01 April 2012

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is to me a strange celebration. It is a celebration of Jesus entering into Jerusalem welcomed as a King; yet, before the week is finished, he is crucified. The last line of the hymn we sang during our Palm Sunday service last evening captures it well - amidst a joyful, upbeat teampo, celebrating Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, we sing: heden hosanna, morgen kruisigt hem! (hosanna today - tomorrow crucify him!)

The church service today began with Hosannas and marching around the church with palm branches (buxus in the Netherlands) in honour of Jesus' triumphant entry. The service continued with reading the prophecy from Zechariah 9 of the king riding in on a donkey. Then Psalm 22, the psalm Jesus quotes on the cross: "why have you forsaken me?" and which talks about being forsaken and lots being cast for his clothing. Then Philippians 2:5-11, the hymn of Jesus humbling himself - even humbling himself to death on the cross. And finally, we heard the Passion story from the gospel of Mark, starting with the preparations for the last meal and continuing until Jesus' death on the cross. Upon hearing that Jesus 'gave up his spirit,' we kneeled for a few minutes in silence. We then stood to listen to the account of his burial. And the story ended there.

Several years ago, I happened to be at the monastery in Three Rivers for Palm Sunday, and I discovered the tradition of chating the Passion story on that day. It helped me to hear anew a story I have become all too familiar with and so no longer listen to it all that well. And the ending always strikes me - we end with Jesus in the tomb, and that is how we begin this last week of lent. And yet, today as I heard the story anew again, I realized that as we begin the week, we take with us more than only the intense reminder of Jesus' burial. Even though the Passion story ends with Jesus in the tomb, the service itself continued with the Eucharist - during which we proclaim both Jesus death and his resurrection. And as we left the service, we took with us the palm branches - a reminder of the welcoming of a king.

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