Palm Sunday (04/01/12)

The Origins of Palm Sunday

The Sunday immediately before Easter is commonly called Palm Sunday, deriving its name from the procession often held on this day.  Our earliest records which describe the tradition of processing with palm branches on this day (along with a number of other Holy Week traditions), indicate that this practice began in the church of Jerusalem in the 4th century. 

It was the custom for the bishop of Jerusalem to gather with the Christians of the city upon the Mount of Olives and, the bishop sitting upon a donkey, they would process with him into the city.  As they made their way they sang and waved palm branches, thus reenacting Jesus’ Triumphal Entry.

Eventually the idea of processing with palms spread to many other places (it was customary in Rome by the 6th century).  Following the Emperor Constantine’s embrace of Christianity many of the holy sites in and around Jerusalem became popular destinations for pilgrims.  After visiting the holy city and seeing the various ceremonies which were used to commemorate and honor major moments in Jesus’ life, the pilgrims returned to their home churches, bringing their new found traditions with them. 

Palm Sunday at St. Mark’s

This year we are fortunate to have Bishop Hicks (our Diocesan bishop) with us on Palm Sunday, though I’ve not yet been able to convince to process astride a donkey.

We will, however, begin our service with the Blessing of the Palms, followed by a Festal Procession (with palms) around our property – as we sing the traditional Palm Sunday hymn “All Glory, Laud and Honor.”  


"Women's Day"

On May 4, 2012 (10:30 am) - St. Mark's will play host to the annual Reformed Episcopal Church women's conference.  This year the conference will be led by Jolie Grout and is entitled "The God for all Seasons: The Gospel Through the Church Year."  For more information please click here.


Passion Sunday(03/15/12)

This coming Sunday (March 25th) is Passion Sunday (the 5th Sunday in Lent) and it begins the final 2 weeks before Easter.  Passion Sunday is so named because it is upon this day that we begin to read texts in which the death and passion of Jesus are explicitly mentioned. 

The Lessons for Passion Sunday are: Hebrews 9:11-15 and St. John 8:46-59.  In the Gospel we learn that Jesus is “I AM” (the manner in which Yahweh reveals Himself to Moses and to the people of Israel).  The people’s response to Jesus’ disclosure as to His identity is telling: they take up stones to cast at Him.  Sinful humanity is rejecting He who came to be their Savior.  As John tells us earlier in his gospel: “He (Jesus) came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11).  It is a great and tragic irony that as Jesus becomes more and more explicit about who He is and what He has come to do (God in the flesh who has come to make atonement for the world by means of His own death) – the people become more and more hardened against Him, which culminates in His crucifixion.

But lest we think that Jesus goes to the Cross simply owing to the wicked devices of evil men – be careful to recall that what happens to Jesus happens because of Jesus’ love for us.  He is a willing sacrifice, giving Himself on behalf of the world (a second and greater Isaac, who like young Isaac takes up the Wood by which He will be killed and willingly entrusts Himself to the will of the Father).

The events of Jesus’ death and passion are the culmination of God’s plan, a plan laid before the foundations of the world.  St. Peter will remind us of this later, in his preaching: “Jesus (was) delivered up (to death) according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).

And so, today – Passion Sunday – we turn our attention to Jesus’ suffering and death upon the Cross.  As these final days progress, our focus will intensify.  A week from today is Palm Sunday – where Jesus willingly enters into Jerusalem, knowing that doing so is a decisive decision to continue to move toward the Cross.  Then on Maundy Thursday Jesus institutes the Eucharist – a sharing in His body and blood in way only possible because He will give His body over to death for us.  On Good Friday we observe His scourging, crucifixion and death.  On Holy Saturday we wait with Him in the desolation of that day, when His body was in the grave and when He descended to and harrowed Hell.  All of this leads to the joy of Easter – the celebration of His bodily resurrection, the “death of death in the death of Christ” and our hope for life everlasting through Him.

At other times of the year we hear about what Jesus did first and then on subsequent Sundays we read texts that explain the significance of the events, as at Christmas when we read of Jesus’ nativity and only then, in the following Sundays, are lead to consider the meaning and significance of the Incarnation in some depth.

But that order is reversed here as we approach Easter.  Today we read not a description of Jesus’ passion, rather we are lead to consider the meaning of it.  Why did Jesus suffer and die?  The Epistle is especially relevant in answering this question.

We are given a clue by means of the comparison drawn between the old sacrificial system and Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself for us.

God spoke to Moses and gave Him very specific instructions as to how the people were to worship Him – the very structure, the physical design and building of the tabernacle (for instance) was spelled out in great detail.  God does not leave it to us to figure out for ourselves how to worship Him – He tells us what He requires.  This is true today, even as it was true then.

It is a great gift that God tells us how to worship – and it was a great gift that God ordained that once a year the High Priest was permitted to go past the great curtain and into the innermost sanctum – the Holy of Holies – where God Himself was pleased to dwell by means of a mysterious and terrible spiritual presence.  That was a gift for which we must be thankful, but notice also the negative side of this pattern of just one man, just once a year – in only one place upon the entire earth.

The negative side of the gift is that access to the presence of God was restricted – there was not yet freedom of access for all.

But Jesus is the great High Priest who makes a sacrifice better than that of bulls and goats – His own sinless body.  He offers Himself and the Father accepts the sacrifice – Jesus atones by His own death for the sins of the world – and the curtain (that great and massively thick curtain) which hung before the separating the world from God is torn – symbolizing that through the Lamb of God, we have access to God.

It is not an access on your own – it is access through the Son.  We approach the Father only through the Son – never alone.  Mediation – that is the need for someone to advocate for us – is not done away with.  We still have need of a mediator – we still have need of one to usher us into the presence, only now that Mediator is not simply another man but it is God in the flesh: it is the God-man, the Lord Jesus.  In Christ and through Christ and by the merits of Christ and because of the works of Christ we come to the Father.  Thanks be to God.  Thanks be to God that, as the writer to the Hebrews says: “ . . . he (Jesus) is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant” (Heb 9.15).


The Stations of the Cross

For centuries Christians have gone on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to visit the holy places where Jesus lived and died and rose again, to trace the last steps of Jesus as he was led to the cross and tomb, where He fulfilled and accomplished the will of God for our salvation.  This ìway of the crossî Christian pilgrims brought home from the Holy Land, and in the version we use there are fourteen ìstationsî (stopping places) along the way of the cross, at each of which we remember with gratitude what Jesus did and suffered for our salvation, and we pray for repentance, faith, and love toward God. 

Click here to read the Stations as they are said at St. Marks.


About Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, a forty day period especially set aside for careful personal reflection, confession and repentance.  It is a season in which we remember the passion of Christ (His sufferings) and meditate upon the oft ignored reality of our own mortality.  It is a time of self denial and of self examination, a time to seek to understand (and enter into) the sufferings of our Lord in a deeper manner.  Lent is a time to slow down and consider with focused attention those things which we tend to conveniently ignore.  It is a season in which we look to this life as a means of further preparing for the life to come.  With Ash Wednesday we begin our Lenten observance. 

What is the meaning of putting ashes on one’s forehead?

We use ashes because in the Bible ashes are often indicators of mourning and repentance (1 Sam 4:12; 2 Sam 1:20, 13:19, 15:32), making the imposition of ashes a deeply symbolic gesture.  Listen to the words spoken when the ashes are imposed, they remind us both of the consequences of Adam’s fall (i.e. our mortality: Gen 3:19) and of the words spoken at a funeral (“Ashes to ashes; dust to dust”).  A cross is made on our foreheads because in the Bible to be marked on the forehead is symbolic of ownership (Ez 9:4-6; Rev 7:3, 9:4, 14:1).  Having been redeemed by God, we belong to God – He has marked us as His own.