Palms & Passion: The Overture

April 13, 2014

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

Palm Sunday – The Passion of Christ (Year A)

Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:36-27:66

We’ve finally arrived at Palm Sunday, also called Passion Sunday. While using the word “Passion” may seem unusual, the Latin root of this word is passio, which means “suffering.”

Palm Sunday is a sensory overload. When I attended Emmaus House Chapel, Claiborne Jones, the vicar, would say “It’s the day of the church year when we do everything that we don’t do any other time.” And there is some truth to that.

And you have to admit, the Passion story makes a powerful centerpiece. The dramatic reading of the Passion of Christ brings it more fully to life. Yet, as we heard it today, just now, we must understand its purpose on this day – which is to provide an Overture, if you will, for Holy Week.



The Overture is that musical score at the very beginning of a musical, before the curtain goes up or during the opening credits, that weaves together small portions of various songs that will be part of the overall story.

For those who have seen the musical before, when they hear the Overture it brings to mind the context of each of the songs, drawing the audience in, heightening their anticipation of what is to follow. But, it doesn’t capture the whole story – you still have to watch the scenes that follow to get the full experience.

Similarly, the Passion story of Palm Sunday is like an Overture. It’s an overview of the story – the story that we will be participating in more fully throughout Holy Week.

For much of Christian history Holy Week was a time when people went to church every day of the week. In more recent times, there would be more active participation at least during the Triduum – which are the three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Yet even participation in these three days occurs less and less often, crowded out by busy schedules.

Consequently, Passion Sunday becomes a sort of substitute for Holy Week. It’s a shame really. It’s like listening to the Overture of a musical and then leaving the theater – you miss so much.

So, today, I invite you to enter fully into Holy Week, particularly, the Triduum. It provides an opportunity to experience the Passion of Christ more fully, and in so doing, to prepare more completely for the miracle of the resurrection.

For those unfamiliar with the Triduum – it is one liturgy celebrated over three days. There is, intentionally, no Dismissal between these services. So, although we go home and sleep and work in between, it is one liturgical movement, if you will – a story filled with ritual and music that relives the Suffering of Christ.

It begins on Thursday evening when we will hear about Jesus’ act of servant-hood by washing the feet of his disciples. We will follow that example, bending down on our own knees, holding the feet of another in our hands, gently pouring water on them, cleaning and wiping them dry with a towel.

A short time later, the same evening, we’ll join together around the Holy Table, sharing the bread and cup as an act of remembrance of the Last Supper.

We’ll then see all evidence of Jesus removed from the Nave, beginning with the consecrated bread and wine saved for use on Good Friday. All candles will be extinguished. The altar will be stripped bare and washed clean.  The evening ends in silence and darkness, with no trace of Jesus left behind – he has been taken for crucifixion.

The Night Watch provides a time of prayer, and when you are there in the wee hours of the morning and catch yourself nodding off momentarily, the disciples’ own sleepiness becomes more understandable; more real.

On Friday we remember the time Jesus spent on the cross. From noon to 3:00 the doors of the church will be open to any who would like to come for prayer and personal reflection. Clergy will be available in the Nave for healing prayer or to provide the rite of Reconciliation. At 2:00 we will walk the Stations of the Cross, physically stepping through the Passion story until Jesus’ lifeless body is laid in the tomb.


That evening the Triduum picks up where it left off on Thursday, with the Liturgy of Good Friday. Here, we will come face to face with the hardwood of the cross, and chimes will toll as we remember the crucifixion, death and tomb-laying of that day long ago, yet still here.

601510_10200227979814921_1456534112_nAs we wake on Saturday morning, we experience a time of mourning and quiet. I often spend time that day trying to imagine what the disciples must have felt: abandoned, confused, alone.

Then, Saturday evening, just before sunset, we gather for the last stage of the Triduum. It begins with a bonfire, warm and energizing. From this fire the Paschal Candle is set ablaze, reigniting the presence of Christ. Then, one by one, we each light our own candle from this Pascal flame, and take our place in the Body of Christ.


We are gathered together to hear the stories of our Christian heritage told in dramatic fashion this year by the Christ Church Players. Each story will be accented with Psalms and songs offered by our Choir. All this leads to the sacrament of Baptism when we, like Christians of earliest times, welcome new members into the Body of Christ.

The darkness of sunset, the glowing of candles, the telling of stories, the tradition of chant, and anticipation of Baptism – all these bring us to the full remembrance of who we are as part of the Holy Communion of ALL people – past, present and future.

So, with today serving as the Overture, I invite you into the full experience of this, the Holiest of Weeks. Because, without walking through this darkness, how can we fully appreciate the miracle and glory of LIGHT? Without experiencing the pain and suffering of Jesus’ death, how can we fully rejoice in the power of the Resurrection of Christ?


2 Responses to “Palms & Passion: The Overture”

  1. Kaye Estes Loudermilk said

    Jody – I so enjoy your messages. They are a much needed impetus to deeper thought and reflection that I need on my spiritual journey right now. Thank you- and I wish I lived in Atlanta. (I’m still in Houston, where we went to high school together) – Kaye Estes Loudermilk

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