There’s always debates this time of year among clergy about liturgical practices. One such debate is whether to make this Sunday Palm Sunday or Palm/Passion Sunday. (Just FYI, I decided to go with Palm Sunday at CFC as that’s what I’ve been generally used to doing at previous churches.) The arguments go something like this . . .
We can’t go from mountaintop to mountaintop (Palm Sunday to Easter) without the Passion. We can’t have Resurrection without Crucifixion. Many folks don’t come to mid-week Holy Week Services like Maundy Thursday and Good Friday (for various reasons, of course.) So on the Sunday before Easter, we must read the entire Passion narrative otherwise people won’t understand what this week is all about. Palm/Passion Sunday is the way to go.
On the other hand, folks will say that moving quickly from Palm Sunday right into the Passion doesn’t do Palm Sunday justice. We should be celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem because it’s such an important moment in his ministry. If people want to hear the rest of the story, then they must attend Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The tears and sadness belong later on in Holy Week, not on Palm Sunday. After all, it’s Holy WEEK not Holy DAY.
I personally find merit in both Palm Sunday and Palm/Passion Sunday. Though one of my favorite memories on this complicated liturgical topic comes from my days as a Student Minister. The Senior Minister of the large congregation we served decided to make it Palm/Passion Sunday. He was sick and tired of empty pews on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and wanted the congregation to hear the Passion of Jesus Christ. On Palm/Passion Sunday, he didn’t preach and read the Passion from the Gospel of Luke instead. After he was done, the congregation sang “Were You There?” one of the most powerful Holy Week hymns we have in the Christian tradition. He took a stand for Palm/Passion Sunday that year and was feeling good about his decision.
At the end of the service, an elderly parishioner came up to him in the receiving line (obviously having no clue about the agonizing decision our Senior Minister made to change this worship service.) And apparently she hadn’t fully understood the service either. She sweetly shook his hand and said, “That was the best sermon you’ve ever preached! You just have such a way with words!”
Remember his “sermon” was simply reading the Passion from the Gospel according to Luke! Needless to say when he told the rest of the ministers what happened, we just about fell on the floor laughing. These things that are such a big deal to clergy, these things we agonize over, argue about, and sometimes take our big stands on aren’t always such a big deal to others. So I suppose whether we celebrate Palm Sunday or Palm/Passion Sunday in churches everywhere this Sunday before Easter, we should probably do so with humility.
(This Week’s Thoughts 3.22.18)