Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. It is now called Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. Some of you will remember that before the Holy Week reforms of 1970 the Sunday before Palm Sunday was called Passion Sunday, and the crucifix and all the statues were draped, usually in purple, for the two last weeks of Lent, known as Passiontide. This custom is no longer common in the United States, altough it is permitted.
The Passion is read on Palm Sunday and again on Good Friday. On Palm Sunday the Passion that is read alternates each year among the three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. The Passion of John is always read on Good Friday.
Palm Sunday begins outdoors, weather permitting. The palms are blessed and Matthew’s gospel of Jesus entering Jerusalem is read. The celebrant and the congregation then process into the church, recalling Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The joyful air of the processions is sombered by the reading of the Passion (from Matthew this year), thus emulating the joyful/sorrowful dichotomy of Holy Week.
Preceding the reading of the Passion, one of the Suffering Servant songs from Isaiah is read (Is 50:4-7) in which the Servant, seen as a forshadowing of the Messiah, says: “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.”
Taken from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the second reading speaks of the Incarnation, of God’s Son emptying himself, as it were, of his divinity to take on the burden of humanity.
“He humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” The reading once again reflects the joyful/sorrowful dichotomy when it concludes: “Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Thus we enter once again into what was once called the Week of Sorrows that culminates, not with the sadness of the Crucifixion but with the joyfulness of the Resurrection.