Almighty and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The day’s name indicates its dual focus. The Reading of the Passion Narrative (the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion) is the most primitive feature and remained so after the revisions of the 16th century. The pre-Reformation Rites in England were full of movement and rich in poetry. The Palm Sunday rites were particularly involved and dramatic. In the Procession, the Gospel Book or the Blessed Sacrament was carried as an image of Jesus entering Jerusalem. The Procession involved a number of “stations”—stops at places in the Church for prayers, hymns or responsories. In the 19th century, the Catholic Movement within Anglicanism reclaimed (and simplified) many of the traditions that had been lost in the 16th Century—including the Blessing and Procession with Palms. The Prayer Book provides a celebration of Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem as an Entrance Rite at the beginning of the Day’s Eucharist, but the central focus is the reading of the Passion.
At Christ Church, the 11 am Liturgy begins the Blessing of the Palms and a Procession. The Palms are blessed with a solemn prayer that echoes the Great Thanksgiving and then they are distributed among the people, and the procession continues. The procession includes the stirring hymn, “All glory, laud and honor.” Structurally, in relation to the rest of the Liturgy, all of this is essentially equivalent to the opening hymn—it gets us into place and gathers us into one body so we are prepared to respond to the invitation, “Let us pray” that introduces the Collect of the Day.
The Collect of the Day quickly brings our focus to the mystery of the Incarnation and the Atonement. The Readings and Psalm continue the theme. The Gospel is introduced without any acclamation. For all of Lent, the alleluias that usually greet the Gospel have been silenced; now there is not so much as a “Glory be to thee, O Lord.” The Passion is read from one of the first three Gospels. Each has its own particular insight and recounts the details that must have been most important to each writer. Two ceremonial notes: palms are traditionally held as the Passion is read; at the verse that mentions the death of Jesus all kneel as a period of silence follows. While the sermon usually follows the Gospel immediately, to start talking after this story seems presumptuous. We follow the reading of the Passion with one of the great Passiontide Hymns.
Gospel Reading for the Liturgy of the Palms
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’