“It is our whole faith that by His own death Christ changed the very nature of death, made it a passage – a ‘Passover,’ a ‘Pascha’ – into the Kingdom of God, transforming the tragedy of tragedies into the ultimate victory.” Alexander Schmemann
Tall palm fronds – twelve feet? – rise on either side of the high altar, reaching up the brick apsidal wall. They are signs of hope, as green often is, amidst the swathes of purple. For Lenten purple still drapes the crucifix, the tall candlesticks, the Madonna and Child. The processional cross too is hidden, and as the clergy and acolytes step toward the altar amidst clouds of incense, we recall the donkey stepping toward the gates of Jerusalem, the City of David, two thousand years ago, a humble animal carrying our humble God, parting the sea of humanity, the ocean of welcoming palms, heading toward the proud gates of the proud city. The crowd would soon change, Christ knew. Soon they would would condemn Him, acclaim His death before Pilate, taunt Him along the Way of the Cross, as foretold.
Today, Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, is a day that begins the recalling of the great action of God among us: the conquering of death, the transformation of death to passover, pascha (Easter in the West), to a passing into the Kingdom. Death vanquished by death; Christ is the Paschal Lamb, the Passover Lamb.
Stacks of smaller palms are blessed and given out, and we process around the church, singing All glory, laud, and honor/To thee, Redeemer King! To whom the lips of children /Made sweet hosannas ring…, waving our palms, led by our children. We walk the aisles, together, a family of God, linked by time and eternity, as we move toward our own passovers, our own crossings into the Kingdom.
Are we ready for our own paschas, our own Easters? We examine our hearts, confess our sins, forgive our brothers and sisters, ask their forgiveness. We have done things we should not have done and left undone things we should have done. We say these words together, into the air of the nave, and the incense carries them to the tabernacle. Our priest, imbued with the authority of two thousand years of Apostolic Succession, gives us absolution, frees us from our mortality, grants us our own passover into the Kingdom.
The Palm Sunday liturgy continues. We hear the words of Scripture, incarnate with Christ himself. We hear the words of the sermon, the interpretation of those words, a clarifying based on the promptings of the Holy Spirit weaving through the Church. We offer the Mass, and in the sacred liturgy are forgiven, freed of ourselves to become ourselves now offered, souls and bodies to God. Soon, we see, He offers Himself back to us, as He does in each Mass, as He becomes a mystical part of the bread and the wine, and we consume Him. In the Eucharist itself we pass over, we experience pascha. We enter His Kingdom, part the veil of the tabernacle and unite with God through Christ. The Kingdom is now, not of this world, but granted through the matter of this world.
We enter Holy Week, a time of reflection, and of participation in the greatest drama of all history. We fast and pray. We recreate that history in these hours and days as we move toward Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper. We follow Christ to the Garden, to the trial, to the Way of the Cross. We pause there on Good Friday and mourn for ourselves, our world. Holy Saturday is silent with waiting. In this way we, His Body, prepare for Easter, for Pascha.