During the coming days of Holy Week, we use the words of the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) sung at the Easter Vigil to explore the meaning of the days which precede. (You can find the words to the Exsulet below). First up, is Palm Sunday.
Positions of celebrity and fame can be fragile. Certain newspapers and magazines are all too quick to catch someone out. The paparazzi swoop in, invading people’s privacy, claiming their story is in the pubic interest. Their claims are clarified by those who dip into their pockets to pay for a copy of the latest headlines, revelling in the downfall of a pop star or politician or who ever it may be. How quickly a situation can change.
And so too for Jesus. Yes, he has made his enemies, and there are many who have already plotted his downfall, planned his death. But for now, on that first Palm Sunday, Jesus is hailed as a King. The crowd sings ‘Hosanna!’
A deadly downfall
They strip trees of branches and remove the cloaks off their back to create a royal road for Jesus. A few days later, and the cheering of the crowds has turned deathly, as they cry, Crucify him! Crucify him!” This is his downfall.
Or so they think. Whilst Jesus enters Jerusalem, he is also entering the reality of his suffering and death. The difficulty of embracing his call, the cost of love, will be played out in Gethsemane, as he prays that the cup of suffering may pass from him, and yet still he seeks the Father’s will.
A song of victory
The Easter Proclamation of the Vigil is a victorious song of Christ’s powerful love. “Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven, exult, let Angel ministers of God exult, let the trumpet of salvation sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph!” Yes, the Church rejoices, joining the song of heaven. Christ was hailed as King on Palm Sunday, and yet on Easter Sunday, the Day of Resurrection, we celebrate what it means for Christ to be our triumphant King.
The dead will rise
It’s a popular tradition on Palm Sunday to visit the graves of loved ones, to clean and clear the gravestones, and decorate them with flowers (there are some resources below). It is a sign and symbol of anticipating the glory of resurrection. As St Paul wrote (1 Thessalonians 4:18) “For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”
This article features in our Holy Week booklet “This is the Night: at home with Holy Week” which was distributed with our Lenten resource box, ‘for the journey.’
Sul y blodau
‘Sunday of the Flowers’
The Palm Sunday Procession has, through the centuries, taken different forms in different countries. In Medieval times, the procession came to a halt at the Church door. While the clergy sang hymns and antiphons, the congregation dispersed among the tombs, each family kneeling at the grave of relatives. The celebrant sprinkled holy water over the graveyard, and then the procession formed again and entered the church.
In France and the UK, the custom of decorating graves and visiting the cemeteries on Palm Sunday is still retained, in preparation for Easter. Graves are often cleaned and weeded and decked with flowers and garlands: rosemary, rue, crocuses, daffodils and primroses.
It is a custom in some countries to bless not only Palm branches but also various flowers of the season, hence the name “Flower Sunday” in many countries — ‘Flowering Sunday’ or ‘Blossom Sunday” in England, ‘Blumensonntag’ in Germany, ‘Pâsques Fleuris’ in France, ‘Pascua Florida’ in Spain, ‘Virágvasárnap’ in Hungary, ‘Cvetna’ among the Slavic nations, ‘Zaghkasart’ in Armenia, and ‘Sul y Blodau’ (‘Sunday of the Flowers’) in many parts of Wales.
The custom is a strong symbol of our belief in the resurrection of the dead.
Prayers at the Graveside
These prayers are offered for people to say at the graveside when visiting on Palm Sunday
Praise be to God our Father, who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Blessed be God for ever.
A reading from the first letter of St Paul to the Thessalonians (4:13-18)
We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep. Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, console one another with these words.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray as Jesus taught us: Our Father…
Loving Father, we rejoice in this springtime of your love, when Jesus the Lord submitted humbly to death, even death on a cross. His rest in the grave has hallowed the graves of all who have believe in you. His resurrection from the dead has brightened our hearts with the hope of everlasting life. As we bring colour to the graves of our departed loved ones with flowers (and palm leaves) may our faith flourish, and our hearts grow in your love so that we come at last to the glory of heaven, the new and eternal Jerusalem, where there is no sorrow or sighing only life everlasting. Amen.
May God in his infinite love and mercy bring the whole Church, living and departed in the Lord Jesus, to a joyful resurrection and the fulfilment of his eternal kingdom; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Almighty Saviour, those who have died in faith have eternal joy in your presence. For us who remain, be with us in our sadness and turn our eyes to you. By your death once and for all upon the cross, raise us to new life, give us victory over death and confidence to look forward to your coming, for you are alive reign for ever and ever. Amen.
Eternal rest, grant unto him/her, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him/her. May his/her soul and the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be among us and remain with us always. Amen.