Palm Sunday: A Story in Many Voices

Only one Sunday, only one feast day, yea, only one occasion in the entire liturgical year has two appointed Gospel readings – the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday. 

Even with all the readings appointed for the Great Vigil of Easter, only one reading from the Gospels is appointed for the Eucharist. And in liturgies such as Advent or Christmas lessons and carols, multiple suggestions from the Gospels are given, but they are suggestions and not officially appointed readings.

For the Palm/Passion Sunday liturgy, two Gospel passages are appointed: one is fairly brief, and one is very, very long. The former sets the stage for the day, while the latter is, in fact, the centerpiece of the Palm/Passion Sunday service.

The liturgy begins with the Blessing of the Palms, which may be celebrated in a location apart from the regular worship space and then followed by a reenactment of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The accompanying Gospel tells the story of the throngs of people exclaiming, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord… peace in heaven and glory in the highest,” as Jesus rides into the city on a lowly donkey.

For the liturgy of the Word, which is the preparation for the liturgy of the Table, the standard lectionary readings are appointed: Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament and Gospel. This Gospel reading is the official Passion Gospel in which the complete events Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion are told.

One beloved tradition of the Church is to read this appointed Gospel dramatically, with various readers taking the parts of the various characters in the story. The gathered assembly of worshippers usually take the parts of the crowd, crying “Crucify him, crucify him.” The people remain seated until the verse naming the arrival at Golgotha, at which the people stand. At the moment of Jesus’ actual death on the cross, silence is observed.

Hearing the Gospel read by different voices, rather than the usual deacon or priest, is most effective, perhaps causing the gathered worshippers to pay closer attention than usual. This dramatic reading of the Passion Gospel is the prelude for Holy Week, the most significant liturgical week of the year.

The events of Palm/Passion Sunday affirm the inseparable relationship between Jesus’ death and resurrection.


Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at 5:09 PM
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