Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

On Palm Sunday at St James's the liturgy combines both triumph and tragedy. Every member of the congregation is given a palm leaf folded in the form of a cross. As we gather with palms, the service begins with a triumphant procession with the children carrying palm leaves, while the congregation sing songs of praise and wave the palm crosses, acclaiming Christ as king. All this reminds us of the exuberant demonstration of praise which greeted Christ as a king as he rode into Jerusalem on the donkey. As part of the Eucharist on Palm Sunday there is a reading about Jesus' suffering and death, his 'passion', laying out the sequence of events of Holy Week. Read the Palm Sunday service booklet and have a look at the Palm Sunday photo album.

A palm crossPalm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter and the first day of Holy Week, which is the last week of Lent. On the first Palm Sunday, Jesus went to Jerusalem, where later he would be arrested and crucified, to observe the Jewish festival of Passover (Pesach) which celebrates the freedom of the Children of Israel who were led out of Egypt by Moses. Many Jews travelled to Jerusalem to celebrate this feast together.

Before going to Jerusalem, Jesus was staying at Bethany and Bethphage, and while he was there he sent two disciples to collect a donkey that had been tied up but never ridden. If they were challenged they were to say that the donkey was needed by the Lord but would be returned. Jesus then rode the donkey into Jerusalem. The people welcomed Jesus like a King, waving palm branches and laying their cloaks and palm branches from the nearby trees in his path. They shouted 'Hosanna' which is a cry of praise or adoration.

The palm crosses, which we are given, are more than just a keepsake. They symbolise the fact that those who sang 'Hosanna' (or 'save, now!') to Christ later turned against him, shouting 'crucify him'. Our small crosses provide us with a focus as we begin the journey of Holy Week and any that are left over are kept to be burnt, so that their ashes can be used in the Ash Wednesday service the following year.

Looking back

Lent and Easter at St James's (2013 February/March) (article)
On the evening of Palm Sunday 2013, St James's 150th Anniversary year, Stainer's Crucifixion was performed. Concordia Voices gave this stalwart of the sacred repertoire a most profoundly moving and dramatic performance. Read about this and see the photographs on the page Stainer's The Crucifixion.