Sunday, 28 March 2010

The Sixth Sunday in Lent: Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday ... the Triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem

Patrick Comerford

Today, the Sixth and last Sunday in Lent, is popularly known as Palm Sunday, recalling the Triumphant entry into Jerusalem of Christ on the Sunday before his Passion and death (see Matthew 21: 1-11; Mark 11: 1-11; Luke 19: 28-44; John 12: 12-19).

In many churches, Palm Sunday is marked by the distribution of palm leaves, often tied in the shape of crosses, and by dramatised readings of the Passion Narrative in one of the Four Gospels. At the Cathedral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, this morning, we are having the Liturgy of the Palms and a dramatised reading of the Passion Narrative (Luke 22: 14 - 23: 56). Throughout the weekday mornings of Holy Week, each tutorial group in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute is reading these passion narratives in sequence, concluding with the Passion Narrative in Saint John’s Gospel with my tutorial group on Maundy Thursday [1 April].

The Gospels tell us that, before entering Jerusalem, Christ was staying at Bethany and Bethphage. The Gospel according to Saint John adds that he had dinner with Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha.

While he was there, Christ sent two disciples to the neighbouring village to retrieve a donkey that was tied up but had never been ridden. Christ then rode the donkey into Jerusalem. As he rode into Jerusalem, the people lay down their cloaks in front of him, and also lay down the small branches of trees. The people sang part of Psalm 118: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Psalm 118: 26; Matthew 21: 9; Mark 11: 9; Luke 19: 38; John 12: 13).

On Palm Sunday, in Roman Catholic churches, and in many Anglican and Lutheran churches, palm fronds – or, in colder climates, some kind of substitutes – are blessed outside the church, and the blessing is followed by a procession into the church. In some churches, children are given palms and then walk in procession around the inside of the church while the adults remain seated.

The palm leaves or palm crosses are often saved in Anglican churches to be burned the following year to use as ashes used on Ash Wednesday. However, many Roman Catholic churches in Ireland use cuttings from yew trees.

The liturgical colour of the day is deep scarlet red, indicating the supreme redemptive sacrifice Christ was entering into as he entered the city of his Passion and Resurrection.

In the Orthodox Church, Palm Sunday is often called the Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem, and is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Liturgical Year. Unlike the West, however, the Orthodox Church does not consider Palm Sunday as part of Great Lent – the Eastern Orthodox Great Fast ended on Friday, and yesterday (Lazarus Saturday), Palm Sunday and Holy Week are seen as a separate fasting period.

The theme of Orthodox services on this Sunday is primarily Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. The Great Entrance of the Divine Liturgy commemorates the “Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem.” It is customary in many churches to bless for the worshippers to receive fresh palm leaves on Palm Sunday. In some places however, where this has been impractical, substitutes have been used traditionally.

These palms are blessed at Matins after the Gospel reading, and everyone then stands holding their branches and lit candles. People later take these branches and candles home and keep them in their icon corner as an ευλογία (blessing).

Toparion (Tone 4)

O Christ, Our God,
we have been buried with you through Baptism,
and by your Resurrection made worthy of life immortal.
Praising you, we sing,
“Hosanna in the highest,
blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Kontakion (Tone 6):

In heaven,
you are seated on a throne
and on earth you ride upon a foal.
O Christ our God,
accept the praise of angels
and the hymn of the children who sing:
“Blessed are you who comes to recall Adam.”

Troparion (Tone 1):

By raising Lazarus from the dead before your passion,
you confirmed the universal resurrection.
O Christ God! Like the children with the palms of victory,
we cry out to you, O vanquisher of death;
Hosanna in the Highest!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

The Collect of the Day:

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 our Lord. Amen.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

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.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.