The Liturgy of Palm Sunday

We welcome you to Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church and to this service. All are welcome to receive Holy Communion today. We hope that this commemoration of our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem is a meaningful part of your observance of Holy Week and Easter.

The Liturgies of Holy Week are full of drama, movement, symbolic action and remembrance. They all fit together into an entire liturgical experience, and they offer profound riches to those who give themselves to the entire cycle of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday evening, Good Friday evening, Easter Eve, and Easter Day. It may seem like a lot of church for one week, but these services bring us to the heart of our Christian faith, and we shall never begin to understand that faith unless we are willing to walk with Jesus now. Over a lifetime, these services mold the Christian sensibility and forge the Christian soul.

As you enter into the mystery of this week, let the actions, words, symbols, and drama carry you along. Not everything will strike you with equal force, and some things may even be a little strange. But nothing happens this week without a reason, even if that reason is not immediately evident. Some things cannot be explained; they can only be experienced. And having been experienced, they must be allowed to work their transformation within the believer. Though we all feel moments of power and inspiration, this transformation – this conversion – does not happen at once. Little by little, step-by-step, the truths that Holy Week reveals to us become a part of our living conversation with God.

Our Holy Week services first took shape in fourth-century Jerusalem after the time of Constantine, when it became possible for Christians to worship at the sites which have been traditionally associated with Jesus’ last days, and these observances were taken by pilgrims back in their churches at home. So the custom spread of turning every church into a “little Jerusalem” for the re-enactment of the events of this week.

The Liturgy of Palm Sunday begins on a triumphant note, as we bless palms and remember the cheering crowds who welcomed Jesus in Jerusalem. But very quickly we are reminded, in the reading of the Passion Gospel, that this same crowd had turned against Jesus by the end of the week. Human loyalties are extremely fragile. It is always easy to be loyal when things are going well: it is harder to stand by one’s loyalties when the going is tough.

With the exception of Maundy Thursday (when we wear white vestments because of the Feast of the Institution of the Holy Eucharist), the liturgical color of Holy Week is red. Red is the color both of blood and of fire, and signified that we are commemorating the death of the Prince of martyrs. The crosses are veiled to symbolize the solemnity of this week. This custom arouse originally to hide the beautiful and precious metals and stones which have often adorned cross and statues in churches, and has subsequently come to focus our attention away from the crosses to the liturgical action itself in which the clergy and others re-enact the Way of the Cross.

Palm Sunday 2013

Palm Sunday 2013 (Photo credit: redroofmontreal)

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