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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Palm or Passion or Both or???

Our different traditions have varied ways of treating the Palm Sunday to Passion Sunday shift, and it's been interesting to see the discussion around it this year.

Those who don't have weekday services in Holy Week, or who find them woefully underattended, worry that their people will not have the opportunity to experience the Passion at all, and will go straight from this week's Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem to next week's RESURRECTION BASH!

Moving from usual practice, I'm including here a few links to items by folk outside our ring, because they have been much discussed WITHIN the ring. With our new Facebook page and ongoing Twitter presence, some of that discussion has taken place in those venues, and I wanted to bring it back over to the blog, too.

I think Songbird encapsulated the discussions and confusion in a tweet: "So Palm is not supposed to have Passion and Easter is not supposed to be special. I think I'll just
go back to bed."

She referred to these two posts: Karoline Lewis' blog in
The Christian Century Against Passion Sunday and Bruce Reyes Chow writing on Why Easter Worship Service Should Be Nothing Special. What do you think? Are you making any changes to your traditional way of handling this? (And by the way, what IS your tradition? Does it follow your denominational tradition? If not, why?) You may respond in the comments here, or if you have a blog post to link here, use this formulation: <a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a> For a complete how-to click here.


  1. I list three posts worth reading, giving historical and theological support to the current practice of marking Palm/Passion Sunday on the same day. And then I offer my own post at the bottom, suggesting that we should separate Palm and Passion Sundays.

    Two Passions Each Year and Two Passions Each Year: Part Two, both by Mark Mummert of Houston, TX.

    Also worth reading is Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday by David Hansen of Brenham, TX.

    I suggest that Palm Sunday should get its own service, not simply serve as an entrance rite, in Palm Sunday Has Enough Passion of its Own.

  2. I'm not familiar with the idea of substituting or trying to include "Passion Sunday" with Palm Sunday, but it sounds like a bad idea to me.

    Although I am not from a liturgical tradition, I think the separate observances of Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday should not be conflated in any way. Instead we should be encouraging people to attend one or more of these midweek services which powerfully remind us of the passion and resurrection of Christ.

    I couldn't disagree more with Reyes-Chow's suggestion that Easter Sunday not be any different from any other Sunday. I am reminded of my daughter's reaction to attending Easter worship with her in-laws at their Church of Christ which doesn't observe either Christmas or Easter: "they manage to suck all the joy out of religion."

    We need to celebrate the message of Easter: hope, joy, salvation, and the love of God for his people. And it's worth all the effort we put into it. And more!

  3. I think it's because I'm from the Presbyterian tradition where all these midweek services are relatively new for many of our churches that I have felt encouraged to turn Palm Sunday into Palm/Passion Sunday. It seems like that was what was recommended in seminary and as I was coming out of seminary not quite 10 years ago. Because folks were not used to coming to MT or GF (and definitely not HS) services, we should try to do some Holy Week stuff on Palm Sunday so people didn't go straight from parade to resurrection celebration.

    Before I read any of the articles I was already deciding to back off from that this year. The last few years, now that I am a solo pastor and get to organize the whole season, I have done both, and to me Palm Sunday ends up getting the short end of the stick and then I still have 2 more Holy Week services.

    I think mixing the 2 almost discourages people in my congregation from coming to MT and GF because they've already gotten that story. I'm not saying that I'm going to never do Palm/Passion combined again, but I've been at this church for 3 years and done a combined service 3 times, and those services lean more toward Passion than Palm by the end. This time around I'm going Palm and will preach that text which I think I've only done once or twice before because of this mixing of liturgical days.

  4. I'm also with QG in disagreeing with BRC on Easter Sunday. It reminds me of a supervising pastor I had at an internship who used to say that communion shouldn't be thought of as special which is why we should do it every week. Now I didn't disagree with the every week part, but as an important place at which we meet God in Christ, I think it's pretty darn special.

  5. @Stephanie: I'm a cradle Presbyterian and grew up in a church that observed all the Holy Week services, so I didn't think they were "new" to our tradition. It's interesting that your experience is different.

  6. In my (Episcopal) tradition, we start outside on Palm Sunday with a liturgy for blessing the palms, then march around the grounds singing "Prepare the way of the Lord." Joyous! Festive!

    Once indoors, everyone gets a card with their bulletin that has the Passion Gospel on it. We read the whole thing, with readers doing the major parts and the congregation shouting, "Crucify Him!" We end that service already plunged into Good Friday.

    THEN, we offer Eucharist and Stations of the Cross on Mon-Wed, and special services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday (two services plus confession) and Easter Vigil Saturday. And, in my location at least, they are all quite well attended.

    I have a very hard time with not getting any time to really be with the Palm Sunday story. Just my 2 cents' worth, and why I'm so interested in this topic.

  7. I've done all the various "mixtures" of Holy Week including an Easter Vigil. Yes, I am Presbyterian.

    I can see value and meaning in all the various configurations which have been tried.

    I resonate with Bruce's article. I did not read that Easter was not is. For that matter, every worship service is special. Perhaps it is the all-out, pull-out-all-the-stops, run-your-self-ragged, shine the silver, etc that makes the other worship services seem somewhat less important.

  8. @QG Yea, I know some were more tuned in to Hly Week stuff than mine and others in our area. The Pres church I went to in college observed a lot more of Holy Week through services than my home church did. My understanding has been that for the most part, but definitely not exclusively, the pick up in Presby congregations observing these days started with the liturgical renewal movement in what? Around the 60's? Some did them earlier than that for sure. I grew up in more of a retirement town. The folks in my church weren't "early adopters." Shoot even now there are retired cradle Presbys who will say all these services are "too Catholic" or "too Lutheran."

    In my home church Maundy Thursday was the confirmation service each year. MT got the short end of the stick in my memory as the only year I went was the year I was confirmed. Most people who came were directly related to youth being confirmed which highlights a number of problems with this practice - - no Maundy Thursday service for the congregation, no "public" reception of youth professing faith.

  9. Here's what I don't like.

    I don't like a seminary professor making me feel bad about my faithful attempts to pastor an actual congregation. In the perfect intellectual laboratory of seminary, or in a world where everyone attends all the services, it's great to have a purist point of view. But I don't live in that world. I live in world where I'm in a new-to-me congregation with a weak history of Maundy Thursday attendance and no tradition of worship on Good Friday.

    I also don't like a pastor who serves an unconventional congregation (which probably has fewer Christmas/Easter only attendees) making me feel bad about what is already an incredibly challenging Sunday. I take my responsibility to communicate the story of our faith deeply seriously. I would never suggest that the whole rest of the world do what works for me or the congregation I'm serving just because that's the way I like it. We have enough polarizing movements in our culture as it is. Both these articles set my teeth on edge, because they seemed to set up a "Right-minded vs. Sold-Out" dynamic.

    So, I continue to struggle, although the bulletin for Sunday is done, and we will not read the Passiontide text from Matthew, reserving that for Thursday evening. We will hear the Passion epistle lesson, Philippians 2:5-11, which I will preach alongside Matthew 21:1-21, using the epistle to forecast the crucifixion as I try to answer the question from the gospel, "Who is This?" We will have a palm parade, and we'll sing All Glory Laud and Honor, but also Beneath the Cross of Jesus, and end up with a rousing finale of Crown Him with Many Crowns. I have no idea what the congregation will make of it, but will trust the Spirit is moving me in the right direction for this particular community of God's people.

  10. Songbird, I so hear you about the way many seminaries seem to think the "real-church" works.

    This year we are doing all Palm Sunday. Last year we started Palm and transitioned throughout the service to a more somber tone of worship.

    We do a meal on MT followed by a short worship/communion service. For GF we worship with the two Methodist churches in the community. The planning and leadership is shared and the hosting rotates.

  11. I think that's where I was going (albeit not as thought out, but in my gut) yesterday on Twitter, Songbird. I don't like doing it the same way every year (and I could/should have added in every place), because every year and every place is not the same. The community is not the same. The world is not the same. The needs are not the same. The Spirit isn't speaking the same way. What I discern as a need in my ministry place may not be the same as what is discerned in another ministry place.

  12. This is my answer to the Christian Century article, arguing for observing both the Palms & the Passion. I also posted a sermon that I wrote a few years ago that attempts to hold the two emphases in tension.

  13. I have a huge problem with Karoline Lewis' unrealistic dichotomy of the practical vs. the theological. to my mind, the practical *is* theological, and it is bizarre to separate the two. From a practical theology standpoint, I think it is important to make sure congregants hear the Passion story during Holy Week. And in my context, that means including it as part of our Palm/Passion liturgy. Our liturgical calendar is not some theologically pure gift handed down from on high - it is man-made, and meant to help people move through the Christian story. So my central value: DO WHAT WORKS.

    I unashamedly celebrate Palm/Passion Sunday. I'm Baptist, and while I love the liturgical calendar, I feel full freedom to let it serve my congregation's needs.

    For the Palms service, we celebrate fully and joyfully, with the Palms texts and hymns, and with the waving of palm branches, led my the children. Then we hear the Passion Epistle (Phil. 2:5-11), and, with its talk of Jesus emptying himself, it provides just the right turning point, imho. That is exactly what Jesus is headed for, seated on that donkey.

    I then offer a brief (5 minutes or so) meditation that helps the congregation make the turn from the Palms to the Passion. I don't do any kind of full preaching on the Passion at all, I am just trying to open up space for them to hear the story and let it move in them during the week. After the meditation, we have a service of Lessons and Hymns - a counterpoint to our Christmas Eve service of Lessons and Carols - and we simply read through the Passion story, and respond throughout with the singing of Passion hymns. To me, it is a very rich way to begin the experience of the week, and the movement directly from Palms to Passion is part of that - it provides a visceral experience of what Jesus encountered in the quick turn from praise to persecution. Our congregants love this service.

    The people who are going to come on Maundy Thursday (we have a communion service with two other American Baptist churches) and on Good Friday (we have afternoon services with other downtown churches and an evening Tenebrae service) are going to come regardless. I believe hearing the Passion story on Sunday helps deepen the experience of the week for them, and it insures that those who don't come to the midweek services do get to hear the entirety of the central story of our faith.

    I have no problem with congregations who choose only to celebrate Palm Sunday and leave the Passion for the rest of Holy Week. I do have a problem with the implication that my congregation is doing it wrong, or that practical considerations about how people hear and experience the Christian story are somehow less important than issues of liturgical purity.

  14. My home church does a penitential everything. From Advent (our wreath says: death, hell judgement and repentance) to Passion Sunday including Maundy Thursday on which we have our vigil which ends with the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. We spend Saturday in contemplation and are encourages to fast and be in silence if possible.
    We start Passion Sunday with a blessing and distribution of the palms, neighborhood parade with the acolytes taking turns on Pedro, our donkey who will process in the church if it's raining. (We just have to kick the ass in the ass to get him up the stairs.)
    I have always found the Passion recitation very moving and a way for all collectively to take ownership of the Crucifixion rather than blaming the Jews. I'm trying to imagine what a more-palm Palm Sunday would be like and I don't know.
    I am in a new Parish for my sabbatical and it will be interesting to see what they do. I know they are beginning by having the congregation weave the palms into crosses. They can't believe that we pay for those on the mainland.

  15. Wil, I'm laughing about your donkey!

    I'm a cradle Episcopalian, and I am such a creature of that habit that I don't think it's ever occurred to me until the discussion yesterday and today to separate the Palm and Passion aspects of Palm Sunday. So, thanks to all of you for making my brain rumble. I think I like the way we do it (Palm > Passion Sunday, MT, GF, Easter Vigil, Easter Day), for a variety of reasons practical, theological, and personal, but I can see a lot of validity to other options as well.

    The verf word is shnort...which is what I say to those who are dogmatically convinced they have the only true way to observe this holy season.

  16. I've only been on the edges of these conversations, but I'm loving the way they are helping me, at least, be more intentional about where to help the congregation head this week.

    I heard K Lewis's working preacher podcast before I read the article referenced here, which to me seems more inquisitive than directive. But maybe that's because I think that's more the podcast's style in general, so that's what I was expecting from an article by her. Anyway, the podcast helped me solidify a decision I was starting to make based on a note I wrote myself last year to focus more on the palms this year than the passion - not because the passion isnt important and also missed by many in my setting - but because I actually have never preached on Palm Sunday at all. S

    o, I've just been enjoying doing some reading and studying on what are, it turns out, sort of new texts for me. That's probably not either theological or practical (earthchick! love what you say about them both!), but it is what I feel called to now. and, speaking of things I love, right on about that SB. Sometimes you just gotta follow where the spirit blows, you know?

  17. Some churches won't have to struggle between the two because the choir will be singing the EASTER cantata that Sunday.

  18. This year I am focussing on Palms and the cleansing of the Temple [political/civil unrest]. When I arrived here, Palm Sunday was the Easter Cantata, which covered from Palm Sunday through to Resurrection. That hasn’t happened the past 2 years, and last year I covered both Palm and Passion. Given we have a public holiday on Friday, attendance at Good Friday [morning] is reasonable, though some are away for the weekend.
    I think it really is about the context of the congregation. At times I have handed out devotional material for each day of Holy Week, to encourage people to be a little more reflective than usual. We don’t have services every day of Holy week, just MT, GF, sunrise and Sunday.
    I am wondering about following the final week of Jesus’ life through Lent one year, in an attempt to not rush through the story so much, which means Palm Sunday would be Lent 1.

  19. A big YAY for doing what suits the different communities we are called to serve! That's why we're there. This year, I imagined I might try to stay more with Palms than with Passion on sunday but I wrote two reflections to share and both have shadows of the passion - so be it.
    We also have a service each night in Holy Week. Why?
    Because I love it!!!!

  20. Juniper's point about "intention" is the whole thing for me. If I never think about what it means that we do it this way, then what does it really mean to me?

    I'm in no position to effect any change in my congregation's long-term practice. But this discussion has deeply informed my path toward Holy Week. Thanks to all of you for the great participation.

  21. earthchik - I love the way you break that out. Idk if it's do-able in coming years, but putting the homily after the kenosis really seems to bridge the whiplash part of this Sunday. thank you for offering that!


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