Yesterday we celebrated Palm Sunday as we do every year, with the children waving branches and everyone in the congregation singing, “Hosanna!” It’s a way of re-telling Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem that’s recorded in all four gospels. As the gospel of Mark puts it:
When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” – Mark 11:7-10
Yet for all the celebration, in the history of the Christian church, what we know as Palm Sunday is also Passion Sunday. The word “passion” comes from the Latin word passio, which means suffering. In contrast to the celebration of Palm Sunday, the suffering of Passion Sunday speaks of Jesus’ trial and execution. Instead of focusing only on the crowds who shouted words of welcome and blessing, Passion Sunday reminds us of the crowds who shouted for Jesus’ death.
Most years, we tend to skip the Passion Sunday emphasis in favour of Palm Sunday, since we remember Jesus’ suffering and death in our Thursday evening communion and Good Friday worship. But not everyone can take part at those times. So if a person takes part in worship only on Sunday mornings, they would go from the celebration of Palm Sunday to the celebration of Easter Sunday. They would go from one celebration to another celebration. Without Passion Sunday, they would miss all the hard parts of Jesus’ betrayal by his closest friends and followers, the loneliness of his arrest, the excruciating pain of his torture and death.
Passion Sunday reminds us not to miss the hard parts. Because Jesus didn’t skip the hard parts. And even today, when we go through tough times, God is right there with us. Not just for the times of celebration, but in the lowest and most difficult times of our lives.
So this week, I’m journeying with Jesus through Holy Week. From yesterday’s Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday, to his last supper and arrest, to his death on the cross, and glorious resurrection. And I know in turn, that Jesus journeys with me through all of the ups and downs of life and embraces all of our days.
This week, I’m also pleased that excerpts from Christ Is for Us appear as devotionals on the Christianity Today website under the title, “Amazing Love: Meditations on the Suffering and Death of Jesus.” Each week the CT Women devotional series highlights writing by Christian women, and I’m honoured to take part. Here’s the opening for the Monday devotional:
“Passion” conveys a strong emotion, a powerful feeling for something that leads to action. A teacher with a passion for his students spends long hours preparing lesson plans, pays for supplies out of his own salary, and because some of the children regularly come to school hungry, he makes sure he has food available for them every day. An artist passionate about art and community-building organizes joint art projects that bring together women on the street, the university women’s club, and other women in the community.
In his earthly life, Jesus had such passion for God that he gave his life to preaching, teaching, and healing, which eventually led to his arrest, suffering, and death. That’s one way of understanding Jesus’ passion—as a powerful, God-given inner drive that compelled him to action and caused his opponents to have him executed.
Read the rest of this devotional and see the entire CT Women series for Holy Week here: Amazing Love: Meditations on the Suffering and Death of Jesus.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: Does your church tend to emphasize Palm Sunday, Passion Sunday, or both equally? Which emphasis tends to draw you more, and why?
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