Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Why isn't it just "Palm" Sunday any more?

Those of you who have been reading here a while know I'm not the biggest advocate of the liturgical calendar. (Those who have joined us recently can catch up here.)

But in the church communities where I've visited the last two years, there seems to be this trend to make Palm Sunday into "The Passion of Our Lord Sunday," and tell the Good Friday story on Palm Sunday, and squeeze the "Palm Sunday" imagery into a pseudo-procession at the beginning of the service. And for some folks, that seems to work. I've just got one question for folks who encourage this kind of liturgy-planning....

What were you thinking?

The whole idea of the liturgical calendar is to provide both structure, symmetry and symbolism to our worship. And, to be honest, even in the Catholic church I despised as a child, I figured some stuff out:
- Palm Sunday began "Holy Week" with a monster pep rally - everybody is "on the inside" with Jesus, and everything is groovy.
- The last supper (or what storyteller Ed Stivender would tell us, "the next-to-the-last party...") starts the great adventure for us.
- Good Friday is where the passion happens - and that's where it belongs.
- "Holy Saturday" is a time of being "between" - between death and eternal life, between crucifixion and resurrection. It's supposed to be empty.

It may have been that most of the Christian world used Palm Sunday as "Passion of the Christ" Sunday, but to me, it just seemed repetitious - and forced folks to mainline a whole mess of Scripture just so we could say we got all the lectionary readings in. It seemed strange to me, especially given the framework I grew up with.

Yeah, I know - some people don't come to church on Good Friday...when are they going to hear the Passion texts? Well, that may be a minor point - but it just doesn't cut any ice with me, I'm afraid. So I'm going to side with the traditionalists, for once. Give us back the beauty of Palm Sunday, so that we can experience the joys, and the depths of sorrow and sadness, and celebrate the story of Holy Week in sequence. Just my two liturgical cents worth...


ragamuffin diva said...

Amen Steve. Bless my Pentecostal soul, I missed the whole church calender thing, and now I long for such continuity. You're not the only one pining for what Phyllis Tickle calls our "ancient future."

Thanks for this post.

Dave said...

Hey, I ran this by my parents the otehr night and it seems that Lutherans as well as Calvinists are really bad about concentrating on Jesus's death rather than his life.
The focus is that Jesus came here in order to die ratehr than to teach us how to live. So the death is discussed at every opportunity even when discussing his teachings might be more appropriate.

Beth said...

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the real "traditionalist" version is definitely the combination of both the Palm story and the entire Passion on this day -- attested in the Western liturgy as far back as the diary of the nun Egeria who wrote up her pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the late 4th century.

While I'm much less positive about the history of the day in American Protestantism, since that's not my background, my guess is that the "Palm only, pep rally" emphasis was popular in those churches before the liturgical reforms of the 60s-70s, which brought some Protestant practice more into line with the "traditionalist" ancient practices of Catholics, Anglians, etc.
...Altho I am with you in deploring the notion that a "Good reason" to do both is becuase "no one comes during holy week."