Palm cross lying on a patten, beside a chalice — the vessels used at holy communion. (Photograph from iStockphoto.com.)
Today is Palm Sunday, the festival in the Christian calendar that marks the beginning of Holy Week, the seven days journey that leads us through Maundy Thursday (a celebration of Jesus’s Last Supper), Good Friday (commemorating when Jesus was crucified), Holy Saturday (an empty, nothing day that sits between despair and hope), and Easter Day (when Jesus rose from the dead).
This morning was my penultimate Sunday at St Ninian’s, Comely Bank. When the Vestry (read: Parish Church Council, for any Church of England readers) Secretary announced that next Sunday would be my last, I was quick to point out that that meant my last Sunday at St Ninian’s and not my last Sunday ever!
The Palm Sunday service was moving. I’d purposefully removed a lot of the usual bits and pieces for a Sunday service in order to allow the liturgy to breathe. It afforded it some space to give focus to the blessing and distribution of palm crosses, the procession into the Church building, and the reading of the Passion of Jesus Christ according to St Mark. Not everything in Church has to be flooded with words. Sometimes we don’t give enough space to the symbols; perhaps we don’t have enough faith in them at times.
The Palm Sunday liturgy (service) begins with the celebratory and triumphant procession, reminiscent of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem. By the middle of the service the tone changes as we recall Jesus’s torment in the garden, his arrest and trial. By the end of the reading we have sentenced him to crucifixion and carried the cross with Simon Cyrene to Golgotha and witnessed the nails being hammered into his hands and feet, and Jesus’s death. The reading ends with the words of the centurion that this was surely the Son of God.
I was pleased that I’d been able to send the script of the reading of the Passion to those responsible for church notices, as everyone in the congregation had a copy and could therefore join in with the “crowd” parts in the script. I think that the couple who are blind were also able to get it printed up in a braille copy, as they too were heartily shouting out “Crucify him!”
This will be a strange Holy Week — more strange than usual, perhaps. Maybe it’s just the thing to go out on: a reminder that sometimes endings are just new beginnings. Tonight I bless the God who transforms death into new life.