The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

The First Day of Holy Week

Lent is a season to deepen our spiritual lives by focusing on the essentials, by letting go, or giving up, those things which clutter our lives, spiritually and otherwise, and distract us from the things that bring us salvation and life. In Holy Week, the focus sharpens even more and we turn our attention entirely to "the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby [God] has given us life and immortality." During this week, we walk the way of the Cross with Jesus, beginning with his entrance into Jerusalem when the people hail him as a king, and following along as he is betrayed and abandoned by his friends, mocked and condemned to death by the authorities, brutally executed and finally laid in a borrowed tomb. If we enter fully into the Church's observance of this history, we do more than listen and watch from the sidelines. We are there and we experience in ourselves the death of the Son of God. We die with him, we are buried with him, and then, in the fulfilment of his promise, we rise with him. 

This day, which is usually referred to by its more familiar name of "Palm Sunday," is, to recognize its full significance, "The Sunday of the Passion." The Liturgy of the day begins with the moving Liturgy of the Palms in which, when it is fully observed, palms are not only blessed and distributed, but they are carried in procession. The active participation of the congregation, as opposed to remaining in their pews and simply watching the clergy and choir perform, makes it clear that we all have a personal stake in what is taking place. God has acted on our behalf and calls us to share in his work, to allow his grace to enter fully into us by participating in what he has done and is still doing.

The day gets its full name from the fact that on this day the full story of the Passion is read as the Gospel of the Eucharistic Liturgy. It is a long reading during which, ideally, we remain standing. We always stand for the Gospel, out of reverence for the Good News which is proclaimed to us. Standing is also the posture of attention. It is easier to lose focus, to relax our attention, when we are seated. On this day, and during this week, we do a great deal more standing, and also kneeling, than at other times of the year. These postures help to focus us and also are a means of bringing our whole being, body as well as soul, into the contemplation of and participation in the events which unfold before us. Thus, at the point in the Passion when we read that Jesus dies, we kneel for a time in silence, out of reverence for what has happened and to put an exclamation point on our presence and participation.

Holy Week can be a rich experience. At the Passover Seder, a child asks, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" For observant Jews, Passover is not just one night. It is a weeklong celebration which requires their full attention. Work stops. The food and even the dishes on which it is eaten are different than at any other time of year. Christians should view Holy Week in the same way. The secular world will continue its usual activity, generally oblivious to what is happening in the Church, apart from a story or two in the news highlighting practices that once dominated community life but now are so unusual as to be moderately newsworthy. So, it is left to us to make this week different, to set aside, as much as possible, the demands of our secular lives. This whole week is our Seder, our participation in the mighty acts whereby God has given us life and immortality.
                    

Hot Cross Buns

On the Sundays in Lent, we have highlighted foods that are either traditional or in some other way reflect the themes of the Lenten observance. Hot cross buns are perhaps the strangest of the Lenten food customs as they are sweet rolls that are traditionally eaten on the most important fast of all, Good Friday.  The origins of this very English custom are not entirely clear.  It has been suggested that hot cross buns originated in the pagan cult that preceded Christianity in Britain.  But the earliest historical mention of them is traced to a 12th century English monk who is said to have marked buns with the sign of the cross in honor of Good Friday.  A 14th century record tells how a monk of St. Albans distributed spiced cakes to the needy on Good Friday, inaugurating an annual tradition, though he carefully guarded his recipe.

Whatever their origins, there were certainly ideas associated with these buns that some would regard as superstitions.  Hot cross buns were eaten after sundown to break the Good Friday fast. In the Middle Ages, they were believed to have powers of protection and healing.  People would hang a hot cross bun from the rafters of their homes for protection through the coming year.  And if someone was sick, some of the dried bun would be ground into powder and mixed with water for the sick person to drink.

In the reign of Elizabeth I, when Roman Catholicism was banned, making the sign of the cross on the buns was regarded as popery and the practice was banned.  But neither Church nor State could suppress the popular custom, so legislation was enacted to limit consumption of hot cross buns to legitimate religious occasions such as Christmas, Easter, and funerals.  The familiar nursery rhyme, "Hot cross buns," derives from the call of the street vendors who sold them. Hot cross buns may certainly be eaten to break the Good Friday fast at the end of the week, as is traditional, but we think they are also appropriate for this day when the Church enters Jerusalem with her Lord and formally sets out on the way of the Cross.

There are various recipes for the buns, but an authentic recipe should include currants and a cross either incised on the top of the buns or painted on with a sweet glaze.  The folks at Catholic Culture have several recipes for hot cross buns.
 

Hot cross buns!
Hot cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns!

Hot cross buns!
Hot cross buns!
If you haven't any daughters,
Give them to your sons!
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns!

Hot cross buns!
Hot cross buns!
If you haven't got a penny
A ha'penny will do.
If you haven't got a ha'penny,
Well God bless you.

Click here for music for the nursery rhyme.

Full Homely Divinity Home Page