Every day is a holy day if you live into the truth of the ever-present God. Every moment is a moment rich with possibility and hope; every relationship is a potential insight into the activity of the Spirit; every conversation is a living word of grace and peace. “Best of all,” John Wesley supposedly said as his last words, “God is with us.” Amen.
Yet there are times and seasons that seem even more holy. There are moments that reverberate with the living presence of the living God, and our only proper response is to fall to our knees in awe of grace. These eight days are one of those times. Some argue they are the preeminent days when history, our history, and our understanding of self and God and life itself all changed. From Palm Sunday through Easter, the world is remade, a new creation, and we are blessed to be a part of it, blessed to receive a gift beyond words, which is nothing less than eternity itself.
Palm/Passion Sunday is technically the end of the season of Lent and is usually included in the Lenten worship series. This year, however, we decided to put together this short series to shepherd us through this roller coaster of a week, attempting to touch on the highs and the lows and the ever-present redeeming grace of God. While we didn’t include services for Monday through Wednesday of Holy Week, it would be easy to do so. Carry through the sense of wonder and amazement; walk with Jesus in the last week of his incarnated and earthly life. Read the story and then bow in wonder, reflect in awe, corporately or individually. Give your congregation guides to prayer for them to use at home or call them together to worship on bended knee. But we invite reflection and prayer, confession, and thanksgiving for this amazing week. Invite your congregation this Holy Week and Easter to stand in awe of grace.
Today is a day that can stretch even the most creative worship team. It is difficult to fully express both the exuberance of the Palm Sunday processional and the agony of the Passion of the Christ. The first decision, then, is, “Which do you feature?” Which gets the emphasis on this Sunday morning?
It is hard to resist the parade. There is something special about marching around the sanctuary, or even out into the neighborhood if you’re brave enough, waving palm branches and shouting Hosanna. There is certainly a need for celebration, especially when you couple it with a declaration of faith in the one we call the Prince of Peace. So, unpack the symbols and be sure that everyone hears the announcement. Look back to the enthronement Psalms (47, 93, 96-99) as a reminder of the kind of joy and proclamation that this event recalled. And give voice to the plea for salvation, shout “hosanna” at the top of your lungs. Recruit the children where possible; they love to shout, even when they don’t know what it all means. But let there be a loud-voiced invitation to the one we call Savior.
And move! March around the sanctuary, into the aisles, and up to the chancel. Dance if you can; march if that feels better, or just walk. Walk and wave as a way of drawing attention; you’re trying to catch the eye of the rider whose eyes are full of tears for you and for the fate of the city and the world you inhabit.
That’s the hint, those tears, that broken heart. “If only,” the Savior says. “If only you knew the things that made for peace.” If the bulk of the service is around the exuberance of the parade, let there be a hint at the end that there is more. There is poignancy; there is suffering to come; there is a threat to the peace we long for, the justice we hope for. Let there be a sign that you know this isn’t a walk in the park, but something deeper, something more involved, something in which to be invested, though it will cost something, from him first but then from you as well. Let there be a minor key in the postlude at least. Let the declaration end with a recognition that there are difficult days ahead. Let the benediction be more desperate, more urgent, as you look for the good word in a dark time. Let the weight of what is to come rest on each and all of you as you prepare for this Holy Week to come.
On the other hand, some might want to open with the parade but then pivot early to the Passion story. It is a time of preparation. Many who attend on Sunday might not come on Thursday or Friday. So we all need a reminder of the story; we need to take our place around the table in the upper room, in the darkness of the garden, when sleep overwhelms us and then chaos reigns. We need a moment to listen from the courtyard as the trial commences and then the accusations fly, and the denial rises unbidden from our hearts. We need to stand on that skull-shaped hill and hear the hammer blows and the raspy voice offering forgiveness and grace almost unimaginable. We need a reminder of this before we make our way to the cemetery very early in the morning on Easter. Tell the story; depict it in whatever ways give meaning and depth to your people.
In some way, both need to be present today—both the declaration and the death, both the parade and the passion. You determine the ratio, what the community can bear and what else is coming in the days ahead. But don’t shortchange the people who need to hear the whole story, who need to make the whole journey. This is the only way we can all stand in awe of grace.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.