Preparing for Holy Week, and Beyond

It is Saturday before Holy Week, the most sacred yet busiest time of the church year. Churches are open for services almost every day, if not daily. The week builds up to the Paschal Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. However, before all this takes place, there is Palm Sunday (the Sunday of the Passion). 

In the Episcopal Church, preparation for Palm Sunday means more work than just the usual cleaning of the church and setting up the altar and elements. There are palm crosses to be made by the dozen, each one composed of a strip of palm leaf carefully folded, twisted, wrapped, and tucked so that it holds the shape of a cross. New volunteers learn how to make the crosses each year, taught by those who have performed the act for years and sometimes decades. There should be an abundance of palm crosses, one for each person or family, that can be taken home and saved until the following year before Ash Wednesday. 

Palm Sunday is also called Passion Sunday because the usual gospel reading is the passion, frequently done with congregation members reading the various parts of  the original characters. The story begins with Jesus riding triumphantly into Jerusalem and works its way through the Holy Week stories of the Last Supper, Gethsemane, the arrest and trial of Jesus, his death, and burial, as featured in the services of the Triduum before the Easter Vigil itself.

The story of the Passion of Jesus is read on Palm Sunday as well as during Holy Week so that those who cannot participate in the weekday services, often held in the evening, can hear the story that precedes Easter Sunday. The Triduum climaxes with the Easter Vigil, a celebration that features passages of scripture that trace what is known as salvation history, beginning in Genesis, the story of the exodus, followed by prophetic messages found in the Hebrew Bible. 

Recently there has been controversy in the church about the reading of the Passion narrative. The translations of the gospels have an anti-semitic message that has become uncomfortable for congregants and clergy alike. The trial of Jesus, from the accusation to the scourging and ridicule he endured, lays blame on “the Jews,” as if the entire Jewish nation called for his death. Many people still have not learned that Jesus was Jewish, as were his disciples and followers. Centuries of these translations have led to the belief that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus and the hatred of Jews because of this. 

When disaster strikes, a beloved leader is assassinated, a country is overrun, or churches battle each other, people want to have someone or some group to blame. The Jews, considered outsiders by Christian believers, served as the scapegoat for the crucifixion. Granted, some Jewish leaders at the time were very active in trying to silence Jesus for blasphemy. Because the example of his life and teachings went contrary to those of the temple, the powerful felt threatened, and so Jesus had to be removed. 

The memory of the Holocaust is very much with us. With the drive for racial, cultural, and religious equality, it has become essential to attempt to view history with a more diverse eye. Just as we in America are trying to come to terms with the sins of slavery our ancestors have perpetrated on Africans, we also have to confront the wrongs we have done to our Native Americans, Oriental Americans, and Hispanics. We have to reconcile ourselves that until we live up to the statement in our Declaration of Independence that “…(A)ll men are created equal,” then we aren’t living up to our baptismal covenant, much less the example of Jesus’s teaching and healing among the outcasts of his own culture and faith. 

This Palm Sunday, let us see if we are laying blame in the right places. Just as we are asked to reflect and converse with each other about our differences and how we can live together with respect, peace, and love of neighbors, let us stop and remember that painting with broad brushes when it comes to guilt or accusation is not what Jesus taught or expects us to do. May we view each other with charity, not hatred. 

Today as we prepare for Palm Sunday and Holy Week, may we reflect on what God wants us to do. God created the world with love, and let us work to bring that spirit of love back to it. 

Holy Week leads us to Easter. May we use that week to look past the pain and sorrow to the coming hope and glory that the resurrection builds in us. May we reaffirm our faith in that resurrection and all it means to us as Christians.

Image: Palm Crosses, Source:
. Author: CK Sherrod (2014). Found at Wikimedia Commons.

Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her three cats near Phoenix, Arizona.

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