Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Palm Sunday 2011

From the Palm Sunday bulletinPalm Sunday at St. Paul’s was a bit different this year, primarily in the handling of the Passion reading. Usually this is done with a cast of adult readers using the pulpit microphone and several microphones on stands near the freestanding altar. This year, the 10:30 service (moved to 10:45 for Palm Sunday) used youth readers, with Steve Hill acting as narrator from the pulpit.

Steve did a fine job, and the other readers were certainly adequate. There was a problem with the microphones, however. Either because the microphones were insufficiently amplified or because the readers were too far away from them, they were not very effective. Certainly, I missed a good deal of the reading from my vantage point in the choir.

More significant was the fact that, for the first time that I can remember in an Episcopal church, the congregation was not provided with printed copy of the Passion narrative. As a result, the congregation did not participate in the reading by playing the part of the crowd. Actually, I have certain qualms about using the whole Passion reading on Palm Sunday—see my essay “The Big Mistake”—but, whenever the Passion story is read during Holy Week, I do think it important that the congregation play its part. For all too long, the Church blamed the Jews for their part in the execution of Jesus. When one is part of a crowd shouting “Crucify him!” however, it is hard to avoid the feeling that each of us is sinful and plays a role in sending Jesus to Golgotha.

It is becoming a tradition at St. Paul’s to have a recession, sans choir, to Purcell’s march, from his “Funeral Music for Queen Mary,” played on organ and drum at the end of the Palm Sunday service. The first time I experienced this, I was practically in tears. This year, Tommy Starr, who is becoming a handsome young man, did a fine job on the drum as his father played the organ. That said, such a somber conclusion to Palm Sunday does seem to be rushing the Holy Week drama. We should be allowed a little joy between Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday, when the story turns ugly.

At the risk of being picky—a risk I take rather often—the Palm Sunday bulletin contained a calendar of upcoming services. The Easter Vigil was listed under the heading “Holy Saturday.” This was a serious and misleading mistake. The Great Vigil of Easter is the first service of Easter. Recall that Jews began their day at sunset, so our Saturday evening service is, liturgically speaking, a Sunday service. The prayer book offers only a one-page service—an outline of a service, really, for Holy Saturday. That outline, on page 283, begins with this rubric: There is no celebration of the Eucharist on this day.

The prayer book instructions for the Easter Vigil (page 284) begin as follows:
The Great Vigil. when observed, is the first service of Easter Day. It is celebrated at a convenient time between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Morning.
The bulletin listing was misleading in suggesting that a person who has attended the Easter Vigil has not attended an Easter service. Not true. You can still be a diligent Christian if you attend the Great Vigil of Easter and sleep in Sunday morning.

Update, 1:50 PM: See the post “Palm Sunday 2011, Again” for more discussion about the Passion reading.

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