See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library:
Liturgy of the Palms
Liturgy of the Passion.
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Liturgy of the Palms (Entrance)
Luke recounts Jesus' entry into Jerusalem.
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 (UMH 839).
Response 1 with Tone 2 in D minor.
Liturgy of the Passion (Main Liturgy)
The servant hears God's word and faces torture with confidence.
A prayer in the voice of one suffering rejection and persecution. Response 1 with Tone 4 in A minor.
Jesus, our pattern: he emptied himself; God exalted him.
Luke 22:14-23:56 or Luke 23:1-49
Luke's account of the Passion (a longer and a shorter form).
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CalendarPassion/Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. The name of this day indicates that the key focus of the liturgy is intended to be not on the "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem, but on the suffering of Christ during his trial and leading up to his execution. The processional with palms serves as the "Entry Rite" for the larger focus.
Palm/Passion Sunday marks at once a departure and a return in the history of Christian worship. It is a departure from a pattern well established in the West by the eighth century of this day simply as Palm Sunday. It is a return to an earlier Christian practice of Holy Week as a time of the most intense final preparation of candidates for baptism. For more on this history of this dual celebration on this day, see "Why Palm/Passion Sunday and not Just Palm Sunday?" on the UMC Worship Blog.
Central to the discipling mission of this season is to help those preparing for baptism or reaffirmation connect powerfully with the realities of suffering and death into which all Christians are called, following our Lord, for the sake of the good news of God's kingdom. A primary means by which Jesus resisted evil, injustice and oppression in all forms they presented themselves was by enduring the suffering of all three in his arrest, torture, and execution. His suffering opens our own complicity in the suffering of others. But it also empowers us with hope to endure whatever it takes, as we saw last week, to know Christ in his sufferings.
Coming in April
Native American Ministries Sunday: April 14. Consider inviting a Native American United Methodist elder or deacon to help you celebrate the newly developed Native American Holy Communion service used at General Conference 2012.
World Malaria Day: April 25
The tone of the service today moves from celebration to solemnity. Since the primary focus of today's ritual is on suffering, consider the possibility of a more festive appearance outside the sanctuary (palms, celebratory flower arrangements), but a more solemn appearance (red or scarlet paraments; if using projection, solemn, but not black, backgrounds) inside the worship space. Holy Thursday is the traditional day for "stripping the sanctuary" of all paraments, Bibles, and other items used in worship, so solemn does not mean "stark" today.
The transition from the Palm Sunday entrance to the main Liturgy of the Passion will need your attention as a worship planning team. A well-planned transition needs to happen. This is not "Palm Sunday" only. You need to find appropriate ways to move fairly quickly but not abruptly from the joyous entrance to the more solemn Liturgy of the Passion. Put in automotive terms, while it's not quite shifting from "forward" into "reverse," it may not be unlike shifting from fifth gear to first. To do that without a lot of "squeal," you may need to apply brakes and shift into neutral for a bit.
Think about how the differences in visual environment may be supported by differences in sound, rhythm and music. "Outdoor voices" may differ widely from "indoor voices," especially today. Music and sounds for the Palm Sunday Entrance may be more celebratory; while for the main liturgy of the Passion, they become more somber. Outdoors, the actions may resemble more of a party with a march; while indoors, they may be more deliberate and reflective. If you do a processional from the outdoors into your worship space, consider ending the processional just inside the worship space, perhaps near the font (assuming it is near the entrance). Once everyone is in and your processional music is completed, invite people to move to their seats (or be seated if already there) in silence or while an arrangement of a Holy Week hymn in a minor key, such as "Ah, Holy Jesus" (UMH 289) is played.
The four texts (readings plus Psalm) provide different angles on the suffering in general, and for us today, particularly the suffering of Jesus.
While we read or pray these texts today with Jesus clearly in mind, we do so remembering that Jesus suffered in solidarity with all who suffer everywhere, and particularly those who suffer unjustly.
Isaiah presents the voice of a prophet turned teacher to people suffering injustice. "Do to me what you will. Bring it on! I will not be disgraced. The Lord will vindicate me." This is not a call for passivity. It does not portray the one who has suffered as a "helpless victim." Indeed, the attitude is confidence in God with an edge of defiance against the persecutors. Consider projecting images of others you or your congregation knows (not just "famous people") who have remained steadfast and trusted God in the face of suffering. If you have a living example in your midst, consider asking that person to be the reader for this text today.
The Psalm is always selected as a response to the first reading. Psalm 31 is chosen today because it puts the "reflective" voice of the prophet into the "real-time" voice of one undergoing unjust suffering, feeling abandoned or rejected by others, and trusting God to bring vindication and deliverance. As we pray this Psalm today, we are given words to participate in such prayer with all who suffer in this way.
Philippians presents a hymn about Christ likely already known to the congregation at Philippi or even composed and sung by them. (For a musical setting of this hymn, see UMH 168). The hymn bears multiple resonances with their own story as told in Acts and from what we know from historical sources about the city at the time of Paul's ministry there. Philippi was a Roman colony and a major "retirement village" for veterans of the Roman army. Issues of authority, respect, and social rank were prominent in the local culture. Consider showing images of Roman soldiers or other soldiers in rank formation as the hymn begins (verses 5-6). We know from Acts that there was at least one slave who had become part of this congregation (the demon-possessed slave-girl who was freed by Christ through the ministry of Paul, landing Paul in prison!), and Jesus takes on the form of a slave. Everyone in a Roman colony understood crucifixion to be the most shameful form of execution in the empire.
The movement of Jesus in the first part of the hymn is continually downward — not grasping equality with a superior, becoming human, becoming a slave, being crucified. Beginning in verse 9, the movement of the whole hymn changes. God has exalted the One taken to the lowest possible point in Roman culture. And beginning in verse 10, it is humanity and the whole creation that goes downward . . . down on our knees before the Crucified and Risen One.
All along, Jesus kept choosing the downward way. Going downward, heading into the heart of human suffering, even death itself, is what enabled Jesus to bring redemption. We worship him not simply as hero for his superior self-denial, but also as Lord who shows the way for us to follow. We bow in worship not simply as devotion to the Victor, but also as pledge of our own commitment to enter ever further into the heart of suffering as his disciples, trusting, as he did, the power of God to bring resurrection and new life.
How will worship today help your worshiping community hear, understand, and live out both parts of this message -- both our devotion to Jesus in worship, and our commitment to enter into suffering in this life as he did? How will you help your worshiping community move beyond simple guilt at being in some way a part of the horror of the suffering Jesus faced, and even beyond praise to God for the willingness of Jesus to do this, toward lives that reflect the same commitments he does? The Passion of Jesus Christ from Luke is a powerful story in its own right. The two readings and Psalm, with their various reflections on unjust suffering, function today as lead-in for this. Simply read it well. No drama, no images, no costumes, nothing more than telling this well is needed. Do not rush to get through it. Some congregations offer this reading in parts (a form for this is available in the New Handbook of the Christian Year), with different readers assigned the various different speaking roles across the congregation, a consistent narrator, and times designated throughout for silent reflection.
The point of everything today has been to get to hear this story, and hear it well as each of us may need to. No sermon is needed after this text is heard. The next action may be an extended silence, and then preparation for Holy Communion.
Embodying the Word: Holy Communion 1.
Although the main tenor of our celebration of Holy Communion in The United Methodist Church, as in the ecumenical churches more broadly, has shifted from penitence and death toward thanksgiving and resurrection, this is one Sunday when a focus on suffering and penitence is most appropriate. Consider using Word and Table IV today — with all its "old" language and imagery — and sing the responses. Older members of your congregation may know this version and its music by heart. This is a day for such heart language to be remembered and brought forth.
And not just language, posture as well. The older members of your congregation will remember that the final words of the Invitation as it appears in Word and Table IV used to read "devoutly kneeling." This is certainly a day for kneeling — both for confession, and perhaps for the entire Great Thanksgiving (at least after the Sanctus). The reading from Philippians speaks of all creation kneeling before the Crucified and Risen One. Isaiah and John (in Revelation) fall on their faces in the presence even of the heavenly beings whose song we sing in the Sanctus.
Kneeling may be difficult in your worship space. Most United Methodist congregations are not outfitted with kneelers. In some, there is barely space enough between pews to kneel facing forward. Still, as Karen Westerfield Tucker reminds, Methodists in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were known as much for their kneeling in worship as for their gusto in singing. "Kneeling Methodists" was a common epithet in the literature of those days (among those who liked to criticize Methodists!). She also reminds how they knelt — facing not the FRONT, but the SEAT of their pews.
So plan to bring in some pillows or cushions or invite folks to bring them to worship if they think they may need them. Always signal before changing lanes! So let folks know ahead of time that worship this week will involve kneeling, and to prepare accordingly.
Color: This is the sixth Sunday in Lent, and it is also the beginning of Holy Week. In keeping with prevalent ecumenical practice, The United Methodist Book of Worship (BOW) provides for an alternative color during Holy Week: red or scarlet. (In The Episcopal Church, one of our ecumenical partners, the color for this day is "oxblood.") The use of red encourages a visual connection with the blood of Christ.
Make basic decisions about: (a) the shape of the service and (b) the way the gospel will be proclaimed.
(a)The United Methodist Book of Worship, 338-343, offers excellent help for planning this day's worship.
- Start here and build the service that is appropriate for your church.
- Seriously consider a procession that includes all the people. Give permission on the preceding week for those who want to enter and take their seats as usual to do so. You might even give them something appropriate to read; or if you have wireless capability, let them "overhear" what is happening as the procession begins to form and the Liturgy of the Palms begins to unfold.
- If you are concerned about time, consider omitting the first reading and the Psalm response.
- Be courageous. This is a day for bold liturgical leadership and trust that the Spirit will work powerfully to form the praise and prayer of the people.
(b) If you must have a sermon preached by the pastor, then don't try to do all of the readings. If, however, your congregation can break away from "preaching as usual" to experience Scripture reading in powerful ways, then try to enter into the fullness of the Scriptures -- especially the extended reading of Luke's passion narrative. Luke is a pretty good preacher if you will give him a hearing!
And speaking from experience, with Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil (or Easter Sunrise) and Easter Day coming later this week, giving Luke the pulpit on this day will give the appointed preacher a necessary and merciful breather and the congregation the opportunity to hear the Scriptures in unmediated and powerful ways.
For help with planning the use of Scripture on this most daring liturgical day, consult The New Handbook of the Christian Year by Hoyt L. Hickman, et. al. (available from Cokesbury) or The United Methodist Book of Worship, 338-343 (especially 340-342). Use your best readers. Consider doing a reader's theatre form of the gospel reading for the Liturgy of the Passion. Or one lector reading the segments of Lukan narrative interspersed with hymns heightens participation of all of the people.
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- Greeting: BOW 330 (Luke)
- Prayer of Confession: BOW 484 (Luke)
- Prayer: UMH, 283, "Holy Thursday" (Passion Gospel)
- Prayer: UMH, 403, "For True Life" (Passion Gospel)
- Prayer: BOW, 335 (Philippians, Luke)
- Prayer: BOW, 348 (Luke)
- Prayer: BOW, 349 (Philippians)
- Prayer: BOW, 545 "For Those Who Suffer" (Luke)
- Intercessions: BOW 43-44 (Word and Table IV)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: China, Hong Kong, Macau
- Response: UMH, 300, "O the Lamb" (Luke)
- The Great Thanksgiving: UMH 26; BOW 44-50 -- Word and Table IV
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