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I always enjoy Palm Sunday greatly as the opening of my favorite time of the liturgical year: Holy Week. During this week, I try to focus on Jesus' final teachings to His disciples, on His humility in washing the disciples' feet, on His institution of the Lord's Supper during Passover, on His agony in Gethsemane, on His trial before the authorities, on His suffering as He was beaten and scourged almost to the point of death, on the brutal mockery He endured for our sakes, upon the sorrow and passion of His crucifixion, and finally on the joy of His miraculous and glorious Resurrection.
The fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures always strikes me strongly during this week--so many details foretold hundreds of years before this final week of Jesus' earthly life come true in the New Testament Gospel accounts of this holy week, this last week of Jesus' human life.
In the 21st chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, we read first a quotation from the Old Testament:
This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet [Zechariah], saying,
Say to the daughter of Zion, "Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden" [Zechariah 9:9].
The disciples ... brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and He sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before Him and that followed Him were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:4-9, ESV).
By the way, the Book of Zechariah was written between 520-518 BC, more than half a millennium before the time of Jesus' Incarnation.
The Collect for the Sixth Sunday in Lent: Palm Sunday from The Book of Common Prayer 2011 reads:
ALMIGHTY and eternal Father, who in your tender love for humanity, sent your Son Jesus Christ as a man to dwell among us and in mortal flesh to suffer death upon the cross, so that all people might learn true humility; In your mercy, grant that we may follow him in his sufferings and share in his resurrection; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (References: Philippians 2.4-8; 3.9-10; Hebrews 12.3)
In liturgical churches, the palms distributed in Palm Sunday's services are often bent and folded into crosses and then saved by being put behind icons or framed pictures of Jesus until the Sunday before the next Ash Wednesday when they are burned. The palm ashesare then used to anoint the foreheads of those attending the Ash Wednesday services as a new Lenten season begins. I love how the palms come full circle: the Holy Week from one year coming into the beginning of the next year's Lent. As Benedict states in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, "There's a double meaning in that."
Usually I miss the liturgy of the Palm Sunday service at Pine Valley Community Church; often no one even mentions that it's Palm Sunday. But this year was different in such a great way!! The worship leader, Keith, opened the service by reading the Triumphal Entry from the Gospel of John, and we sang a praise song with the chorus: "Hosanna, Hosanna/ You are the God who saves us/ Worthy of all our praises." So we got to sing our Hosannas!! Pastor Noble extended the Palm Sunday theme by opening the sermon with Palm Sunday and the expectations the Jews had for the Messiah which he then tied into his sermon on Mark 2:1-12. I would have loved to have seen at least one palm somewhere, but today's service was a huge leap forward in celebrating Palm Sunday!! We also sang two hymns (often we're only singing praise songs): "Come Thou Font" and "All Creatures of our God and King." I texted Father Acker of Blessed Trinity to save me some palms that I keep on the shelf above my desk until the Sunday before the next Lent.
In past years at Lake Murray Community Church in La Mesa, our church home for twenty years, we often entered the sanctuary on Palm Sunday to see huge palm fronds strewn along the front of the auditorium (and sometimes down the center aisle), and we always sang several praise songs that include the all-important word for this day: "Hosanna!!" And frequently one of the pastors or elders read of Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem from one of the Gospels.
At Blessed Trinity Anglican Church, which meets on Sundays at the SCAIR Center in downtown El Cajon, they had a Blessing of the Palms as well as a Passion Theater in which various congregants take the parts of narrator, Jesus, and Pilate, and the rest of the congregation will be The People...the People who demanded over and over, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" mere days after welcoming Jesus with enthusiastic cries of "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"
Side note: I looked up "Hosanna" to find its precise meaning. The best definition that I found came from John H. Stek on the site Bible Study Tools in which he defines "Hosanna" with the sentence: In Christ, "the age-old cry, 'Lord, save us,' has become the glad doxology, 'Hosanna,' which equals: 'Praise God and his Messiah, we are saved.'"
I have to of course include perhaps the most common Palm Sunday hymn, "All Glory, Laud, and Honor," the lyrics of which were originally written by Theodulf of Orleans who lived c. 750-821:
All glory, laud, and honor
To Thee, Redeemer, King,
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring:
Thou art the King of Israel,
Thou David's royal Son,
Who in the Lord's name comest,
The King and blessed One!
The company of angels
Are praising Thee on high,
And mortal men and all things
Created made reply:
The people of the Hebrews
With palms before Thee went;
Our praise and prayer and anthems
Before Thee we present.
To Thee, before Thy passion,
They sang their hymns of praise;
To Thee, now high exalted,
Our melody we raise:
Thou didst accept their praises--
Accept the praise we bring.
Who in all good delightest,
Thou good and gracious King!
My week will be very busy with Holy Week services: a Messianic Seder with Blessed Trinity Anglican Church at Pepperwood Park in El Cajon on Tuesday evening at 6:15, Maundy Thursday evening services including footwashing also at the SCAIR Center at 6:30, the Good Friday liturgy again with the Blessed Trinity Anglican at the Larkspur Drive rectory in Alpine at 5:30 in the evening, and the Holy Saturday Vigil, my favorite liturgy of the entire Christian Year, also on Larkspur Drive in Alpine a little later in the evening (7:30 PM) so that the rectory is darkened as we bring in the Paschal Light, lighting our candles from the huge beeswax candle with the red "Alpha" and "Omega" Greek letters on the side and with five small nails pressed into the beeswax to represent the five wounds of Christ.
Then we'll celebrate Resurrection Sunday with our first sunrise service since we've attended Pine Valley Community Church (four years this Easter!) then a community Easter breakfast, both held at the Pine Valley Bible Conference Center. Then we'll meet back at Pine Valley Community Church at 9:00 for one all-church Easter service. I am hoping for a joyful and exuberant celebration of the Resurrection, preferably with the singing of my favorite Easter hymn, "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today." (One can only hope!!)
Today is also the Annunciation, the day in which we remember and celebrate the Angel Gabriel announcing God's will to Mary who replied with the words that we all should say to God each day, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38 ESV). So today is a double-feast day of the solemnity of the Annunciation and the celebration of Palm Sunday which marks the beginning of Holy Week. (It's also Timothy's 23rd birthday--so today is a real party for us!)
I wish a blessed Holy Week to you and yours, dear readers. May we all experience the sorrow of Christ's sacrifical death for us and the joy of His glorious Resurrection by which He saved all people, past, present, and future, from all of their sins, past, present, and future.
Following in His footsteps this Holy Week,