Before I describe our two texts for Sunday (the traditional liturgy of the palms) let me say a quick word about this confusing Sunday. If you have a copy of the RCL (Revised Common Lectionary) you might have noticed that for this Sunday there are two sets of readings. The first set is for “Passion Sunday” and it includes the typical Hebrew Bible lection (first lesson), the psalm response, the NT lection (second lesson), and the Gospel lection. The gospel lection covers the passion narrative (the death of Jesus). The second set contains only two readings and it is for “Palm Sunday.” The readings for the second set are Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 containing the phrase “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (the phrase quoted in the triumphal entry narrative in the gospels) and Mark 11:1-11 which records Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Why are there two sets of readings? Good question. When the “common lectionary” was “revised” shortly after Vatican II there was great concern about church attendance during Holy Week. Many people were going to church on Palm Sunday and waiting until Easter morning to go to church again. For these Sunday only church goers the passion of Christ never was experienced in worship. People were experiencing the triumph of Palm Sunday and then the triumph of Easter morning but were not experiencing the suffering of the passion. Thus the lectionary committee decided to give “options” for the Sunday preceding Easter (i.e. they decided to offer the passion narrative as an alternative to Palm Sunday so those only attending Sunday services would not miss it entirely).
Our tradition is to use the liturgy of the palms for Palm Sunday, and that is what we will do this coming week. However, the concern of the lectionary committee is a real, and it highlights how important our Good Friday service is. As we experience the triumph of Palm Sunday and the beautiful children waiving their palms, we must remember how close we are to the end. Our worship life needs the passion narrative which invites us to experience the epic love of God for all humanity, and invites us to join Christ in a self sacrificial life for the benefit of the kingdom of God.
Our Good Friday service is important in our observance of Holy Week. The story of Christianity is not triumph to triumph. Instead it is triumph (Palm Sunday) to service (Maundy Thursday–John 13) to suffering and sacrifice (Good Friday) to waiting (Holy Saturday Vigil) to triumph (Easter Resurrection).
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Psalm 18 is a psalm of trust in the eternal steadfast love of the Lord despite our changing circumstances. The psalmist invites his/her hearers to bring a worship of praise to God in light of God’s provision and care.
Our reading from Psalm 118 contains all the right images to go along with the triumphal entry…here is a sampling…
“Open to me the gates of righteousness that I may enter through them…” (vs. 19)
“You have become my salvation…” (vs. 21)
“The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone…” (vs. 22)
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord…” (vs. 26)
“Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar…” (vs. 27)
“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good…” (vs. 29)
These images help us remember the mixed emotions that we bring to worship on Palm Sunday. On the one hand our celebration is very festive and happy as we see our smiling children parading with waiving palms welcoming the kingly Christ. On the other hand it is very disturbing as we sense that death looms on the horizon. Jesus has not come to Jerusalem to be paraded around and maintain the status quo.
Last week it was unseasonably warm–a faux spring. This week reality has reclaimed control of the mercury in the thermometer and our temperatures are back to their seasonal norm. Palm Sunday is a lot like a faux Spring (the little celebration before the big celebration). However, our lection from Mark is more tame in its celebration than that of Matthew or Luke. Mark’s triumphal entry is ironic and foreboding. The king is entering Jerusalem and yet a donkey must be borrowed for the king to have a mount (and not much of a mount at that). The people fawn over Jesus’ entry into the city, and yet his climactic visit accomplishes nothing more than a survey of the temple establishment before he turns and heads back to Bethany. This is no royal-stay with a week-long feast and accompanying festivities. Jesus has sized things up, and now he is preparing for the end. The faux spring was short lived. Jesus brushed away the unseasonably warm reception and noted the dark storm clouds gathering on the horizon pointing to a chilly end. So to, this Sunday, we see how the world plays lip service to the coming king, and we remember that service in God’s kingdom still requires the path to the cross, and that death still precedes resurrection.
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your hearts, minds, and souls for worship consider the mix of emotions that is this Sunday. We welcome the reign of God, even while we resist it. May the Spirit touch our hearts and open our eyes, and open our ears. May we be changed more into the likeness of the one who has come in the name of the Lord.