But for the rain, our worship would have begun outdoors by the courthouse, half a block from the church.
As it was, we started the service in the fellowship hall, everyone carrying palm branches and singing as we processed from the hall to the vestibule–where we paused for a prayer and a reading–and thence into the beautiful, empty church, acolytes and choir leading the way.
Palm Sunday recalls Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The gospels record that a crowd gathered and waved palm branches and shouted Hosanna, indicating their hopes that Jesus had come to display power, perhaps even to lead a revolt and overthrow the hated Roman occupation and to enthrone himself as king.
Another crowd would gather and turn on him later in the week–which we recalled later in the service. Later in the liturgy, the congregation reads the part of that other crowd, stirred up and shouting condemnation. You felt the ease with which a mob could form, and I like to think I would not be one of them, but it reminded me of times I’ve gone along with a group’s decision even when I had hesitations, or when I didn’t stand by a friend as staunchly as I should have. Reading the lines, I felt how it could happen.
But to start with, the triumphal entry, the greeting of Jesus as king. So as we processed as a congregation, we sang the traditional Palm Sunday hymn whose words date back to the 9th century:
All glory, laud, and honor
to thee, Redeemer, King!
to whom the lips of children
made sweet hosannas ring.
Thou art the King of Israel,
thou David’s royal Son,
who in the Lord’s Name comest,
the King and Blessed One. Refrain
The company of angels
are praising thee on high;
and mortal men and all things
created make reply. Refrain
The people of the Hebrews
with palms before thee went;
our praise and prayer and anthems
before thee we present. Refrain
(and so on)
It was a really neat thing to have the entire congregation in the procession. Liturgy means “work of the people” and while it is normally quite involving for the congregation (as opposed to a passive experience), this week it was especially involving. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a strong sense as I had today that we were all joined together in the activity of worship, with God as the intended audience.
I highly recommend anyone who would like to kick off Holy Week in a scripture-soaked, God-centered way to seek out a Palm Sunday service next year.
Next up, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and then my favorite, the Great Vigil of Easter (Saturday night – it bridges Good Friday and Easter) and then the Easter Sunday morning service. As choir members, husband and I will be at all of them.
If you’re within the sound of my voice, you are of course, invited. The link for more details is here.
Friday night — Good Friday — the choir is singing O Sacred Head Sore Wounded for the communion hymn. Hopefully a capella… the arrangement, you may know, is Bach’s. Husband and I were practicing our parts this evening. So fun.