The Work of the People
Planning Worship for Palm/Passion Sunday
A little over a decade ago, I began to realize the significance of what the cycle of the Christian year means to me and to the congregation I serve. For the Christian community, the time of year, which sets us apart from the world, is the Easter season, which includes Palm/Passion Sunday and Holy Week. Although every Sunday is Resurrection Sunday, Easter is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Unfortunately, church communities too often do not take the time to walk through the suffering and death of Christ before coming into a worship service proclaiming, "He is Risen." Worship pastors carry a responsibility to help guide the thought processes of our congregations by helping to create opportunities for the somber reflection of mourning the death of Christ. It was only through the crucifixion and death of Jesus that His resurrection occurred.
The Sunday preceding Easter is Palm Sunday, which can also be referred to as Passion Sunday. Picture this: a church celebrates Palm Sunday with shouts of "Hosanna" and the waving of palm branches. Everyone is proclaiming Christ as King and shouts of joy fill the sanctuary. The sermon focuses on Christ riding a donkey into Jerusalem proclaiming Him as the One who would save them. For this particular church, they do not have any services during Holy Week. The next time they gather is on Easter Sunday and this time the shouts are "He is Risen...He is Risen, indeed!" Without a sense of putting Jesus to death, they have lost the entire meaning of resurrection. What can be done at this church, which allows the congregation to experience the life and death of Christ on the Sunday preceding Easter?
The church described above could consider having a combined Palm/Passion Sunday service by incorporating scripture and songs that speak of the triumphal entry and of the journey to the cross Jesus experienced during the week that followed. The worship service could include palm branches that are passed out to everyone as they enter the sanctuary. Congregants could be encouraged to wave the branches as they sing "Hosanna" proclaiming "Christ is King." The service continues by telling the story of what took place in the Upper Room, in the garden, Jesus standing before Pilate, and ultimately, the crucifixion. Songs and scripture would be used to demonstrate the progression of the events that took place. Even if this church has additional services during Holy Week, not everyone who is in this service will participate in the other services. It is important that this church tell the story of the triumphal entry as well as the journey to the cross on this particular Sunday.
Something I have done for many years is to collect the palm branches that are left in the sanctuary when our Palm/Passion service is finished. The branches are stored in an area where they can dry out. When dry, I burn them to ashes, use a small food processor to refine the ashes, and save the ashes for the following year’s Ash Wednesday service. There is great significance in this act. Next year when our congregation gathers to observe the beginning of Lent, the pastor reminds them that the ashes they will be using for imposing the cross on their foreheads are from the palm branches they had waved the previous year. It is a great reminder for the congregation of the cycle of the Christian year and how the retelling of the Christ story every year impacts their lives.
Sam Green, Ed.D.
Academic Coordinator, National Praise and Worship Institute
Trevecca Nazarene University
Pastor of Worship, Hermitage Church of the Nazarene