BETWEEN HOSANNA AND HALLELUJAH
An excerpt from the Companion to the Book of Common Worship (Geneva Press, 2003, 111-113)
The question is frequently asked, Why combine the passion and the palms?
First, it is in accord with historical tradition. Since at least the fourth century, the focus on the first day of Holy Week, or Great Week, has been the passion of Christ. After a palm processional, a Gospel passion narrative has been read. Western churches have kept the first day of Holy Week by concentrating on both the glory and the passion of Christ, recalling both the passion and the palms. …
Pastoral values result from combining the passion and the palms. Many people simply do not attend worship on Good Friday. The result is that, for them, there is a distortion in the story. A story that skips from Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead evades the question, What happened in between? If we leap from Palm Sunday’s “Hosannas” to Easter Day’s “Hallelujahs” we overlook the pivotal event of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. The journey to Jerusalem has the cross as its goal, and the cross needs to be kept in sight even during the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Where the long tradition of reading the whole passion narrative on Passion/Palm Sunday is appropriated, congregations have found the value of hearing the entire passion story. …
The most important reason for combining the passion and the psalms is the relationship between the death and the resurrection of Jesus. To understand the resurrection, we must contemplate the passion of Jesus. Long, careful meditation upon the mystery of the cross must precede the glorious message of Easter.
On the one hand, an oversimplified theology of glory can undervalue death by implying that it is merely a stepping-stone on the path to resurrection. Therefore, in order to experience resurrection, one simply dies, and on dying will automatically ascend from the grave to glory. On the other hand, an oversimplified theology of the cross can overvalue death as a “work,” by implying that resurrection is merely a consequence of the passion; therefore, if one suffers and dies for the faith, one will have earned resurrection. Instead, the cross and resurrection must be held together theologically. The extent to which we understand the resurrection of Jesus will be determined by our understanding of his passion.
Thus, the palm procession with ringing Hosannas symbolically foreshadows the Hallelujahs of God’s promised future when the risen Jesus will lead his people into a new Jerusalem. Interwoven with such liturgical experiences are the stories of the passion of Christ. Thus, the eight-day week from Passion/Palm Sunday to Easter Day is framed by resurrection and death on one side, and death and resurrection on the other.
The need to affirm, as Holy Week begins, the inseparable relationship between the death and the resurrection of Jesus is precisely the reason the passion of Christ and the palms are linked together as Passion/Palm Sunday.