The Liturgy of the Palms
Readings for Palm Sunday
or John 12:12-16
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
The Liturgy of the Word
or Mark 15:1-39, (40-47)
Palm Sunday – what is it? How is it celebrated, and why?
If you visit St Nicholas this Sunday, be sure to arrive early for the Blessing of the Palms. This is a special, short liturgy that is laid out in the Book of Common Prayer, so it always takes the same form. We gather before entering the church to witness the blessing of the palms with holy water and special prayers. Some years the processional cross has been decorated with a flourish of palm leaves, other years there are large bouquets of palms in the church. But we always process in together, singing a hymn specific to the day, and each person (and child, with supervision) carries a fresh green palm leaf to commemorate the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It’s a happy, excited throng, just like the one that greeted Jerusalem as he rode his humble donkey up the road through the gates of the Holy City.
One year, it was decided to carry extra palms in and scatter them in the church to cover the symbolic road at the Lord’s feet, just as it said had happened in the hymn – this looked pretty at first but not so much after everyone had walked on them, and the cleanup was a chore. So this year, we’ll process into the church together in triumph, singing glad songs… and then during the Gospel reading, we re-enact the dramatic Passion reading together. And at the end of the service, we’ll leave more quietly and rather sadly, clutching our palm leaves. Some of us will fold them into little crosses and take them home to dry out.
A year from now, some of those dried palm leaves and crosses will be burned for Ash Wednesday. The cycle repeats itself through Lent to Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter and back again.
The change in mood on Palm Sunday can be pretty stark in Episcopal and other “liturgical” churches. One church some years ago in Seattle actually had their choir members reverse their colored tabards (long scarves worn over choir vestments) during the service. The red of Passion Sunday on one side of the tabards was turned to the black of mourning on the other side, at the moment that Jesus comes to Golgotha in the Gospel reading. The Passion, in which Christ is crucified, is prefigured in the Palm Sunday readings, and commemorated more fully during the last three days of Holy Week (also called “The Triduum”).
There will be several pieces of special music this Sunday – after processing in singing the traditional “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” of course. We come in with great joy and fanfare, but we’ll depart with sadness and not a little fear – remembering how frightened the first Christians were when Jesus was taken from them.
Baritone Douglas Vanhouten will solo on ‘The Palms’ by J. Faure, and the choir will also sing a very moving piece, ‘Pietà’ by Joseph M. Martin. Please come, listen, and be part of the community of St Nicholas at the beginning of the most important week in the Christian year. Please note, there will not be a Saturday afternoon service on March 31st.
On April 5th, at the Maundy Thursday service at 7:00pm, we will recall the Last Supper and the betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane. This year, we’ll substitute symbolic handwashing for the more traditional footwashing, as it’s still flu and spring cold season. The choir will sing the Latin chant ‘Parce Domine,’ and ‘My Wordless Prayer,’ by Craig Courtney.
On April 6th, Good Friday, the 7:00pm service will be almost without music, aside from a special Woody Guthrie song for the poor of the world that will be offered by assisting priest Father Paul Brouillette and choirmistress Mary Fletcher-Gomez.
The main celebration of Easter at St Nicholas is the Great Vigil, on Holy Saturday, April 7th at 8:00pm. There will be an expanded choir, a fanfare trumpeter, a number of choral responses to the Salvation Readings, and more special anthems (including one not-very-secret surprise piece).There will not be a Saturday afternoon service that day, but you may bring Easter foods to the church to be blessed by Father Manny from about noon or so until 3:00pm. Many people will also be coming to help decorate the church for the
Easter Sunday, April 8th will be a traditional family service, with some of the same special music from the Vigil AND with the addition of The Great Egg Hunt 2012 with an appearance by the Easter Bunny after church.
But for now, we’re at the part of the journey where the gates of the city of God are in sight, and the crowds wave palm fronds as they line the dusty road to see the Savior ride on in majesty to accept His fate. Come with us – take a palm and join the procession.