This Sunday in Lent is often referred to as Palm Sunday. More commonly, however it is referred to as “Passion Sunday.” This is interesting and we will come back to that in a moment. Palm Sunday begins the most holy week for Christians, the week that will culminate in the resurrection of Jesus which we will celebrate on Easter. Passion Sunday recalls Jesus’ entrance into the city of Jerusalem. It is because of this that many churches will gather outside the church first and then enter together as a symbol of Christ with his people preparing for the holy week which is about to begin. In many churches, the worship on this Sunday also includes the use of palm branches which reminds us of Jesus’ “triumphal entry” on that Sunday before Easter. Hence the church prays:
It is right to praise you, Almighty God, for the acts of love by which you have redeemed us through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. On this day He entered the holy city Jerusalem in triumph, and was proclaimed as King of kings by those who spread their garments and branches of palm along his way. Let these branches be for us signs of victory, and grant that we who bear them in His name may ever hail Him as our King, and follow Him in the way that leads to eternal life; who lives and reigns in glory with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
But here the life of Jesus and thus our worship takes a strange turn. Jesus enters the city for one reason: to die. As Stookey notes, “The Gospel writers are clear about this, and “Palm Sunday” observances that are “three cheers for Jesus” forfeit biblical integrity.” Rather, “The New Testament writers know fully well that the “Hosanna!” cries of Sunday will by Friday turn into the calls for crucifixion.” Thus the church also prays:
Almighty and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility; Mercifully grant, that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of this resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The church’s liturgy has expressed this irony which is embraced on Passion Sunday. This is the only Sunday where there are two gospel readings assigned in the lectionary. The first comes from the account of Jesus’ entry while the second comes from his passion.
It’s here on this Passion Sunday that we celebrate the fickleness of humanity. More importantly, however, it is here that we celebrate the generosity of God in the face of such sin and misery.
We beseech, thee, Almighty God, mercifully to look upon thy people; that by thy great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore, both in body and soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.