This evening’s New Testament lesson in the Daily Office Lectionary is from Luke 19, and features our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. Normally, these days, we hear that text and the liturgical context we assume for it is Holy Week. Palm Sunday begins with the festive procession with palm branches, and shouts and songs of “Hosanna!” The Gospel of the Triumphal Entry, also, is typically read that morning.
However, in the traditional Communion lectionary, the Gospel of the triumphal entry was also appointed for the first Sunday in Advent. If you’re unfamiliar with this tradition, your first reaction to this might be one of confusion – what does the beginning of the first Holy Week have to do with the Advent season? It is the second part of that story where the connection is made: the cleansing of the Temple. Take a closer look at some of the Advent hymns: “then cleansed be every breast from sin, make straight the way of God within,” “Let every heart prepare a throne, and every voice a song,” “O let us not, weak sinful men, be driven from thy presence then”, “Cast away the works of darkness O ye children of the day.” As Jesus cleansed the Temple of the sinful riffraff, so we are invited to cleanse ourselves in preparation for his return in our midst.
So, while it’s nice that we have the Liturgy of the Palms in our Prayer Books at last (it wasn’t officially part of printed Anglican liturgy until the ’79 book), it is simultaneously a loss not to have the same gospel available to us at the beginning of Advent (or indeed in Advent at all). Luckily, we at least have this evening’s entry for the Daily Office to read of the triumphal entry and the cleansing of the Temple in the context of Advent and reflect upon the cleansing of the spiritual Temple of the Holy Spirit – ourselves, the Church. Try to keep this in mind this evening when you take up and read.