From One Celebration to Another…

A Homily for Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday, Year B

Sunday, March 25, 2018
Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

Lectionary Readings


Passing from one celebration to another,
from palms and branches let us now make haste, O faithful,
to the solemn and saving celebration of Christ’s Passion.

These are the opening lyrics of a hymn from Palm Sunday vespers in the Byzantine Orthodox rite. I first heard them as part of a choir anthem, Motet for Passion Sunday, by composer Frank Ferko.  The refrain of this chant has echoed in my mind every time we step into this Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday narrative. It’s a jarring day: we gather and raise our loud, “Hosanna!” and within a few minutes, we are turned on our heads, immersed in the narrative of Jesus’ final days of relationship, betrayal, unjust trial, humiliation, torture and death. So it would seem, we pass in a heartbeat from one seemingly triumphant celebration to another kind of celebration entirely.

As many of you know, it has been my Lenten intention to raise my voice in prayerful song every day. Some days, that has taken the form of chanting morning prayer. Other days, I chant the psalms or sing a canticle whether ancient or modern. This practice has opened me up to a daily experience of my human voice as an instrument and vessel for prayer. Some days I have brought my sorrows, and other days my joys. A few times this Lenten season, life has turned on a dime for me, or for those I love. Like the jarring juxtaposition between the liturgy of the palms and the reading of the passion narrative, we bear the changing emotions of our own lives. How surreal and life-altering those unfolding days must have been to Jesus’ family, friends and followers. I wonder what it was like as they sang a hymn together after they broke bread at what we now call the Last Supper. Throughout the ages, our embodied human emotion pours out to God through word and song. Is it any wonder that Jesus’ words from the cross express lamentations of the Psalms, or that his path of suffering love embodies the experience of exile we hear in Isaiah’s Song of the Suffering Servant? We might not immediately think of St. Paul as a choral musician, but in today’s Epistle reading, he chooses the words of a hymn to profoundly convey Christ’s humility and divinity.

What songs are your carrying in your own soul as we enter this holy week?

Passing from one celebration to another,
from palms and branches let us now make haste, oh faithful,
to the solemn and saving celebration of Christ’s Passion.
Let us see him undergo voluntary suffering for our sake,
and let us sing to him with thankfulness a fitting hymn.

On this Palm Sunday, we are invited to accompany Jesus on a journey that we instinctively do not want to travel. We yearn for the loud chorus of “Hosanna” to become “Alleluia!” again. But there is still a road that needs to be travelled, and it isn’t a superficial one where the crowds will carry us along in hopes of catching a glimpse at a larger-than-life messianic superstar. This is a narrower path that will make us confront our fears, that will rend our hearts, that will change our song from one of naive and self-serving expectation, to one of soul-wrenching injustice overcome and transformed by unbounded love. We are, indeed, passing from one celebration to another. The first, triumphant entry requires very little of us. The second walk to the cross requires us to risk our human comfort as we walk together into God’s vision of divine mercy and grace. That transforming love wasn’t free, painless, or socially supported. It was costly, excruciating, and solitary. It was, and is, the gift to surpass all gifts.

Today we find ourselves just a heartbeat away from heartache. We know how much harder it is to be a part of this second crowd, watching as Jesus walks this path that we know is a soul-wrenching injustice. But we aren’t alone in this crowd, and we know through the assurance of our faith that the cross is not the end of that road. This second celebration…the solemn and saving celebration of Christ’s passion…reminds us of the liberating and transformative nature of divine mercy and grace which accompany us on every step of this journey. And that love and grace is not just for us. It is for the world. Every single injustice that we encounter; every single person we meet on this collective journey of life who is broken, tormented, struggling, aching, or exhausted beneath the weight of the world is also carried on the hard wood of the cross which is born by Jesus Christ. We are invited to share our songs together, to raise our voices with those who have been enslaved, tormented, oppressed, and wearied by the changes and changes of this life. We choose to walk this way of Christ crucified having been given the gift of knowledge that the cross was not the end, but in fact, the very beginning. Our participation is invited not so that we are pained, but that so our pain can be borne by the One who loves us more than life itself. Our voices join together not just to share our sorrows, but so that our sorrow can be transformed into the joy of resurrection, raised from death to new and unending life in Christ.

What songs will we sing this Holy Week?

Passing from one celebration to another,
from palms and branches let us now make haste, O faithful,
to the solemn and saving celebration of Christ’s Passion.
Let us see Him undergo voluntary suffering for our sake,
and let us sing to Him with thankfulness a fitting hymn:
Fountain of tender mercy and haven of salvation:
O Lord, glory to You!
(Motet for Passion Sunday, composed by Frank Ferko)



About harasprice

Professor of Social Work and Priest in The Episcopal Church, parent, teacher, learner, writer, advocate, and grateful traveller along this journey through life
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