Combining Palm Sunday with Passion Sunday is relatively new. “A practice that some of our churches maintained into the middle of the 20th century was to read the Passion narrative on the 5th Sunday in Lent, a day that inaugurated [sic] a two-week mini-season of Passiontide. The Sunday of Hoy Week was dedicated to a Palm Sunday celebration, which was bracketed by Passion narratives on Lent 5 and again on Good Friday. Thus the rythmn [sic] toward the end of Lent was the horror of the Passion, followed by the "celebration" of Palm Sunday, more Passion, and then Resurrection. This achieves what the current Palm/Passion Sunday practice seeks to achieve, but in a more deliberate fashion.” (Duckworth, 2011)
Combining the two into one reflects the dwindling participation in the Holy Week Services of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. If we go from “Hosanna” to “He is Risen” we miss the Passion of Christ. Without Good Friday, there can be no Easter so the church combines the two to ensure that believers have the opportunity the experience all of the emotions of Holy Week.
Now designated as Palm Sunday – Sunday of the Passion Worship Services around the globe and in many denominations will begin with a process of Palms and the singing or saying some form of “Hosanna,” marking Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Recorded in all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), Jesus comes to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. By this time, however, many recognized Jesus as the long-promised Messiah. This brings joy to the hearts of his followers, but creates tension among the steadfast Jews who view Jesus as somewhat of a rabble-rouser. The Romans who occupy the city are nervous that there is going to be trouble from both sides. The Sanhedrin, the leadership Council of the Jewish establishment, need to placate the Romans.
Those who believe Jesus to be the Messiah greet him as they would any king: waving Palms, an ancient symbol of victory and triumph, and laying their cloaks on the ground. But this is a humble king. He rides in on an unridden, borrowed donkey, a clear sign of his humility. In these actions, the people and Jesus himself are proclaiming that Jesus is King. But the Sanhedrin and Romans do not realize that Jesus, in his proclamation of kingship, has not come to instigate violence or overthrow the government, as most conquering kings do. Instead, He has come to fulfill God’s plan of redemption, to reconcile all of creation to himself, and remove the sting of death and sin once and for all.
When the celebration ends (usually immediately following the procession of Palms), the Passion narrative begins. In the lectionary cycle, we are currently in Year A, which focuses primarily on the Gospel of Matthew; therefore, the events of Jesus’ Passion are recounted using Matthew 26:14-27:66. We hear of the Last Supper and institution of Holy Communion, Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas’ betrayal, Jesus’ arrest, Peter’s denial, Jesus’ crucifixion, and burial. We leave Worship with Jesus in the tomb, waiting for the glorious morning of Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter.
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