As always on these Holy Week events, there are choices to be made. As discussed further in the preaching notes, the first decision is whether this day is totally focused on Palm Sunday or whether there is going to be a hint of Passion Sunday woven into the order of worship. It is too much to expect a worshiper to go from the celebrations of Palm Sunday, with the palm waving and the shouts of Hosanna, to the wonder and glory of Resurrection Sunday on Easter with the laughing shouts of “He is Risen” without some sense of the valley in between these two high points.
An effective pattern would be to begin the service on the high note of Palm Sunday, with shouts and processions and the waving of palms, whether fronds from a palm tree or the palm of the hand. Be sure and let people know that their shout, “Hosanna,” translates as “Save us” or “Save now.” This is a call to the savior, even though later usage of the term was for the king and was seen as a sound of celebration rather than a plea for help. But we can certainly claim both usages in this reenactment. It might also, depending on safety and distancing, should those still be in force, be a time to move the parade outside around the church building or up and down the street. Let there be joy and celebration, as we invite our neighbors to know who we are declaring king of our lives on this day.
After the highlight of the Palm celebration, it might be time to move into a reflective mode. Let the hymns and songs of praise transition to an acknowledgement of the sacrifice, of the blood that was shed, of the cross that was borne. This need not and should not be an abrupt change in mood and tone, but a gradual shift, accompanied by confession and prayers of intercession and thanksgiving, or perhaps a litany acknowledging the depth of Christ’s love for us.
The focus of the second part of the worship experience ought to be on the Passion story itself. This is not a text that needs a lot of explanation. It is effective to have someone, a good reader, simply read the text while people let the story unfold in their imaginations.
It would be difficult to end the service in silence, as many are inclined to do on Good Friday. Yet, a contrast between the opening exuberance and the closing reflective tone would be striking. A recessional hymn or song that speaks of the need for Christ’s presence as we walk would be an effective closing of the service. Added to this is an invitation to join the community as we walk even closer to our Lord as we enter into the story more deeply on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. If other services are planned, like Holy Saturday or the Easter Vigil, the invitation should be clear and open to all.
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.