Palm Sunday: A Collect Reflection
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Note: To give everyone time to prepare for Holy Week, we’ll be releasing the Holy Week Collect Reflections a bit early! Here’s my Collect Reflection for Palm Sunday.
The Collect for Palm Sunday
Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon himself our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Palm Sunday is an extremely significant liturgical moment within the Church year. The majority of Lent is behind us, and as we look ahead to Holy Week, a transformation takes place.
On Palm Sunday, the cries of “Hosanna!” are still ringing in our ears from the Procession of the Palms (see Matt. 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-40) as we hear the bloodthirsty shout: “Crucify him!” in our Gospel Lesson (Matt. 27:1-54; Mark 15:1-39; Luke 23:1-49).
“God, save us!” (the meaning of “Hosanna”) becomes “God, damn him!”
“May Christ be blessed!” becomes “May Christ be cursed!,” for “cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Gal. 3:13; Deut. 21:23).
The excited waving of supple palm branches becomes the bloodstained wood of a Roman cross.
A painful transition? Certainly. A necessary reflection? Even more so!
This poignant combination of triumphal entry and crucifixion prepares us to live the Holy Week ahead, and the entirety of our lives, in the shadow of Christ’s cross.
German theologian Jurgen Moltmann puts it well: “At the centre of Christian faith is the history of Christ. At the centre of the history of Christ is his passion and his death on the cross” (The Way of Jesus Christ, 151).
There’s no escaping it! You can have moralism or religiosity without a cross, but you cannot have a cross-less Christianity.
“Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon himself our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility:”
As Christians, we follow a CRUCIFIED-and-Risen Messiah.
This is not to deny the oft-neglected significance of the Resurrection, but it is a reminder that the empty tomb only has salvific significance to the extent that from it a once-DEAD man emerged!
There’s no escaping it. And as we prepare for Easter, we do well to remember that our celebrations of the Resurrection will only be as rich as our reflections upon the Cross.
(Note: to read more along these lines, see my Palm Sunday sermon manuscript: “Following the Cross-Shaped God”)
As our Collect reminds us, the Cross reminds us of the following:
- God loves us, tenderly.
- God’s love for us motivated him to become one of us at the Incarnation.
- God’s love for us motivated him to die for us at the Crucifixion.
Furthermore, at the Cross Jesus Christ gives us the example of his great humility.
Consider the words of St. Paul in Philippians 2:1-11. Paul begins with Christian humility in verses 1-4:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Christian humility rests upon the humility of Jesus Christ, as demonstrated in the Incarnation and Crucifixion. Verses 5-8 read:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Of course, that’s not the end of the passage, however! Verses 9-11 read:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
“Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection”
If Christian humility is only possible through the humility and humiliation of Jesus Christ, so too Christian resurrection and exaltation are only possible through the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ.
There is no resurrection, there is no exaltation, without the humiliation of the Crucifixion. No Easter without Good Friday.
That is why we pray in the Collect that we might be mercifully (!) enabled to walk in the way of Christ’s suffering. It is so that we might also be mercifully enabled to share in the resurrection.
How are you called to walk in the way of Christ’s suffering this Holy Week?
Let’s consider this question as we work our way through the upcoming Holy Week. How and where is God calling us to die to ourselves and suffer for his glory?
Want to read more about Palm Sunday?
Read “What They Are Saying About Palm Sunday,” a collection of Palm Sunday quotations put together by David Roseberry.
Want to read more about Holy Week?
Check out the Rookie Anglican Guide to Holy Week!
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