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Palm Sunday

By Elaine Bardwell - Posted on 31 March 2012

Travelling the road to freedom? Who wants to travel the road with me?
These are words we sing during our Palm Sunday Liturgy and this invitation comes from Jesus who is the centre of our attention throughout this Holy Week. Our purpose is to be alongside Jesus. We become one of the crowd of disciples going where Jesus goes, hearing what he says, noticing what others say to him, witnessing what happens in those last days leading up to and beyond the crucifixion.
We begin this journey alongside Jesus with the other disciples with a major liturgy - Palm Sunday.
The word 'Liturgy' refers to a series of ceremonies which will include Holy Communion but much more besides. The Palm Sunday Liturgy comes in 3 main parts
Part 1: The Palm Procession
Throughout this week the church represents Jerusalem. Different churches have different ways of representing the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. At St Michael's we are able to start our worship outside and away from the church building to bless our palms and hear the first Gospel reading (2012 is Year B in our lectionary cycle so we hear part of Mark chapter 11). Suitably reminded of Jesus' entry into the city we join the crowd of palm wavers singing songs and hymns which feature the word 'Hosanna'. But the songs sung along the way in the procession are not just to fill in the time it takes us to process along the Marston Road to the church building. Already the words set the tone for the week ahead: worship of God, acknowledgement of Jesus as Messiah, prayers for spiritual blessings, a declaration that we walk alongside Jesus treading his path of service and sacrifice, confident in God's promises.
Part 2: The Passion Proclamation
We arrive, as a bunch of disciples in Jerusalem (the church building) and together we will read aloud the longest reading of the year - the full account of the Passion of Christ - this means 2 or more chapters from one of the Gospels (2012 will be Mark's version) in which we remember the events leading up to the burial of Jesus. At St Michael's we create a series of 'Stations' or stopping places (with seats for those who need them) taking us all around the inside of our buidling. At each Station we read out a portion of the Gospel reading unfolding the story of Jesus' suffering and death. Everyone has a part to read and some individual parts are read too in a dramatised version as we move through the familar scenes and episodes. The first portion is read, we keep a short silence for meditation and then briedf prayer intentions which pick up themes from the extract just heard are said. We then sing a chant as we process to the next Station to read the next extract.
In this way we are present at the Last Supper, witness Judas' betrayal, Peter's denial, Jesus' trial and join the crowd calling on Pilate to crucify Jesus. We stand by the cross as Jesus dies and finally we go to the tomb and bury him. At each Station the mood changes, the prayer gets deeper, the silences more profound. We are caught up in the narrative. We have begun to glimpse God at work in these shocking events.
Part 3: The Eucharistic Offering
Our procession now takes us to the West end of our building where we share the Greeting of Peace and everyone forms the Offertory Procession taking up the gifts of bread and wine to the High Altar.
The word Eucharist means 'Thanksgiving' and it is natural to give thanks when we have just pondered at such depth what God has done in Jesus Christ. The particular form of the Eucharistic Prayer we use on this occasion is  Prayer H from Common Worship Order 1a. Its simplicity and brevity make it especially suitable for today's worship - after the power of the Gospel narrative this is a time for few words and a lot of prayer as we move into the time for Holy Communion. Our final hymn today is 'Heaven shall not wait' reminding us of the challenge to connect the events of Holy Week with the way we live our daily lives. The blessing and Dismissal are the last we shall receive until we reach the end of the Easter Vigil on Easter morning. 
So, Palm Sunday in all sorts of ways sets the scene, takes us through the agenda for the days ahead and leads us to a tomb - there we leave Jesus, for now. Our palm leaf can now be folded into a cross. The next chapter awaits our return on Easter morning. But we have not been able to do much more than introduce the elements of the story and so the invitation is there to dwell on these things, and ponder them in our hearts. Fortunately the Church has provided a fully interactive way of doing just that. It will now seem more obvious why there are major liturgies marking Thursday, Friday and Easter morning to come. Perhaps less obvious what happens Monday to Wednesday. See the next topic...
To see all the Holy Week entries click on the 'Vicar' beside 'Tags' which appears at the foot of each item and a full list will be displayed



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