THE SUNDAY NEXT BEFORE EASTER — PALM SUNDAY
Introit: Pueri Hebraeorum. (i) The children of the Hebrews, bearing palms and olive branches, went forth to meet the Lord, crying out and saying: Hosanna in the highest. Ps. (122) I was glad when they said unto me: We will go into the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand in thy gates: O Jerusalem. (The children of the Hebrews …)
(ii) The children of the Hebrews spread their garments in the way, and cried, saying: Hosanna to the Son of David: blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Ps. (125) They that put their trust in the Lord shall be even as the mount Sion: which may not be removed, but standeth fast for ever. The hills stand about Jerusalem: even so standeth the Lord round about his people from this time forth for evermore. The children of the Hebrews …
The Collect: 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 his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OT Lesson: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth. As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water. Turn you to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope: even to day do I declare that I will render double unto thee: saith the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah 9.9-12)
Gradual: (Ps 24) The earth is the Lord’s, and all that therein is: the compass of the world, and they that dwell therein. V. For he hath founded it upon the seas: and established it upon the floods.
Epistle: Brethren: Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2.5-10)
Tract: (Ps 24) Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord: or who shall stand in his holy place? Even he that hath clean hands and a pure heart: and hath not lift up his mind unto vanity. V. He shall receive a blessing from the Lord: and righteousness from the God of his salvation. V. Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors: and the King of glory shall come in. V. Who is this King of glory? Even the Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: When Jesus drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and was come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them, and brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee. (St Matthew 21.1-11)
“Hosanna—Save us now!”
Palm Sunday is a day of dramatic and frightening contrasts. We go from shouts of joyful acclamation to the vicious cries of violent repudiation. Through the disturbing contrasts of this day we enter into the week of the Passion of Christ. Holy Week unfolds the drama of our salvation. And through the extreme intensity of this week, we contemplate the two great realities of our sin and God’s love for us.
Today, in the Gospel, we see Our Lord Jesus making His entry into Jerusalem—in humility, offering Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. The crowds surrounded Him shouted: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! These were the words of Psalm 118, part of the ‘Hallel’ that the priests and Levites sang as they received the Passover processions. They were also the words that families would sing during the Passover meals in their homes. Hosanna! “Grant us salvation! Save us now!” Which is exactly what our King and Messiah was doing.
As the procession moved along, the people took branches from the palm trees along the road and spread them in the way. They carpeted the street with their own clothes in honour of the coming Messiah. And this was one of the few times that Jesus actually accepted homage as a King. As they made their way into Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, and the people of Jerusalem were asking: “Who is this?” “This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.” All this for a poor man, riding on a donkey—and from Nazareth, of all places? He doesn’t look much like a king! But the Pharisees knew exactly who Jesus claimed to be and this sent them into a frenzy. All their attempts to stop Him had failed up to this point. They had already put out the order that He should be arrested, and now here He comes, riding openly into the city, acclaimed by a huge throng. In their anger they protested, “Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? Behold, the whole world is gone after him.” (Jn 12.19) It is the hatred of the Pharisees and Jewish leaders that makes the Palm Sunday Gospel so dramatic. And Jesus knew all this, but He went to Jerusalem anyway. He was on a mission of love and nothing would stop Him.
But this week is meaningless if we suppose that we are not in this story, that the fault somehow lies in the actions of others long ago and not in us. And the good that we might want to claim as belonging to ourselves we will see as being at best partial and incomplete. Holy Week is the week of betrayals—our betrayals of Christ and our betrayals of one another. We have to contemplate the full spectacle of human sin, and know ourselves to be part of all that we see. The most intense expression of our betrayal of Christ is seen in the kiss of Judas, but the point of Holy Week is that we are all complicit in that kiss. We are all betrayers of Christ in one way or another. We need to face the reality of ourselves as the betrayers of Christ. Holy Week does not allow us to cast an accusing finger at others without pointing that finger back at ourselves. We are not mere spectators, but participants in the very drama of salvation itself. You and I are those who have cried, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who cometh in the Name of the Lord,” and then, almost immediately, turned around and cried just as insistently, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Yet the crux of Holy Week does not lie simply in the heart-rending acknowledgement of our betrayals, but in the mercy of Christ who overcomes the betrayals of our hearts.
Such is the paradox of Palm Sunday. The King enters triumphally into the royal City where He knows He will be betrayed, spitefully entreated, spat upon, mocked, beaten, and crucified; where He will die and be buried. And we are the crowd, the chief priests, Pilate and Caiaphas, the false witnesses, the soldiers and the disciples; we are Peter, and Judas; we are the faithful women, and the beloved disciple. We are everyone in this story. The whole of our humanity – the good, the bad and the ugly – is on display and we are all involved and implicated in the drama. We will see ourselves in all of the confusion of our conflicted and contradictory hearts and lives, on the one hand, and we will see the patient suffering and hear the loving words of Christ, on the other … IF we care enough to enter into the drama.
The heart of the matter is our betrayal of Christ. Like the disciples in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday, we say, “Is it I, Lord? Surely not I?” only to realize that yes, it is indeed you and I who have betrayed the truth and the goodness of God; it is you and I who have betrayed one another. We are all complicit in the crucifixion of Christ in “our thoughts, words and deeds” and, perhaps, most of all in our indifference to the things of God and to the suffering of others. Have any of us done all that we know needs to be done? Or can we honestly say that we have not done those things which we ought not to have done? Sin is about our betrayal of the truth and the goodness of God without which there can be no truth or goodness in us. This is part and parcel of the good news of Holy Week—the Good News that is at the heart of the Gospel of Christ.
And nowhere is the betrayal of Christ more evident among Christians than in our neglect of the worship of God. Certainly, people’s lives are busy and complicated. But what is always needed is a deeper commitment and a deeper conversion of our lives to Christ. As David Curry so eloquently puts it:
Let us be honest with ourselves. Let us be honest about our pride, supremely on parade in our claims about ourselves that obliterate altogether the truth of God. Let us be honest about our envy, far more destructive of human character than we imagine. Let us be honest about our wrath and anger, that wreaks such havoc in our homes and our communities and all because things have not gone our way. Let us be honest about our sloth, our laziness and indifference, or the mindless busyness that is an excuse for not doing what is required. Let us be honest about our greed, our insatiable appetite for more and more of the stuff of our lives that clutters our souls and leaves no room for God. Let us be honest about our gluttony, the food and drink that consumes us even as we consume it far beyond any reasonable need. Let us be honest about our lust, the lust of our eyes, the lust of our hearts, the lust that is about self-gratification through the use of others, the lust that denies the God whose love sets all loves in order.
The seven deadly sins are all about love in disarray: love perverted, love defective, love excessive, loving too much those things that are of passing worth, love fixated upon ourselves. Only in looking to God can we be transformed into something more lovely, for then, and only then, we are open to the great mercies of God in Jesus Christ. In Holy Week we contemplate the possibility of the transformation of our sinful and broken humanity into something glorious through the Passion of Christ. But none of that can happen if the fingers of blame point elsewhere than at ourselves.
It isn’t just about Judas. He is merely the symbol of what is in all of us, which is exactly what all four Passions, each in their own way, show us. The point of our liturgy is to place us in that crowd, that we might recognise the Judas in all of us, that we are all the betrayers of Christ, in one way or another. This week reveals to us a profound view of our humanity in all of its complexity, and reveals the even deeper nature of God’s willingness to engage our humanity in all of its disarray, and to do so through the reality of both the humanity and the deity of Jesus.
But what does this mean for us? We sing our Hosannas to Jesus. We proclaim: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” The problem then was that those people missed what Jesus was really about. They thought He came to establish an earthly kingdom, and expected to share in His earthly triumph. When they figured out that His destination was not the throne on Mount Zion, but was actually the cross on Mount Calvary, all their praises quickly died away. He came to His own, but when He failed to meet their expectations, His own did not receive Him—they were looking for peace, but they were blinded by their misconceptions and false expectations of what the Messiah would do and who he would be.
Jesus comes to us today. Just as then, His purpose is to bring salvation and holiness, to rescue us from sin, and to bring us into His Kingdom. And even in His church there are still many who sing “Hosanna!” on Sunday and then flee from the Garden on Thursday night. We call Him Saviour and King, but refuse to make Him Lord—to follow Him faithfully and do His will. We vow, like Peter, that we will follow Him forever, and then deny Him when things get rough. We forget the humility of Jesus, and like the disciples, fall into disputes over who is greatest.
But the Jesus who comes to us today is the same Jesus who stood with a dirty soldier’s cloak upon His scourged and bleeding back, with a crown of thorns pressed on His bloody head, and a mock sceptre in His hand; taunted, reviled, and rejected. He is surely not like other kings. He does not come with armies to beat down anyone’s door, and drag them by force into His kingdom. He comes with patience and humility, and stands at the door and knocks. And we are hesitant to open the door, because we know that if we let Him in, He is going to call us away from those things we love so much in this world. And yet our Epistle reminds us that because of His humility, because of His willingness to be a servant, that “God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The Good News is that Jesus didn’t humble Himself for nought. There were many people—and still are many people—who received Him and who have let Him make a triumphal entry into their hearts and lives with His gifts of forgiveness and redemption. Our relations can never be right until our hearts are right with God and until He has transformed us from the inside out. We have a choice today, whether or not to open the door. St Paul says that one day every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. Many will have refused Him because His call was too costly. Others will have refused Him because He wasn’t the kind of king they wanted. But even those who refuse Him will bow on that Day—not as His beloved subjects, but as those who stand condemned before Him as their Judge.
This is the Palm Sunday theme: the Saviour comes to save us from our sins, to enter our hearts, and to make them His Kingdom. He comes to us riding on a humble donkey, to die on the cross so that He can open the gates of heaven for those who believe and trust in Him. On that first Palm Sunday, when He entered Jerusalem, Jesus cleansed the temple. Today He wants to enter the temple of our hearts. When Jesus makes His triumphal entry into a heart, He redeems it and casts out those deadly sins, and fills it with a life and love that spills out to everyone around. So let us sing Hosanna! Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord! If we open the door to Him, we join ourselves not to the fickle Palm Sunday crowd, but to that other multitude who, with palms in their hands, sing forever: “Salvation belongeth to our God, who sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb!” (Rev 7.9ff)
Fulfilled is all his words foretold:
Then spread the banners, and unfold
Love’s crowning power, that all may see
He reigns and triumphs from the Tree.
Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, who hast willed that thy Son should bear for us the infamy of the cross that thou mightest remove from us the power of the adversary: help us so to remember and give thanks for our Lord’s Passion, that we may obtain remission of sins and redemption from everlasting death; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayer Over the People:Assist us mercifully, O Lord, in these our supplications and prayers, and dispose the ways of thy servants towards the attainment of eternal salvation: that, amidst all the changes and chances of this mortal life, they may ever be defended by thy most gracious and ready help; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
My Song Is Love Unknown Hymnal #596
My song is love unknown, my Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh, and die?
He came from his blest throne, salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none the longed-for Christ would know.
But O my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need his life did spend!
Sometimes they strew his way, and his sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day hosannas to their King.
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for his death they thirst and cry.
Why, what hath my Lord done? What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run, he gave the blind their sight.
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
themselves displease, and ’gainst him rise.
They rise, and needs will have my dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save, the Prince of Life they slay.
Yet cheerful he to suffering goes,
That he his foes from thence might free.
In life no house, no home, my Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb, but what a stranger gave.
What may I say? Heaven was his home;
But mine the tomb wherein he lay.
Here might I stay and sing, no story so divine;
never was love, dear King, never was grief like thine!
This is my Friend, in whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.
—Samuel Crossman 1624-83