Lectionary Planning Helps for Sundays



March 24, 2013
Palm/Passion Sunday

Read the texts online at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library:

 

Liturgy of the Palms
Luke 19:28-40
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 (UMH 839)

Liturgy of the Passion
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16 (UMH 764)
Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 22:14–23:56 (or Luke 23:1-49)

Color: Purple or red

Palm/Passion Sunday

 


Reading the chronicles of the sufferings of Jesus,

an all-night Holy Week devotional practice in the Philippines.

Used by permission. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings
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 19:28-40
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)
Isaiah 50:4-9a.
The servant hears God's word and faces torture with confidence.

Psalm 31:9-16 (UMH 764)
A prayer in the voice of one suffering rejection and persecution. Response 1 with Tone 4 in A minor.

 

Philippians 2:5-11.
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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Worship Notes

Calendar

Passion/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.

March is Women's History Month. For resources, see the COSROW website and additional resources on the GBOD worship website.

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.

Festival of God's Creation:: April 21 GBOD resources for this and Earth Day are here.

World Malaria Day: April 25


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Atmospherics

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.


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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.


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Compass points

 

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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Resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship
Suggested Service of Worship: BOW, 338

 

  • 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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Preaching

Let me begin by stating that I want to echo what my colleague Taylor Burton-Edwards says in his "Planning" notes and suggest that this is a Sunday in which, if you are going to read both the Palm and the Passion narratives, you might consider letting the texts speak for themselves and forgo the temptation to comment upon them. An effective service can be planned by giving attention to reading the texts in full, perhaps in a dramatic presentation or as a readers' theater, or by using different voices from around the worship space.

I also agree that it is very important to proclaim not just the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem with the waving of palms (or some unidentified "leafy branches," as scholar Amy Jill Levine pointed out in a recent event in which I heard her speak about the gospel accounts of the story we remember on this day; only the gospel of John names them specifically as PALM branches), but that we also offer a public reading of the Passion narrative in this service.

Why? My colleague has offered a very thorough theological and liturgical explanation (see "Why Palm/Passion Sunday, and not just Palm Sunday?"). Let me just be the voice of the practical minister here and say that in a lot of churches, although there may be opportunities throughout the week to hear the Passion narrative proclaimed (for example, on Good Friday), the fact is that not everyone in the congregation is going to make it out for any or all of these services.  That means, in practical terms, that if you preach on the triumphal entry on the Sunday before Easter, and you don't take the opportunity to read the Passion narrative as well, many-- if not most -- of the people in your congregation will likely not hear the story that happens between Palm Sunday and Easter.  In effect, they will go from the celebration of the Palms to the celebration of Resurrection, while managing to avoid the harsh reality of the trial, conviction, crucifixion, and death that happens in between.  And if we don't take our folks to the cross before Easter, we simply have not done an adequate job of preparing them for the Easter proclamation.  In a culture that largely avoids the subject of death and dying, it is especially important to confront our Lord's passion together as a community of faithful believers.

The key to making this service effective is to create a meaningful transition from the celebratory mood of the Proclamation of the Palms to the sobering reality of Jesus' death on a cross.  If you do choose to preach, please consider making the sermon shorter than usual in order to allow adequate time for reading the Scriptures and allowing the shift in mood from very celebratory to very pensive to occur.  Preaching needs to be attentive to helping folks make the transition.

One way to do this is to start the service with the Proclamation of the Palms, offer a short sermon that identifies the transition that has to be made—and the reasons for it—and then follow the sermon with the reading of the Passion narrative.  Another possibility is to read both lessons, offer a short sermon, and then share in Holy Communion.

Notes for Isaiah 50:4–9a

While it is unlikely that this lesson will serve as the central text for this day, perhaps there are some ways that the prophet's words might be woven into the larger themes of the day. How do the Suffering Servant songs relate to our theology of Jesus' suffering on the cross?  What are some potential dangers of preaching Christ's suffering and death as a blood sacrifice demanded as payment for human sins? If it was God's plan and will that Jesus should suffer, is it also God's plan and will that all human beings bear some suffering?  Is this our explanation of what happens to Jesus?  Is it our explanation for human suffering?  How do texts like this one play into our theology of atonement? What is the response of the faithful follower of Jesus Christ to this text?


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Notes for Luke 19:28–40 & Luke 22:14–23:56

We can all tell stories of people who have faced challenges with enormous courage.  When we hear the word "courage," who comes to mind first?  Is it someone we have known personally?  Is it someone we have read about, or perhaps a character in a movie or book?  Who has embodied courage among the people in our community, our nation, or our world?

When we read this story of Jesus riding through the crowd, how can we not be awestruck by his courage?  There he was.  Young, brilliant, gifted, and about 33 years old; he had his whole life ahead of him.  He was the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah, welcomed by his people as their king who had come in the name of the Lord!

Yet even as he heard the shouts and felt the celebratory mood of the crowd, was he not keenly aware that the road that lay before him was not going to be a road of joy and celebration, but rather one of suffering and death?  Was he not afraid? 

Do we not wonder why he didn't just stop?  Why he didn't turn around in his tracks, go back to Galilee, and avoid Jerusalem altogether?  Why he didn't save himself?  Surely he could have.  Surely God could have saved him from suffering and death.  Surely there could have been another way than what we hear happened to him in the second reading.

But Jesus didn't choose another road.  He didn't take an easier route. He didn't avoid the path that God had laid out for him. No, he walked a path of courage and conviction straight down the middle of the road that led to his trial, conviction, crucifixion and death.

And along that route, he never wavered.  He might have felt nervous, maybe even afraid.  But he never turned away from what he was called to do.  He just kept going.  All the way to the cross.

According to Luke, Jesus' movement toward the cross unfolds in a series of scenes . . .

In the first scene, Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry Jesus' cross, and Jesus warns the daughters of Jerusalem about the suffering that is to come.

The next scene concerns itself with the actual crucifixion—where it happened, who was crucified along with Jesus, how his clothes were divided, the mocking and the inscription placed over his head. One of the criminals taunts him, asking, "Aren't you the Messiah?  Then save yourself and save us!" But the other criminal sees the truth of who Jesus is, and asks for mercy and a place in heaven. And then there is darkness. Out of the darkness the centurion hears Jesus' last words: "Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit."  He breathes his last, and the centurion proclaims his innocence.

The final scene has Joseph of Arimethea taking Jesus' body down from the cross, wrapping him in linen cloths, and laying him in a tomb in preparation for anointing.

It is a hard story to hear.  These are hard scenes to contemplate.  It is a hard reality to face.  It takes courage to ask our congregations to remain still long enough to listen to it. But we need to read this story in our life together as worshiping communities because our congregations need to hear it, contemplate it, and face it. Our congregations need to hear the hardest parts of the story because they need to be reminded that through all of it, Jesus walked not only with courage, but with dignity and gentleness and grace.

They need to hear it because his walk of courage inspires their walk of faith in this life and into the life to come. Proclaiming these texts is not just about the events of Holy Week.  They are about the very nature of Christian faith and life.

As we encourage our congregations to listen once again to this old, old story, may our proclamation inspire not fear, sadness, anger, or misgiving, but COURAGE to live our own lives, and, yes, even face our own deaths, with dignity, gentleness, and grace.


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Notes for Philippians 2:5–11

Again, it is unlikely this will be the central text for the day; however, as an early confessional hymn, it would certainly be appropriate to refer to these poetic words describing "Christ's humiliation that leads to his exaltation, of his death that leads to his life" (Laura S. Mendenhall, Feasting on the Word, Volume 2, Year C). How can we sing of our own call to a life that has been transformed by a mind that is now in Christ Jesus? How can we empty ourselves in preparation for the Holy Week ahead of us?  How does going from the high to the low that this day brings enable us to bend our knees and confess with our tongues that Jesus Christ is Lord?


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Holy God, as we witness again the triumphant entry of your Son into Jerusalem, we have to ask ourselves on which side of the parade we stand. Do we follow Jesus for the whole journey, even when it leads to the cross, a symbol of suffering and death? As long ago they laid cloaks on Jesus' path, so we place our gifts on your altar to help make a way for Jesus to enter hearts. Help us remember that some who shouted "Hosanna" were later among those who stood with the crowds who shouted, “crucify him!” when that was the safe place to stand. Grant us the courage to stand with Christ when the road is hard and the way is risky. We pray it the name of the Messiah and King! Amen. (Luke 19:28-40)


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Lectionary Planning Helps

April 2014
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Abbreviations:

BOW - The United Methodist Book of Worship

CLUW - Come, Let Us Worship (Korean)

MVPC - Mil Voces Para Celebrar (Spanish)

SOZ - Songs of Zion

TFWS - The Faith We Sing

UMH - The United Methodist Hymnal

URW - Upper Room Worshipbook

WSM  - Worship & Song, Music Edition

WSW  - Worship & Song, Worship Resources Edition