Reflection for Palm Sunday and Holy Week (By Deacon David Bean).
The Gospel of the Palms
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
It was only when I sat down to start writing this homily that it struck me that it’s an unusual thing to do. We have reached that stage on the journey to Easter when we move from walking with Jesus in the wilderness of Lent and start to walk with him to the cross. When we get into these days in this run up to Easter – Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday – we often do not have sermons... we just allow those powerful, moving Gospel readings to simply speak for themselves...
If we were able to gather together for worship on Palm Sunday, we would typically hear the “Gospel of the Palms”, the story of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, perhaps re-enacting that with a procession of our own. We would take palm crosses, to recall not only the leaves and cloaks with which onlookers strewed in Jesus path, but also to remember that this triumphant journey to Jerusalem would take him to the cross...
We would then read one of the Gospel accounts of the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus, followed by a period of silence, just to allow us to try to take it all in.
Traditionally, the Church celebrated the Easter Triduum – that is to say, the great Easter liturgy, starting on Maundy Thursday, recalling the last supper and Jesus washing his disciples' feet, moving on to the events of Good Friday and ending with an Easter vigil on night of Holy Saturday – 3 days of prayer and services. Rarely would there be a sermon at any of these services – the great Easter drama would often just play out in the readings and the liturgy instead.
When I was at theological college, we would keep this Easter Triduum as a silent, three day, retreat – a powerful but demanding thing to do, not something that is possible for most of us in our busy lives. That's the reason for having the full Passion narrative read on Palm Sunday, I suppose. Without that, then there is a danger that some of us might go straight from Jesus riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to Resurrection on Easter Sunday – and miss out the intervening events entirely!
I have said before that the problem for us as Christians, reading the Easter story, is that we know the ending! So this year, I would encourage you to observe the Easter Triduum at home – studying each of the readings in turn, on the appropriate day. I have shared the details of these readings below. Allow yourself to dwell in the story, one day at a time. Walk through the story, step by step with Jesus, to the cross.
Or perhaps, this year, walk with the disciples and Jesus' mother Mary, as they can only powerlessly watch, and wait, and mourn. That will be especially poignant this year, at the end of 12 months of pandemic – for so many, that is all that they have been able to do - watch, wait, and mourn.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves – let's concentrate of Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem. Such a well known story that we might sometimes miss the significance of some of the details.
I was always taught that all the cries of “Hosanna” (meaning “save, please!”) - the lining of Jesus' path with coats, cloaks and foliage, was the sort of thing that you might do to honour the coming of a king or messiah – and so it is! But is is so much more than this.
Jesus has spent most of his ministry away from major cities – and yet here he is, making a deliberately public entry into Jerusalem, at the feast of Passover, when the city would be crowded, and full of unrest. In their book “The Last Week”, Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan even go as far as to say that it looks for all the world like a political demonstration! Whether we accept that or not, Jesus is certainly going to provoke a response from the authorities – the Romans and the Jewish leaders of the time! The Gospel of Mark makes the following clear:-
· Following Jesus means following him on the way.
· The way leads to Jerusalem
· Jerusalem is the place of confrontation with the authorities
· Jerusalem is the place of death – and resurrection!
But we're getting ahead of ourselves again. Follow the drama yourself this week as
Maundy Thursday – John 13.1–17,31b–35
Good Friday – John 18.1 – 19.37
Holy Saturday – John 19.38–end