Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sweet Hosannas Ringing

The conflation of Palm and Passion Sunday in the Episcopal Church usually makes me weep at some point. The red paraments (hangings) on the pulpit, lectern, and altar, the red vestments the priest wears, every cross draped in the color symbolizing blood are a visual blow. The mood changes swiftly mid-service, from the exuberance of Palm Sunday to the miseries of Passion Sunday, and I can’t keep up.
            In the first part of the service, we hear of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey never ridden before and of the crowd’s joyous acclamation. The youngest children at my church re-enact that scene with a procession around the perimeter of the sanctuary. They are given rhythm instruments and follow the cross, waving their palms and making noise, while the adults smile and sing the hymn “All glory, laud, and honor.”
            I manage to keep my composure until about the fourth verse of that song. By then, the words of the refrain and the scene before me have merged past bearing. I have to stop singing and sniffle. “All glory, laud, and honor to thee, Redeemer, King! to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.” The youngest kids are bewildered—nobody has ever let them walk around making such lovely noise in church before. Some of them cry and must be rescued by a parent. Generally the boys thrill more to this than do the girls; today, one of them marched proudly with his tambourine. One year, all movement came to a halt when the children became confused as to whether the parade was going clockwise or counterclockwise. After the song ended, we waited for the children to trail downstairs as Charlotte entered the pulpit to preach.
            “The first Palm Sunday was probably just like that,” Charlotte began, and we all smiled one last time before hearing the gospel about the crucifixion.
            Three people have speaking roles in this gospel reading: the Evangelist/narrator, Jesus, and a third person who reads all the other lines: Judas, Peter, the serving maid, and Pilate. We in the congregation are the crowd, calling for Jesus’ crucifixion, mocking him. Not wishing to be party to this violence, I refuse to participate. Instead, I have cast myself as one of the faithful women followers who watched helplessly as the one they loved and supported died. Like women of most times and places, they have no speaking roles. There is nothing to be said.
            To keep us from utter despair, after the service we sometimes move outside to play in the dirt, beautifying the grounds, spreading mulch, pulling weeds, planting flowers. It’s another metaphor for the spiritual life, of course: a prayer in Ephesians 3:17 asks that the believers might be rooted and grounded in God’s love. Afterwards, we share a meal together, strengthened for our pilgrimage during the week of services and already anticipating the joy of Easter.

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