The drama played out on Palm Sunday in a liturgical church is a colorful one full of meaning and portent, for this is the Sunday we tell the story of Christ riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. He rides into the Holy City as a king, but on a humble beast of burden. He soon will become that beast of burden, as he meets his death, a humbling and painful one, and carries our wrong turns, our sins, with him to the Cross.
These thoughts mingled with my memories of our recent time in London and Paris. Driving to Saint Peter’s on this warm spring day, I gave thanks for our safe return home and thanks for the many blessings of the trip – worshiping with fellow Anglicans at St. Stephen’s and All Saints in London, and visiting the glorious sanctuaries in Paris, the Miraculous Medal, Sacre-Coeur, La Madeleine, Saint-Eustache. I shall never forget the singing of the Sisters and Brothers at Saint-Gervais and the Veneration of the Crown of Thorns at Notre-Dame. The high waters of the Thames and the Seine rolled under bridges and along embankment walkways. Trees flowered, sending pollen into the cool air. Beds of red tulips looked up from the earth in Hyde Park and the Tuileries. The cities thawed as spring began to spring. Hope was in the air, teasing us with sporadic sunshine that would warm our cool skin.
I carried these images with me as we drove through our own greened hills and slowly let them go, to slip into and form my past. I looked forward to church. Today would be a glorious day, the day of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. It was a day when the children of the Sunday School would help lead the procession of palms. As I sat with the children in the front row, waiting for the palms to be blessed and handed out, the old excitement returned, that of taking part in a great drama, a drama not only meaningful to me, but also to the world, to mankind. For Christ’s humble entry, the children waving palm branches in welcome, says it all – we too must ride the humble donkey, we too must have the eyes of children to recognize Our Lord and to understand with head and heart these momentous events of Holy Week. In this portentous week we renew our belief in the truth of God’s actions among men. We make sense of our lives and of our world.
We received our palms and joined the procession behind the draped crucifix, the torchbearers, the thurifer, the clergy. We waved our palms high and sang All glory laud and honor/To Thee, Redeemer, King/To Whom the lips of children/Made sweet hosannas ring as the organ boomed. The congregation followed, and we processed around the church, the side aisles, the central aisle, returning to our pew. The children and teachers then left for the Children’s Chapel and their own liturgy and lesson.
As we entered the narthex I glanced back through the open doors to the chancel and sanctuary. The altar, the candlesticks, the crucifix, even the Madonna and Child, were draped in purple. Immense palm branches arched up the sides of the altar. The space was all purples and greens and reds, with the tabernacle tented in red, the carpet red, the apse a soft red brick. The covered purple images, wreathed in greens, said, pay attention! They said, wait and watch, fast and pray, and live out the story of your salvation, of your new birth into spring. I knew that churches throughout the world had draped their crucifixes as we had done on this day. I knew faithful folks were waiting and watching, fasting and praying. I knew we were one, the Body of Christ, the Church, as we lived our momentous story of salvation this Holy Week in the Year of Our Lord 2011.
So this morning we welcomed Christ into our midst, waving our palms in greeting. Now we begin the amazing journey to the Cross and to our own Resurrections.