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.