Passion or Palms?

I’ve mentioned before that I loathe the palm processions. The old Books of Common Prayer emphasized the passion narratives of the gospels; the Canadian BCP used the Matthew passion. (I note that it is called Palm Sunday as an afterthought in the BCP; it is officially “The Sunday next before Easter.”) So by 1960 the palms had been integrated into general practice. Passion Sunday technically is the Sunday preceding Palm Sunday, when the foreshadowing of the passion begins in the gospel readings.

The purpose is to begin the long narratives of Holy Week. It was expected that the faithful would attend divine service every day in Holy Week, not just on the Sunday next before, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The ancient pattern was to intensify fasting in Holy Week, eating just unseasoned foods and dry bread, and all local feasts suspended, while attending the daily services. I would expect that most of the ancient practices included no eucharist (communion) until Maundy Thursday, or the commemoration of the last Supper, and then no sacrament was reserved. (Many churches, following a more modern Roman practice, have reserved sacrament from the Maundy Thursday service for Holy Saturday.) From the last Thursday servcie until midnight or daybreak on Holy Saturday, no food at all was taken, one of the most solemn fasts in the church year. In the most traditional churches, this is still the case. (Yes, Anglicans, this means you.)

The church would be swept and scrubbed clean, any altar linens to be used at the Pascha (Easter) vigil (the long, late night service to greet the dawn) would be mended, cleaned and pressed. Priests would be in their best vestments for the Pascha, parishioners would dress in their finest. Houses were readied, and the feast preparations begun. New candles all round were essential to the Pascha service.

While the Protestant west has Sunday morning services for Easter, most of the world still has the Great Vigil beginning late Saturday night. Some Anglican jurisdictions have restored the Vigil to its proper place. More should.

Oh, back to those palms. why do I hate them?

First, they are costly. They may not be very expensive in terms of dollars, but they are shipped from (wherever) and it isn’t someplace in Canada. I can just assume that they are sprayed with insecticides, fungicides and pesticides. They are, to the best of my knowledge, grown only for Palm Sunday use, rather than being part of a food-growing tree. Why are we doing this?

It’s the passion that we need to remember. Those people waving fronds ended up being hypocrites, calling for their triumphant messiah to be put to death. Are we joining their throng?

The gospel beginning at Matthew 27 says “When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus, to put him to death.” This is not the trumph yet! It is the bad news part! the entrance into Jerusalem isn’t mentioned at all in Holy Week.

I spuppose we would like to see ourselves among the excited throng, welcoming the messiah, but I hope we would have more sense than that. They were looking for a military leader,not a condemned criminal. They wanted King David, not a prophet about to die in Jerusalem. It is the core irony of the passion narrative, that the triumphal entry leads to death not an earthly vistory. For the victory was so much more than victory over an enemy; it was the final and complete victory over death in which we will share.

The joy of the entry into Jerusalem is an austere joy, an ecstacy that is more like pain. The journey is not over for pilgrims, but the we know our destinnation.

Employment Anxieties

Oh, how I wish I were working! That is, I wish I were working in a parish position again. Or at least working in the field in which I trained. I do a lot of work, but it’s the work I always do. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, sewing. It’s good work, but I guess I’m ready to put my hand to the plow again, and not look back.

I sat in worship yesterday, listening to the hymn “Be Thou My Vision.” The altar window is a very Irish looking Good Shepherd, and since it is spring, I missed the lambs so much it almost choked me. It’s been fine shepherd weather here, windy, cool, and rainy. It’s just the sort of weather that ewes choose to give birth, and the wary shepherd remembers to count heads in the morning feed buckets, since some wily young mother may be off hiding her new baby in the brush. Ewes can’t do much more for the new lamb but lick it and nudge it until it gets to its feet and finds the udder, so if it is chilled or entangled or weak she’s just going to stand over it, nickering softly and licking away. I’ve rescued lambs from sleet storms, tucked them inside my jacket, and warmed them before the fire until they get their wee hooves under them and start galloping around the house. Then it’s back to mama, who acts as if the lamb has been missing a year. Most of the time this is successful. Sometimes the lamb ends up in a box of straw, tucked into a corner of the kitchen, taking milk replacer from a baby bottle.

Palm or Passion Sunday is almost upon us. I prefer it as Passion Sunday, no palms. “All Glory Laud and Honour” is one of my least favourite hymns, and the palm procession, unless one has a well-trained choir, is a train wreck. We gamely do it every year, but I think we should reserve it for cathedrals. Be warned, whoever you are, my next parish – I am not proceeding on Palm Sunday. Sit in the pews and hear the narrative of the passion; it’s so much more important than waving fronds. I’m not one for the Disneyland moments of church anyway. Simple, serious and serene are how I like the gathering to be. It’s very Quakerly of me.

One Palm Sunday I was at the lambing pen early. God does not answer every prayer, as you may well know, for I had prayed that I would not have lambs that morning. There were three. A single born to a young ewe, and she was doing fine. Then the old ewe had twinned. She was absolutely in love with the one, probably second-born lamb. She pushed it around and whinnied to it, and let it suck. I found the first lamb tucked into a corner. I took it to her, and she nudged it away. Not mine, she seemed to say. She attempted to give it to the other ewes. It had probably been the stronger lamb, and got away while she birthed the scond twin, and now it smelled like other sheep. She would not take it no matter what. I rubbed the birth fluids from the second lamb all over it, plugged her nose, and still she refused. I had no time for more experiments – lamb jackets, vicks vaporub, jugging (putting her in a small stall with both lambs) so I grabbed the little black baby and carried it home. I had about half an hour until morning service, so I made up a bottle of milk replacer, popped the lamb into a dog carrier, and toted it to church. I was still wearing my bib overalls and the hideaous greean and black, foul smelling lambing jacket. I dumped the jacket in the back of the truck, changed from overalls to alb and stole in the vestry, and tied the nasty blood streaked overalls out on the church porch just as the organist sounded the first hymn.

Halfway through the Sursum Corda lamb woke up. Who would believe anything that small could make such a racket? One of my wardens, a farmer himself, headed for the narthex and gave the baby its bottle. I greeted parishioners at the door with little Mollie under one arm.

She was a good ewe. She followed me everywhere, and if the other sheep didn’t want to follow, I could haltar Mollie and they would tag along. finally, she went to another shepherd when I left farming, and she was a favourite there, with a lovely Shetland fleece and nice lambs.

I miss leading flocks. I miss the altar and the parish visits. But I also miss the fleecy flock, the sheering and the lambing and the move from witner pens to summer pastures. It set the tone for the year, it got me outdoors, it made the life and parables of Our Lord so much closer.