Palm Sunday and the Passion of the Lord
I recently wrote that every Sunday is Palm Sunday. Now I want to tell you why every Sunday is Good Friday, and why every Sunday is Holy Thursday.
The Parade of the Cross
I wrote that liturgical worship services begin with a procession into the sanctuary while the people sing hymns. That sounds like Palm Sunday. It is not, however, palm branches that we carry into worship; it is a cross.
Two parades took place during Holy Week. Good Friday followed Palm Sunday. As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, his disciples accompanied him with songs of praise. As he bore his cross to Calvary, the taunts of his executioners rang in his ears. The weekly, liturgical procession is an echo of both spectacles, and rightfully so. The king whom the disciples praised on Palm Sunday established his kingdom on Good Friday’s cross of shame.
The author of Revelation 5 this relationship between Jesus’ reign and his sacrificial death.
See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne. (Revelation 5:5-6)
Therefore, all of heaven joins in the coronation song:
Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! (Revelation 5:12)
And all on earth respond:
To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13)
Every Sunday, we join our voices in this song of praise. We praise God for our Palm Sunday king and our Good Friday deliverer, who are one in the same.
The Psalm of Victory for the Rejected One
I also noted our Sunday worship recalls the disciples’ Palm Sunday acclamation:
Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
We have changed the context of the Psalm, however. It is not part of our entrance procession; it is part of our Eucharistic prayer – the prayer of thanksgiving we pray before we share the Lord’s table. This acclamation is based on Psalm 118:25-26.
Psalm 118 is part of the Hallel series of Psalms that were sung at the Passover festival.
The psalm origin’s as an entrance song for pilgrims entering Jerusalem are evident in verses like these:
Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD
through which the righteous may enter. (Psalm 118:19-20)
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
From the house of the LORD we bless you.
The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine upon us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. (Psalm 118:26-27)
The psalm’s overall tone of victory fits both Passover (which celebrates God’s victory over Egypt and its gods) and Palm Sunday.
The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.
Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous:
The LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!
The LORD’s right hand is lifted high;
The LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!” (Psalm 118:14-16)
The psalm, however, also has lines which the early church saw as prefiguring Christ’s death and resurrection.
I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.
The LORD has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death. (Psalm 118:17-18)
The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone. (Psalm 118:22)
The church’s shifting of the Psalm verses from an entrance song to the Eucharistic liturgy reveal two things.
First, and most evidently, the church saw a deep connection between its weekly communion and the Passover festival. Jesus established the sacrament at the Passover, and the passion narrative is filled with Passover imagery.
The second reason is found in the previously described relationship between Jesus’ death and his victorious reign as king. The words of both Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday echo through our Eucharistic liturgy. The same Jesus whom the disciples acclaimed as king on Palm Sunday said, “This is my body given for you. This cup is the New Covenant poured out for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” It is only in remembering that Christ gave himself for us that we can fully offer him our praise.
The Apostle Paul wrote:
Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks
a participation in the blood of Christ?
And is not the bread that we break
a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)
Every Sunday, when we gather at the table, we “participate” in the body and blood of our Lord, and thus repeat – in a way – both Holy Thursday (when he gave us the meal) and Good Friday (when he gave himself for us on the cross).
Our ritual captures this relationship as the Eucharistic prayer nears its conclusion:
And so, in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died;
Christ is risen;
Christ will come again.
Like the disciples on Palm Sunday, we praise God for the victories that he has won and look forward to the final victory that he will ultimately win. We hail our Lord and King in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. We know something, however, that the disciples did not know on Palm Sunday: God’s victory came on a bloody cross and in an empty tomb.