Palm Sunday Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Palm Sunday

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The events framed by Jesus's entry into Jerusalem and his resurrection are some of the most dramatic and theologically important of the entire scriptural narrative. These days feature not only the drama of the triumphal entry, trial, last supper, and crucifixion, but also Jesus's poignant prayers and prophetic teachings. John's gospel devotes eight of its twenty-one chapters to this week alone — reminding us of a common observation that the gospels are "passion narratives with long introductions." The week begins with Passion/Palm Sunday and ends with the "three days" (also called the Triduum, from sunset on Thursday to sunset on Easter Day), the period during which we mark Jesus's trial, death, and resurrection (The Worship Sourcebook. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Faith Alive Christian Resources, Baker Books, 2013, 587.).

In Scripture

On Christ's procession into Jerusalem

Psalm 118:19 - 29

Zechariah 9:9 - 12

Matthew 21:1 - 11

Mark 11:1 - 11

Luke 19:28 - 40

John 12:12 - 19

1 Kings 1:28 - 40

On Holy Week and Christ's Passion

Psalm 31:9 - 18

Isaiah 50:4 - 9; 52:13 - 53:12

Matthew 21 - 27

Mark 11 - 15

Luke 19 - 23

John 12 - 19

Philippians 2:5 - 11

Points to Ponder

Palm or Passion Sunday The first Sunday of Holy Week is commonly called either "Palm Sunday" or "Passion Sunday." Those who call it "Palm Sunday" tend to focus on the entry of Christ into Jerusalem to shouts of "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!" (Mark 11:9). Those who refer to the day as "Passion Sunday" focus on Jesus's suffering. This is especially appropriate in contexts in which participation in midweek services on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday is difficult or minimal, meaning worshipers would sing "Hosanna" on one Sunday and "Christ arose" on the next, with little attention to Jesus's suffering and death in between.

The irony of Palm Sunday Even for congregations that celebrate the Sunday of Holy Week as Palm Sunday, it's important to capture the irony of the day. This is the day on which Jesus entered the city in triumph, but as a part of his journey to the cross; in triumph, but on a lowly donkey. This is the week in which the crowd's fickle streak lets them cry "Hosanna!" on one day and "Crucify him!" on another.

Last week of Jesus's life One approach to Palm Sunday worship is to move through the last week of Jesus's life over the course of the service, beginning with the procession into Jerusalem and concluding with his suffering.

Jesus's Kingship Palm Sunday celebrations almost compel worshipers to reflect on the nature of Jesus's kingship. The crowds wanted him to get Herod off their backs and Caesar out of their lives. But Jesus is not that kind of a king — not yet. There will be a day in the future in which Jesus's kingdom will come in all its fullness, but Palm Sunday is not yet that day.

Dramatic reenactment Worship on Passion/Palm Sunday, as well as other Holy Week services, often invites members of the congregation to think of themselves as participants in a kind of dramatic reenactment of scriptural events. Thus children or perhaps the whole congregation may be invited to process while shouting "Hosanna!" Or, in the reading of the passion narrative, the entire congregation may be invited to speak the words "Crucify him! Crucify him!" (certainly one of the most unsettling actions in any worship service). Or, to heighten the drama, "Hosanna!" and then "Crucify him." The goal of such reenactment is to recount the narratives memorably and to help the congregation sense the significance of the narratives for what they teach us about Jesus's ministry, about God's being and character, and about the nature and scope of redemption in Christ.

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.