Palms or Passion?
by Rev. Dustin Bartlett
This year might be the last year that we celebrate Palm Sunday in our church.
Allow me to explain. Each year, on the Sunday before Easter, I have a choice to make: Do we celebrate Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday? This year, we’ll be celebrating Palm Sunday the week before Easter. Next year, it might be Passion Sunday instead.
We’ll see how it goes.
Fifty or sixty years ago, that wasn’t a decision that pastors had to think about. Palm Sunday, with the waving of palm branches and the church shouting “Hosanna!” was always celebrated the Sunday before Easter. But then, things started to change.
What started to change was that people stopped coming to the Holy Week services. Fewer and fewer people came to the Maundy Thursday service, with its tense but love-filled scenes from the Last Supper. The pews remained unfilled on Good Friday, with only a handful of people listening to the story of Christ’s passion and crucifixion. And hardly anyone came to the Easter Vigil, as the world waited anxiously for the miracle of an empty tomb.
Passion Sunday was created to address the fact that people weren’t coming to the Holy Week services because, without the Holy Week services, Easter doesn’t make any sense. Think about it – if you only show up to worship on Palm Sunday and on Easter Sunday, then you’ll jump from the “Hosanna!” of Palm Sunday to the “Hallelujah” of Easter and skip right over Jesus’ passion, crucifixion, and death. You can’t have a resurrection without first having a death. So Passion Sunday was introduced as an alternative to Palm Sunday, to make sure that people get to hear the story of the crucifixion before they hear the story of the resurrection.
Personally, I prefer Palm Sunday. I like to see the kids waving palm branches. And I think it’s important to remember that it was the same crowds who shouted, “Hosanna!” at the start of the week who were shouting, “Crucify him!” only a few days later. Human beings can be very fickle without our affections.
But the premise of Passion Sunday is absolutely correct – if you skip over the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, then Easter Sunday loses some of its meaning.
So, will we celebrate Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday next year? I guess I’ll have to wait and see how many people come to Good Friday services this year.