Palm Sunday and Holy Week

Sunday 28 March 2021  Palm Sunday

Collect for Palm Sunday

Almighty and everlasting God, who in your tender love towards the human race sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to take upon him our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross: grant that we may follow the example of his patience and humility, and also be made partakers of his resurrection;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever. Amen

A Holy Week Meditation

A seething, heaving city, people from all over the known world - amongst the genuine inhabitants and visitors, terrorist, rabble rousers lurk -  violence never very far below the surface - the occupying powers uneasy, watchful, not wanting to stir trouble, yet aware that trouble could arise anywhere, at any time.  Against this background is played out the drama of Holy Week, which throughout most of the past 200 years Christians have sought to share, and to act out. 

The drum beat begins - the drama is about to start - the first stage of a drama that leads inexorably to death.  Passion Plays, films , liturgical observations.  It is obvious from the early liturgies that the events of the last week of Our Lord's life were acted out by Christian believers from early times.  The first written account we have is by a woman, Egeria, or Aetheria, who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land about 385 AD.  She was probably well to do - her 'gap year' lasted four years!  She writes to her friends at home in Spain describing in minute and loving detail the ceremonies of Holy Week in Jerusalem - here is a taste '..

And as the eleventh hour approaches, the passage from the Gospel is read, where the children, carrying branches and palms, met the Lord, saying; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, and the bishop immediately rises, and all the people with him, and they all go on foot from the top of the Mount of Olives, all the people going before him with hymns and antiphons, answering one to another: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.  And all the children in the neighbourhood, even those who are too young to walk, are carried by their parents on their shoulders, all of them bearing branches, some of palms and some of olives, and thus the bishop is escorted in the same manner as the Lord was of old.

For most of the world this week means looking forward to a holiday weekend,  fluffy bunnies, chocolate, etc rather than crosses.  The world is not aware of Holy Week and Easter

Today, Palm Sunday - we remember a procession - at a time when processions were common - Roman Triumph - victorious general mounted  on his warhorse with his prisoners who would be publicly executed.  Jesus' procession is split into 2 - first he is the emperor, the king - but a different take on the king - riding on a donkey, the everyday 'workhorse' - carrier of burdens - (prob sitting sideways)  (unbroken - !) the acclamations, too, different from the usual 'triumph' - hosanna means not hurray but 'save us now, we pray - so a 'downbeat' note straight away. 

In the second procession Our Lord is, of course, one of the prisoners - to be paraded to jeers on the way to execution.  Perhaps this was quite a small event in the seething heaving Jerusalem, with its numbers of pilgrims up for Passover.  even so, the authorities would have kept a careful, nervous eye on things -.  the drum beat is loud, insistent.

Then a gap - Monday to Wednesday,  Jesus  continues teaching and preaching - the drum beat is still there, but quieter.

Maundy Thursday - The next major scene in the drama - played out not in the maelstrom of the city streets but in the quiet but warm fellowship of a meal amongst friends - probably the Passover meal - but the warm fellowship is shot through with tension, with sorrow - This is my Body, This is my Blood - a meal so important that it has been at the heart of Christian belief and worship ever since.

Egeria: Then, they arrive behind the Cross, where only one hymn is said and prayer is made, and the bishop offers the oblation there, and all communicate. Nor is the oblation ever offered behind the Cross on any day throughout the year, except on this one day. And so every one hastens back to his house to eat, because immediately after they have eaten, all go to the church wherein is the cave where the Lord was with His Apostles on this very day.

back to the story- the drum beat has been muted during the meal - it begins to get louder again - one of the company leaves - Judas gets a bad press - always the 'baddy' - he probably was, but maybe he was confused - he got the wrong end of things - surely Jesus wouldn't let himself be taken!  Perhaps Judas (mistakenly) wanted to force his hand?

The friends go out to the Mount of Olives.  Jesus says, wait for me - he needs to pray, they need to watch - but they, like us, are weak - they don't, they can't,  share Our Lord's agony of Spirit.  Sleep, the sleep of lack of understanding, of lack of stamina, of lack of sharing, overcomes them. 

Egeria again: And at the first cockcrow they come down with hymns, and arrive at the place where the Lord prayed, as it is written in the Gospel: and He was withdrawn (from them) about a stone's cast, and prayed, and the rest. There is in that place a graceful church The bishop and all the people enter, a prayer suitable to the place and to the day is said, with one suitable hymn, and the passage from the Gospel is read where He said to His disciples: Watch, that ye enter not into temptation; the whole passage is read through and prayer is made. And then all, even to the smallest child, go down with the Bishop, on foot, with hymns to Gethsemane; where, on account of the great number of people in the crowd, who are wearied owing to the vigils and weak through the daily fasts, and because they have so great a hill to descend, they come very slowly with hymns to Gethsemane.  On their arrival at Gethsemane, first a suitable prayer is made, then a hymn is said, then the passage of the Gospel is read where the Lord was taken. And when this passage has been read there is so great a moaning and groaning of all the people, together with weeping, that their lamentation may be heard perhaps as far as the city.

Now it is too late - the drum beat is loud, the tempo quickens - then the rushed and confused events of the night - the arrest - the 'kangaroo court' with its trumped up charges - Caiaphas, like Pilate a man in an important office - trying to do his job - trying to keep a balancing act between the various sides.  Then the appearance before Pilate - Pilate, the holder of probably the most difficult posting in the Roman Civil Service - certainly his job, and probably his life, would depend upon his handling of things in this far flung but volatile part of the empire - troublesome Jews with their religious fanaticism - a 'diplomatic' solution - so beloved of politicians - to 'have it both ways' -

Good Friday - then the second part of the procession - the drum beat is loud, but slow now, the condemned men, flogged through the streets - the 'vignette' of Simon of Cyrene -what was he doing there - why was he dragged out?

Then the end - the depths of depravation, of pain, of torture - of desolation - eloi eloi …… the drum beat is frenzied, then is silent Crucifixion, a drawn out punishment - it could take as long as a week - we stand, with Mary, at the foot of the cross - we can't bear to look, but can't go away  - in the  liturgy the veneration of the Cross


Then a chair is placed for the bishop in Golgotha behind the Cross, which is now standing; the bishop duly takes his seat in the chair, and a table covered with a linen cloth is placed before him; the deacons stand round the table, and a silver-gilt casket is brought in which is the holy wood of the Cross. The casket is opened and (the wood) is taken out, and both the wood of the Cross and the title are placed upon the table. The custom is that the people, both faithful and catechumens, come one by one and, bowing down at the table, kiss the sacred wood and pass through.  The emotion shown and the mourning by all the people at every lesson and prayer is wonderful; for there is none, either great or small, who, on that day during those three hours, does not lament more than can be conceived, that the Lord had suffered those things for us. Afterwards, at the beginning of the ninth hour, there is read that passage from the Gospel according to John where He gave up the ghost. This read, prayer and the dismissal follow.

So, the end  -tetelestai - it's over, complete, wrapped up, finished. 

Then what? - the 'emptiness' of Holy Saturday - we, of course, know the end of the story- even as we go down into the depths of Holy Week we cannot but be aware of the light of the Resurrection -

The Liturgy of Holy Saturday the Paschal vigil

Egeria: But on that day no announcement is made of a vigil at the Anastasis, because it is known that the people are tired; nevertheless, it is the custom to watch there. So all of the people who are willing, or rather, who are able, keep watch, and they who are unable do not watch there until the morning.

So let us leave our meditation there - the broken body has been laid in the tomb - there is nothing more to be done at the moment - but to wait, and to hope - to keep the Paschal vigil - as light of the first day of the week begins to dawn …………….

Lord Jesus Christ, you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant, and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation: give us the mind to follow you and to proclaim you as Lord and King, to the glory of God the Father. Amen

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