“So does this year’s Palm Sunday reading focus on the Palm or the Passion?” a friend and bandmate asked me, about this time last week, when we were rehearsing the week’s worship music.
“Not a whole bunch of either,” was my reply.
Like many key events in Jesus’ life, Palm Sunday is treated slightly differently depending on which Gospel you read, you see. Some of the Gospeliers pause for a while in the euphoria of the Palm Sunday parade. Others go a little more toward underscoring the bittersweetness of the occasion, and use their text to foreshadow the Passion of the Christ.
The Lectionary used by the Anglican Church is focusing on the book of Mark this spring, and Mark’s Gospel is not known for flowery, elaborate language. It’s succinct, straightforward and to the point (unlike that last sentence). This approach definitely has its advantages, but in those pivotal moments in the life of Jesus, there are times when I, for one, could use some evocative imagery.
My kingdom for an adjective!
Case in point: Mark’s Palm Sunday account (Mark 11:1-11) reads only slightly less matter-of-factly than, ‘He came, they cheered, He left.’
It’s not the shortest account of the four Gospels in terms of word count, but it contains the least commentary by far. Matthew’s version refers to the prophecies that the event fulfils. Luke’s points out the Pharisees’ reaction and Jesus’ response to them. John’s story (although even shorter than Mark’s) underscores the significance of the event in hindsight.
Mark dispassionately and objectively recounts what happened that day and lets readers infer and interpret things as they choose. As a journalist, I appreciate the approach, but as a worship leader I could use more.
Hence my response to Amanda’s question: probably more Palm than Passion, but really not much of either.
And in light of that, I gotta tell you, I struggled with Sunday’s set list. I brought in the two standard Hosannas (one by Starfield, the other by Paul Baloche) and then came up empty.
This was particularly concering for me, because last year’s Palm Sunday was a Passionate, tough act to follow, and I didn’t want this year’s to pale in comparison – for the congregation, yes – but also for me.
I hate to brag, but last year, our church band knocked the Palm Sunday worship music out of the park. I was so deeply moved by my bandmates’ excellent performances that I choked back tears as I gave the call to worship.
Thanks to Pastor Stephen’s superb sermon from 2011, I was able to very effectively put myself in the place of those fair-weather followers who waved palm branches on the first Palm Sunday, as I wrote in last year’s Palm Cross Disciplehood entry. (Stephen hit another grand slam with this week’s Palm Sunday sermon, by the way. Tying it to April Fool’s Day was an inspired choice. Go to www.holytrinitycalgary.org/downloads to listen to both Palm Sunday sermons, as well as those from several years previous. You’ll have to scroll down a fair bit to get to last year’s, delivered on April 17).
‘Will this year’s music end up being a mere shadow of its predecessor?’ I wondered, with not a small amount of worry. ‘Will I think of anything new to say to my reader(s) through the e-pages of this blog? I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder, or suffer from the sophomore jinx.’
And then I read the New Testament reading for this week – and I knew exactly what to do musically (and, as it turns out, blog-ically as well). In Philippians 2:5-11, the Apostle Paul expertly reminds us of Jesus’ holiness, and what that looks like, in earthly terms, for us. I dare you to click the link, give it a read and not be moved.
The passage reminded me not to take Jesus’ holiness for granted. After all, if He had been just another guy, how holy would Holy Week be?
Jesus probably wasn’t the only would-be Messiah who was welcomed into Jerusalem with a palm parade, and then crucified for his rabble rousing a few days later. As Pilate famously spits in Jesus Christ Superstar, ‘You Jews produce Messiahs by the sackfull.’
It’s the holiness of Jesus that makes Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday what they are. It’s His holiness that makes that mind-bogglingly absurd, non-sequitur arithmetic possible – the equation I’m speaking of is the fact that the death of one Saviour – at the hands of the people He came to save – is greater than the sum of all of the sins of all of the people who currently live, who have ever lived, or ever will live.
There’s no way on Earth that it adds up. But thanks to the holiness of Jesus, it adds up perfectly in Heaven.
So as I called people to worship on Sunday morning, I invited them to not only put themselves in the sandals of those first Palm Sunday palm wavers, but also to stay in their own loafers and step back and take a broader look at Holy Week, and how the holiness of Jesus made (and makes) it all possible.
Then Amanda, Jenn and I led the congregation in songs that used the word ‘holy’ even more than they used the word ‘Hosanna.’
And I think that was just fine with Jesus.
After all, what better time to pause and reflect on the holiness of Jesus than on the first day of Holy Week?
Seems obvious in hindsight, doesn’t it? And yet, I wouldn’t have arrived there, if the Lectionary had prescribed the Palm Sunday reading I wanted, instead of the one I needed.
Hmm. Maybe Mark knew what he was doing after all.
Peace be with you.