This Week: “ Liturgical Surgery” [April 7th, 2017]

This week we celebrate Palm Sunday, the portal to Holy Week, the day Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem riding on a donkey to the praises of the people, calling, “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!” Five days later the same crowd, bitter with disappointment and whipped up by the religious authorities, would take a very different tone, yelling, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

It is obvious that these were two very different moments, each decisive in its own way, on Jesus’ way to the cross. Yet, inexplicably, the two events were combined into one by the editors of the Book of Alternative Services, the standard liturgical resource for the Anglican Church of Canada, on the Sunday before Easter, a day they called “The Sunday of the Passion, with the Liturgy of the Palms”. In that service the people join in greeting Jesus in a Palm Procession at the start of the service and then, in a matter of minutes, they are hearing an agonizing account of Jesus’ death on the cross.

No one knows exactly what those editors were thinking (were they concerned that attendance at Good Friday services was down?), but the effect of the Sunday observance they created was nothing short of emotional whiplash. Fortunately, churches across the country, including our own, have returned to the older custom of observing Palm Sunday alone, focussing only on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, while reading the account of Christ’s Passion on Good Friday, five days later. Both events warrant our observance, but separately.

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