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.