Monday, March 26, 2012

Palm/Passion Sunday: 1 April 2012

“To preach or not to preach. That is the question.” 

In your humble blogger’s mind, Palm/Passion Sunday is a day that practically begs for no homily at all. Consider for a moment the sheer heft of the liturgy up until the point where the Homily would take place: 

  • Entrance anthem
  • Introduction to the service
  • Proclamation of Jesus’ Entrance into Jerusalem 
  • Procession with Palms
  • Opening Prayer
  • First Lesson
  • Psalm
  • Second Lesson
  • Hymn
  • Proclamation of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ
After all of that, even the shortest of homilies would bear a striking resemblance to the after-dinner mint offered to Mr. Creosote in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.
However, it must be admitted that many persons would disagree. Palm/Passion Sunday services tend to be extremely well-attended, and often by those who are at church on few other occasions during the year. Those whose connection to their faith is somewhat tenuous probably need to have this rich banquet explained to them, if only so that they don’t go home wondering “what on earth was that all about?” for another year.
In that spirit, Katherine Lauer Rigler offered readers of Homily Service in 2009 a short explication of the mystery of reversal which lies at the heart of the Palm/Passion Sunday proclamation.
In this story, what begins as Jesus’s triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem becomes his depraved arrival to the place outside the city where he will be mocked and die. The cheers and triumphant shouts of the people welcoming “the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” become a cacophony of an angry mob shouting “Crucify Him!” The tone of worship shifts from one of festive celebration to solemnity. In order to get to the empty tomb of Easter morning we must go by way of the cross. And let’s face it: most of those in our congregations will not make it to services during Holy Week. They will miss the rest of the story if they skip from the triumph of Palm Sunday to the empty tomb on Easter morning. Not only will they miss the story, they will miss our part in the story. For those who miss the story, God’s generosity and grace look like a cheap trick instead of a gift of love and sacrifice. This last Sunday of Lent should prepare us for Holy Week by allowing us to contemplate our journeys through the entire Lenten season thus far. 
How does your congregation “do” Palm/Passion Sunday?
Katherine Lauer Rigler (2008): 5 April 2009; Lent 6; Palm/Passion Sunday, Homily Service, 42:2, 72.
Katherine Lauer Rigler is a Presbyterian minister (PCUSA).

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