In the church I grew up in on the West Side of Chicago, a church that worshipped about twelve hundred people on a Sunday in the mid-summer, Palm Sunday marked the ramping up to very busy week. There were twenty-four services beginning at seven in the morning of Palm Sunday and ending at one in the afternoon on Easter with six on that day alone. In my junior high days and through high school, I worked regularly at the church but for me Holy Week held a different feeling as it approached; one of anticipation, exhilaration and dread. There were bulletin papers to be printed, folded and set out for the proper day. Paraments were changed over the week and the church had this weird notion that the pews needed to be dusted before each service. I had the notion that with this frequency that the crowd could do just as good a job by their very presence. I was out voted by both the pastor and the alter guild.
Given all of that, my Lenten experience took a sharp turn at Palm Sunday and even today the day holds a place of change.
Palm Sunday begins the shift during the Lenten season to the final week with Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. It can also be a shift in our thinking during this forty-day trek in the church calendar.
Lent has a history back to the fourth Century and has seemingly as many differences as it has similarities. Various Christian denominations have ways of counting the forty days that may actually add up to forty-six for example. What do with Sundays? What do we do with Shrovetide, the period leading up to the beginning of Lent? And then there is that ever troublesome Maundy Thursday; is it part of Lent or the Easter season? How then does it fit in the count? When the Eastern Church is added to the mix, then the debate ensues as to when to even start counting. But we do take the time each year before Easter as a distinct time of reflection and many traditional observances.
I want to consider a change of Lenten thinking on this Palm Sunday. I’ll leave it to the people who will step into the pulpit to mark this day as they see fit. For me, I would like to consider another way of looking at this beginning of Holy Week. It is a transition out of a period of observance that does not have much of a systematic story, no chronology, no set calendar of events, just a time of reflective observance and whatever other pieces your particular faith tradition puts into it that you have adhered to. It is a transition into a week of very set events and Biblical citations that recount the story.
Many years ago I found a small book called The Last Week by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. It is their take on what we now call Holy Week and what the Gospel of Mark tells of those days. It is the only Gospel that seems to render a day to day account of events. The authors, Borg and Crossan, do not offer a comprehensive historical account but rather hold up the events recorded in the Gospel with the “Jewish high-priestly collaboration with the Roman imperial control.”
Although the three-year lectionary is not focused on the Gospel of Mark for this year, I wish to take the events noted in the book and turn it into an outline that you may want to follow over the next days in our final week of this Lenten walk of 2021. The citations noted are the beginning points for the various accounts.
Sunday: “When they were approaching Jerusalem” (Mk 11:1)
Monday: “On the following day” (Mk 11:12)
Tuesday: “In the morning” (Mk 11: 20)
Wednesday: “I was two days before the Passover” (Mk 14:1)
Thursday: “On the first day of Unleavened Bread (Mk 14: 12)
Mark goes on to spell out the events in what appears to be the three hour Roman watch schedule as he tells of the event of what we now call Good Friday.
Friday: “As soon as it was morning” (Mk 15:1)
Saturday: “The Sabbath” (15:41: 16:1)
Although the authors spill into Easter Sunday I will end the outline here and reserve our thinking only to this Holy Week. Take what Lenten traditions you have and continue those over the next days but consider this outline for a road map through the coming week.
Lord God, help us to be vigilant in the next days and let us see your steadfast love in telling of these events and your activity in our lives this next week. Amen.