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Palm / Passion Sunday

In April, the big event is Holy Week. This starts with Palm Sunday, then moves to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, then some churches observe the Great Easter Vigil on Saturday, then Easter Sunday. On Palm Sunday, Jesus rides into Jerusalem hailed by the crowds as the promised Messiah, that is, the King to restore the line of David's monarchy. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus spends the last night before his death with his friends and institutes the sacrament of the Lord's Supper saying, "Do this in remembrance of me." On Good Friday, Jesus is tried and crucified. The Easter Vigil is a time for us to pray; it corresponds to Jesus' time in the tomb. Easter Sunday is the Resurrection! The victory over Sin and Death!

Some congregations keep separate things separate, each service on each day. It is possible, though, to combine services. For instance, growing up, my church back in Atlanta combined Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in a Maundy Thursday / Tenebrae service. We didn't have an explicit observance of the Great Easter Vigil. We left the sanctuary in the dark on Thursday night and came back rejoicing on Easter morning.

Another common way to combine things is to have Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his death on the cross combined into one Sunday service at the beginning of the week. This, then, would be called not just Palm Sunday, but Palm / Passion Sunday. The advantage is that someone who can't make weekday services between the Sundays doesn't skip the dark parts between waving palm branches and the resurrection. It is important to understand the whole process. It's hard to be thankful for the great love of Jesus Christ dying for our sins if you skip over the dying part.

What does that word, "passion," mean in "Palm / Passion Sunday?" In modern American parlance, we think of passion as a very intense motivation; we think that it is a good thing. The Latin root, though, has to do with suffering. Some early heresies denied that Jesus suffered. They believed that Jesus could accomplish everything he accomplished without suffering. Some even think that Christ left the body of Jesus behind and didn't die. These ideas are against the basic beliefs of Christians (that's why their called heresies). Right there in the Apostle's Creed, one of the oldest creeds of all Christendom, we say Christ "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried." If Christ did not die, then Christ was not raised from the dead and all our hope is in vain (part of Paul's point in 1 Corinthians 15).

At our church, this April 10, we will celebrate Palm / Passion Sunday. It will start bright and be a great celebration, but it will turn dark in anticipation of the other events of Holy Week. We also encourage you to attend the Maundy Thursday Service at 7:00pm at the Methodist Church, and the Good Friday Service at 7:00pm at First Christian Church. When you leave the service at First Presbyterian Church on Palm/Passion Sunday, we will have already turned to look at these events.