: "that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection..." (Collect for Palm Sunday)  3) Finally, these branches proclaim our unshakeable faith in the ultimate victory of Christ over evil and death.  If we're not determined to do our part in making God's reign the measure of our day-to-day living, then our liturgical celebration today is but an empty commemoration of the past.   


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