Lectionary Reflection for Palm/Passion Sunday, Year C
April 10, 2022*
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8
I must confess that I struggle with the recent liturgical phenomenon of compressing Holy Week into a single service on the Sixth Sunday of Lent, resulting in the hybrid Palm/Passion Sunday. I enjoy the festivity of the Palms and the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, but I am not keen on smashing the entire passion story into as close to an hour as possible. It feels too much like a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book version of the events of Holy Week.
Of course, as a pastor serving a congregation, I get to participate in all of the services from Maundy Thursday through Easter. I find great meaning in these holy hours and in the worship services that tell the story of our Lord’s passion, crucifixion, and resurrection. Sometimes it’s tough to remember that not everyone is able to or chooses to celebrate Holy Week in this way, and Palm/Passion Sunday must be the bridge to Easter. That means the church has to meet folks where they are rather than sit scratching our heads and wondering where they aren’t.
Paul sums it up nicely in a passage from the epistle reading, Philippians 2, particularly verses 5 through 8 (see above). “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” The more I think about the passage, the more it tells me to live in the moment this coming Sunday and to try to lead people through the story in a way that resonates within each mind and heart. If we’re to have the same mind of Christ, to live together as Christians and be the Body of Christ in our communities, then we must know the great stories of the faith deeply within our bones and being. So if Palm/Passion Sunday is Holy Week for many folks, we’d better make it count. Just look at what Paul was able to convey in four short verses!
Worship leaders may want to ponder what can be brought to the experience that will engage the senses and encourage participation. How can we help people see Jesus as the upside-down, inside-out ruler of the world? He comes into the seat of power to the thrill of the crowds and goes not to the throne to topple the Empire but to the grave to redeem the entire creation for all of time?
Story is powerful. The retelling of the Palm/Passion story year after year need not become rote. Look for different approaches to share it. Use the tradition of the day as the vehicle in which this timeless gospel arrives. What could you do with lighting, image, sound effects, or congregational participation? How can you help people “plug in” to what is ultimately a story of abiding love and everlasting hope? Are there ways to help channel the slide from joy to solemnity and even despair? Could you encourage people to look in new ways for the suffering of Christ in the world during Holy Week? Where are they likely to see it? How can they see the world as Jesus sees it–with so great a love that not even death could have the last word.
Yes, Easter is coming, but not yet. This is a Sunday to build that bridge of promise to the other side of resurrection, but it’s also a time to remind those gathered that we can’t cross into Easter just yet. Wait. Watch. Listen. Stay tuned for more. This story will be continued.
See the idea for youth. Consider expanding this drama and make a short participatory play of the Processional gospel with a complete cast of characters. Invite the congregation into active participation in the story.
Consider a sermon for all ages if you traditonally include a children’s sermon during worship. That way you can give the gospel reading center stage for worship, perhaps even modifying it to include multiple readers and congregational participation.
If you have teenagers who are willing to help you create more visiual impact with your palm procession, have them dress up as part of the crowd that welcomes Jesus into Jerusalem. Rehearse with them beforehand so they will know exactly what you want them to do. Consider having them run to the place where you gather for the processional, crying “Jesus is coming!” “Jesus of Nazareth is coming.” “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven.” Invite them to spread cloaks down the aisle and lead the palm procession.
It is always fun to help children turn the palms into crosses (The entire congregation may enjoy it, too). Click here for a PDF file of ilustrated instructions from King of Peace Episcopal Church, and click here for a detailed, follow-along video. It’s always a good idea to practice in advance!
Alternatively, here’s a short children’s message focusing on words from the processional gospel (Luke 19:28-40).
The Lord Needs YOU!
Jesus tells his disciples to go and secure a certain donkey for him to ride into Jerusalem. He tells his disciples that if anyone asks why they are taking it to simply say, “The Lord needs it.” What about these words? On that day the Lord needed a donkey. Jesus doesn’t need a donkey today. What does the Lord need from us today? (Allow time for the children to think and respond. Affirm their ideas.) What about…our hands…our feet…our time…our talents…and our resources? Born in Spain in 1515, St. Teresa of Avila wrote this poem:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Maybe this is what the Lord needs today, and every day of our lives. Invite the children to trace their hands and feet on a long piece of butcher or brown packaging paper. Have them write their names. Print the poem somewhere on the page and in large letters write: “Jesus Needs YOU to be His Hands and Feet in the World!”
*This reflection was first published in 2013.
Photos: © Cheryl Casey – Fotolia.com, © Renata Sedmkova – Fotolia.com, © Timothy Masters – Fotolia.com, and © alswart – Fotolia.com