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The Beginning of Holy Week


Most merciful God, as the people of Jerusalem, with palms in their hands gathered to greet Your dearly beloved Son when He came into His Holy City, grant that we may ever hail Him as our King and, when He comes again, may go forth to meet Him with trusting and steadfast hearts and follow Him in the way that leads to eternal life through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.



An Overview

Last Sunday we began "Passiontide," now we are in the throws of this short, yet seemingly endless two-week season in the Church Year. The shape of the liturgy is unlike any other, and it may well be the longest Sunday Liturgy of the Church Year.

We begin outside of Church with Palm Branches, singing "Hosanna!" to the Son of David, and remembering our Lord's Entry into Jerusalem to be crucified. Such a procession was typical in Christian history, as you can see from the statue on the left, which was used by our ancestors in Germany a hundred years or so before the Reformation took hold. 

Much like our Lord's entry, our entrance into the Church takes a sudden turn as soon as the chants of "Hosanna!" are ended. Following the more-or-less "normal" Liturgy of the Word, we hear the entire passion according to Saint Matthew.

If you think of the Church Year as a sort of play or TV drama unfolding, it is curious that we know "the end" of Holy Week at the beginning of Holy Week. We learn that Jesus does not escape the crowds or the government and ends up dying. We hear this again on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. But throughout the week we hear this, knowing the end.

Take this time to meditate on the Cross and Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do not shy away from the gorey images or thoughts that accompany the words of Scripture that describe how God died for you.


Artwork: Palmesel. German, 15th century.  On view at The Met Cloisters in Gallery 20. The German word Palmesel (palm donkey) refers to the statue of Jesus on a donkey, mounted on a wheeled platform, which was part of Palm Sunday processions in many German-speaking regions until the Reformation. These processions, which reenacted Christ’s entry into Jerusalem mounted on a donkey, were lively pageants in which hymns were sung, palms strewn, and clothes spread on the ground before the Palmesel. The figure of Jesus retains, in contrast, an air of quiet majesty.

The donkey’s hooves and the fingers on Christ’s proper right hand are restored; the platform and wheels are modern.


The Old Testament

Zechariah 9:9-12

  • The imagery here applies to all believers: We are all "daughters" of Zion, because we have all been born of God the Father through our Mother the Church in the womb of Holy Baptism.

  • Not only does this prophesy picture Christ riding on a donkey five hundred years later, but more importantly "The King" is pictured not as a victorious warrior, but as a humble man.

  • This prophecy also pictures the mission to the Gentiles: the rule of the King will stretch to the ends of the earth, the prisoners will be set free, and the blood of the covenant will cover all.

Translation Notes

  • Verse 10: Curiously all ancient manuscripts read simply "horse of Jerusalem." While the sense of "a war horse" is implicit, it wasn't included in English translations until the 1940s.

  • Verse 10: Nations; literally "goyim" or Gentiles. This King speaks a word of peace to Non-Israelites.

  • Verse 12: It is intentionally vague how to read the relationship here. That is, they could be "Those who are imprisoned by hope," or "Those who are imprisoned and have hope," or "Those who have been imprisoned because of hope."

The Epistle

Philippians 2:5-11

  • Note the way Paul parallels the things of Christ with the things of believers: Mind (verse 5); birth (verse 7); Death (verse 8); Exaltation (verse 9).

  • Though we'll never have the answer to all our "why" questions, we are given some here - God exalted Jesus so that every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father. That is to say, the point of Christ's exaltation, and even His death, was to bring Glory to God's Name.

Translation Notes

  • Verse 7: servant; Greek δουλος (doo-los), literally "slave."

  • Verses 7&8: "Form" is the Greek μορφη (mor-phay) the root of words like "metamorphosis" or "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers). Though in verse 8, the word rendered as "Form" is the Greek σχηματι (schay-ma-ti)which is more like "fashion" or "outward appearance." This word only occurs one other time in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 7:31.

The Holy Gospel

Matthew 21:1-10

  • Matthew makes it clear that Jesus was invoking Zechariah's prophecy.

  • Fun Aside: I was taught in college (University of Wyoming) that there was no way this could be historically true because Matthew says there are two donkeys and that Jesus sat on "them" instead of "her." This is just silly, and a bizarrely literal way of reading the passage.  

  • "Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" isn't it beautiful that the Church has captured these words and put them in the lips of those who are awaiting Christ to "enter in" during the liturgy of the Lord's Supper?

Translation Notes

  • "Hosanna" is a Hebrew word that means "Save!" It shares the same root with the name "Jesus" which means YAHWEH saves.

Saint Matthew's Passion

Matthew 26:1-27:66

A few thoughts on what makes Matthew's passion unique from the other three accounts

  • 26:51 - this detail is expanded in John's Gospel (18:10-11), though Matthew includes a strong rebuke from Jesus in verses 52-54

  • 26:63-65 - Jesus answers "You have said so," and the high priest tears his robes. Compare this with Mark's Passion when Jesus puts the words in His own mouth (Mark 14:62)

  • 27:51 the Death of Jesus (Complete Atonement) causes the curtain in the temple (Place of Atonement) to tear in half

  • 27:52-53 - The Death of Jesus causes death to vomit up the saints of old 

  • 27:54 the Centurion says "Truly this was God's Son" when he sees the way that nature revolts at the death of its creator.

  • 27:62-66 - Matthew includes the most detail about why the tomb had to be secured and watched by a guard, introducing a conspiracy theory among the Jews who denied Jesus.

Poetry Used in the Liturgy of Palmarum

  • Psalm 22- This is the Psalm prayed by Jesus as He suffered on the Cross. The Church hears it in full on Maundy Thursday.

  • Psalm 73- Though we'll only sing a portion of it, Psalm 73 should be read in its entirety in preparation for Palm Sunday. The way it speaks about personal woes and prays against arrogance is beautifully worded by Asaph

Artwork: Christ's Entry into Jerusalem, Jan Goeree. Dutch, 17th century. Jan Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Further Reading & Listening


Artwork: Christ and the two thieves crucified, After a model by Michelangelo Buonarroti Italian. Italian, ca. 1560–70. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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