Preparing for my first Holy Week gave me the most feelings of inadequacy I had ever felt. There is so much to prepare, so much that is unique and so many details. Where do the palms come from? What do you mean I had to order them in October? Which stations of the cross do we use? Who will do the passion reading in a way that draws us in, not puts us all to sleep? Me, I guess…
I cried to my bishop at the time, our Primate, Fred Hiltz. I asked him how one does it all, and then writes sermons on top of everything. He responded, “Why are you writing sermons? These liturgies have been written and proven to draw people into the experience of Holy Week. If you prepare the liturgy well, there is no need to preach, except to draw people’s focus to the liturgy.”
This is my 9th Holy Week and I am still living (and maintaining some sanity until Easter) by those words. My Palm Sunday sermon has always been a few brief words to draw out a particular theme in the day, and then talking about how we will mark the days of Holy Week, describing the liturgies and inviting people to join.
Speaking of liturgy, for the first time I am leaving the reading of the Passion to Good Friday. I want to see if the drama sustains through Holy Week without compressing it into a Sunday morning liturgy. I think it will. I lay the expectation on folks to come to as much of Holy Week as they can. Aside from the beauty of the journey to the Cross which gets missed by many, my layreaders and I work really hard on those liturgies and we want to share them with as many as possible.
As Mark writes the account of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, I am drawn to certain details.
First, and I confess this has been of particular interest to me for a few years, is the complete lack of the word “palms” in the text. In Mark’s account, the people laid branches and cloaks. The use of palms by Northern and Western churches is a practice we need to reconsider. The farming of palms is intense and difficult, and poorly paid, stripping fragile rain forests of vital foliage, not to mention the fossil fuels and energy expended to ship them across North America and Europe. There are some sustainable and fair trade vendors, but there are other options, too. Here are the rubrics laid out in the Book of Alternative Services:
- The branches of palm, or of other trees or shrubs to be carried in procession, may be distributed to the people before the service, or immediately before the procession.
Since you were way ahead of the game and ordered all your palms already, it may be too late for this year, but consider using local branches and plants or even suggest people bring clothing for the procession, which can then be given to a shelter. Just a thought.
I am intrigued by all the drama around the colt (not necessarily a donkey). Mark tends to be succinct, leaving us (and Matthew, and Luke) to fill in the details. But on this point he is more descriptive. It is likely not some predictive power on Jesus’s part to say that people will notice the disciples walking up to a colt and untying it, but the explanation is very precise. “The Lord needs it.” What Lord needs a colt? This is an intriguing procession indeed. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book, The Last Week, set up a fascinating contrast between this procession and the procession that would have occurred on the other side of Jerusalem as Pontius Pilate and his entourage rode in. Palm Sunday is a highly political event, setting the poor against the rich, Jesus against the authorities.
The week has surely come. God bless you, preacher friend and liturgical leader, through these days. Keep the request of the Greeks from last week’s gospel in your heart, “We wish to see Jesus”.