Read the Passion from St. Mark - Mark 14:1-15:47
Palm Sunday / Passion Sunday – which is it? It used to be that we would celebrate the Sunday a week before Easter as Palm Sunday and that the entire service would be given over to this. When the green LBW was issued in 1973 the Day became Palm Sunday/The Sunday of the Passion. Some suggested that the reason was because so few people came to worship during Holy Week that including the Passion Narrative on Palm Sunday was the only way to make sure that the majority of people in our congregations experienced the Passion. There is some truth to the fact that attendance at Holy Week services has dropped off in the last 20/30 years. This is distressing because if we, as Christians, only experience the glory and celebration of Easter Sunday, we have missed most of the important parts of the story. The fact is that Easter without Good Friday; Easter without the Passion of Christ is really trite triumphalism and is not at all in sync with the Biblical understanding of Jesus’ work and ministry. On the other hand we do not want to focus exclusively on the Passion and never experience the resurrection, as this is just morose defeatism. There is at least one well-known movie and an equally well- known musical that skips the resurrection and the result is an equally warped view of the story of Jesus.
So is that why we have linked Palm and Passion Sunday? Perhaps in part. For as part of our worship on this day we will hear the story of Jesus’ passion, according to St. Mark and we will even have the opportunity to participate in the reading ourselves (the congregation will read the text which is in bold face text). But this is not the only reason. In fact, I think it is not the most important reason. The fact is that we really cannot separate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem from the rest of the Passion. The events of the entry (the riding the donkey, the waving of palm branches, the crying of ‘Hosanna’) is the prelude to a much more profound story – the Last Supper, the Agony in the Garden, the Arrest, the Trial, the Way of the Cross, the Crucifixion, the Death and Burial. To begin and end with the prelude is to miss the most important and most life-changing part of the story. And so, in our liturgy the Procession of Palms forms the prelude to our entry into the story of the Passion – just as it does in the Biblical text.
One additional comment on the Passion Narrative itself: I have spoken in many sermons over the last few months about the Messianic Secret that is such an important theme in Mark. Just about every time someone recognizes that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God Jesus immediately tells that person (or spirit) not to tell anything to anyone. Examples: Jesus casts out unclean spirits right at the beginning of his ministry and won’t let them talk (Mark 1:25); Jesus heals a leper and commands him to silence (Mk. 1:44); Peter confesses Jesus as Messiah and Jesus silences him (Mk. 8:30); after the events of the transfiguration again Jesus tells the three disciples to keep it to themselves (Mark 9:9). Why? Well we finally experience the reason for this secrecy in the Passion Narrative – Mark 15:39: the centurion, the Roman captain in charge of the crucifixion – that is not only a Gentile, but a hated member of the occupation force and one of Jesus’ own executioners – looks at the body of Jesus hanging from the cross and finally sees. This outcast, who represents everything that was hated, is the one who finally confesses the secret aloud: Truly this man was God’s Son! Only when we see Jesus on the cross can we recognize who Jesus is! The Christ is not recognized in power and glory; Jesus is not recognized on Easter alone – Jesus is recognized on the cross! As we gaze at the cross on Palm/Passion Sunday and throughout our Holy Week worship; as we see the cross in our remembrance in Word and Sacrament we then can join the centurion in confessing Jesus as God’s Son, the Messiah – God incarnate. May we always keep the cross of Christ central in our lives and have a blessed Holy Week remembrance!
The art is by the wonderful artist HeQi.