It is that “slash” day again—as in Palm/Passion Sunday—as in trying to capture two seemingly distinct moods and experiences in one act of worship. It is almost impossible to do, it seems. If we lean toward the Palm Sunday experience and emphasize the exuberance of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, then we run the risk of missing the weight of the Passion of Christ that prepares us for fully encountering Easter and the Risen Lord. On the other hand, if we put all the weight on the Passion of Christ, re-creating a Good Friday experience, we miss out on the surprising opportunity to claim a savior with shouts of “hosanna” and the waving of branches.
We could argue that the story will be told this week on Thursday and Friday. We don’t need to let this day carry all the weight of the drama. And that is true, for those who will join you on those weeknights or afternoons. But in most settings, the ones who gather on Thursday and Friday are only a portion of the crowd that will gather on Sunday. And while we could say, “Well, that’s their fault; they should have come for the whole experience,” it is understandable, perhaps, yet the story needs to be told. If we don’t owe it to the people, then maybe we owe it to the story to tell it well, to tell it with power and passion and depth. So, even if a good proportion of our worshiping congregation will join us for Holy Week services, we ought to at least point from the parade ground to Pilate’s court and the shadow of Golgotha outside the city walls.
So, how do we do that? We could have a point of transition somewhere in the service, from “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna” to “What Wondrous Love Is This” at the end of the service. We could tell the story of the ride into Jerusalem at the beginning of the service, and let the children lead with palms raised high; and then toward the end of the service, we read of the plot against Jesus and the visit Judas makes to the temple authorities. We could leave it as a cliff-hanger, inviting folks to join us throughout the week. Or perhaps just read the story, the whole Passion story. Read it as reader’s theatre, or as a storyteller would tell the story. Celebrate the procession and then let the story speak for itself.
What we’re trying to avoid here is the possibility of a worshiper going from a parade to a Resurrection party without acknowledging that valley of death that goes between – accepting the gift of new life without the call to surrender the old. Too often, we present a “having your cake and eating it too” kind of mentality that produces a watered-down faith that won’t sustain us when the shadows envelop, and grief arises. We need to know; we need to be introduced to a savior who is acquainted with sorrow and knows our pain. This is the savior who would gather us up; this is the one who can redeem us.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.