Holy Week begins. One of the longest week’s in the life of a preacher. Those who observe the Liturgical Year, and the entire Holy Triduum are bound to be exhausted come Easter Sunday. What I have discovered over the years is that the narrative of Palm Sunday takes care of itself. Some years, all we did was tell the entire story. Dramatically reading the Gospel (which is 2 chapters in length in its complete form) usually is enough. This year, my congregation will celebrate communion on April 1, so I will be developing a service and a message that emphasizes the narrative, and how Eucharist is a complimentary narrative that has its place in the Sunday’s theme. We will also celebrate Eucharist on Holy Thursday a little differently. This is a Sunday that is full of depth for the preacher and worship leader. Pull out the stops for the beginning of Holy Week.
- I always begin Palm Sunday with the Liturgy of the Palms. The hosannas of Jesus entering Jerusalem are contrasted with the Gospel reading that will close the service. The dissonance is important to the beginning of this week. We can’t experience Easter without Holy Week, and we can’t experience the depth of Holy Week without the joy and sorrow that are both present.
- The Isaiah reading captures the mood of the Gospel. Jesus has turned his face to the cross. There is no turning back. Isaiah’s description is a prelude to the Gospel’s account of Jesus and his treatment by the leaders of Rome and the Temple. It is an excellent introduction to the Passion Liturgy. As a preacher, I deal with this verse each week in my preparation: The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens– wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.
- The Psalm is also a prelude to the Gospel reading. It is a reference text for Jesus’ last words, and is a companion element to The Stations of the Cross. You may not preach from this text on Palm Sunday, but know that it is a formative passion for Jesus’ early followers.
- The Christ Hymn/Kenosis Hymn in Philippians 2 shows up again in the lectionary. What more can be said-the cruciform life is our example of Christ’s faithfulness. May we all have the courage to be emptied out for the glory of God.
- The Gospel for Palm Sunday is 2 chapters long (or one chapter, if you go for the shorter one). What’s a preacher to do? I am going to do less preaching on Palm Sunday, and do more reading and listening. The Gospel stands on its own as an account of the last days before the cross. I am not sure that any of us can offer a better proclamation of Jesus’ story than Mark.
- As I prepare for worship, I am planning to have Eucharist on that Sunday. At this point in my thinking, I am going to read the first part of the Gospel up until the Last Supper story, give a very brief meditation, share communion, and then close the service with the rest of the story. There will be distinct differencesbetween communion on Sunday and that of Maundy Thursday.
- Palm Sunday offers many opportunities for being creative–over the years it has always been filled with a little chaos and excitement in my churches. This is very appropriate given the original setting. Wasn’t Jerusalem a kind of wild place that day when Jesus rides in on an ass? Chaotic and excitement filled is about the only way to describe that ancient day.
- Be sure to see the resources at Textweek for Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday.