Palm-Passion Sunday

April 2, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Service of the Palms

Matthew 21.1-11. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as a King, in the imagery of the prophet Zechariah who spoke of a humble king riding a donkey instead of a war horse.

Psalm 118. A celebration of God’s protection and grace, sung as pilgrims entered the gates of the temple. God has honored what others have neglected, “the stone the builders rejected.”

Service of the Passion

Isaiah 50.4-9. God’s servant, who willingly suffers humiliation and abuse in order to encourage the weak on behalf of God.

Psalm 31. A cry for God’s help in a time of distress, trusting in God’s defense of the weak.

Philippians 2. 5-11. Christ, representing God, let go of divine power and status and shared the most vulnerable place in life in loving service. It is in his humility, not his power, that his majesty is hidden.

Matthew 26-27.
Jesus’ last meal, his arrest, trial, execution and burial.

Guiding Thoughts

The Palm and Passion service
Because few people attend Good Friday services, if we celebrate Palm Sunday one Sunday and Easter the next worshipers completely miss the story of the cross—the second most important story in our faith! Easter becomes a punchline without the joke. That certainly sits well in our shallow, happiness-addicted, pain-avoidant culture. But not with our faith. It completely avoids our facing our pain and our sin, particularly the consequences of our sin—people get hurt—and we miss witnessing God’s mighty compassion in accompanying us though both our crucifying and our own crucifixion. This is one Sunday in which there is particular power in experiencing the wide narrative sweep of the gospel story instead of the little bits we usually hear on Sundays.

The passion story is intense drama. It takes a while to experience. It deserves more than a brief drive-by viewing. But it’s a along story to read in Sunday worship. It helps to break it up. By God’s grace the arc of a worship service provides the structure for telling the palm-passion narrative. The service outline provided here follows the whole gospel story through the liturgical movements, more as a dramatic reading than a typical worship service—and more engaging of the congregation than an extended reading.

For people not familiar with the palm-passion structure it can feel jarring to suddenly turn from waving Palms to shouting “Crucify him!” Yes. It’s supposed to unsettle us. Our sin ought to. That’s the story we’re telling. The abrupt movement from the praise and confidence of the Service of the Palms to the dark, confessional Service of the Passion follows the Gospel story of Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem, from the festal procession to the awful reality of the cross and the tomb. This progression also reflects God’s presence with us and for us not just in the happy, triumphant times but also in our suffering. And it invites our humility: our praise easily turns to sin, our loyalty to betrayal. (So, in the traditional manner, the palms we wave today will be burned to provide the ashes for our Ash Wednesday worship next year.)

Most importantly, witnessing the story as a whole helps us experience the movement of the Gospel: Christ confronts the violence of our social, political and religious systems as its victim. He exposes the evil of our violence, and meets it with nonviolence, forgiveness, healing and community, setting us free to renounce all violence and live in his spirit of mercy and love. It is only in the cross—in the context of our suffering and our evil—that the grace of God’s life-giving love and forgiveness can honestly promise resurrection.

The New Exodus
Jesus’ Last Supper with the disciples was a Passover meal. The Passover is the great celebration of Israel’s liberation from slavery in Egypt. The feast gives thanks for our freedom, and honors God’s will to liberate all people from oppression and injustice.

Jesus is the new Passover. Note the parallels between the passion story and the Exodus. Like slaves to Pharaoh, we are enslaved to sin. God Godself suffers the plague of the death of the first-born. Jesus is the slaughtered lamb whose blood marks us for freedom, and saves us from the power of death. As Moses leads the people through the Red Sea to freedom, Jesus leads us through death and Resurrection (symbolized in the Red Sea of the baptismal waters).

The Exodus is not an isolated incident, but the heart of God’s activity. Everything God does liberates. To heal, to bless, to forgive, to restore relationships, even the act of creating itself, is a liberation. In Creation God sets living things free to live. (In one sense the Exodus story is not a new story following Genesis, but a continuation of Creation, especially Genesis 1-9. Exodus involves the whole earth; as in Noah’s flood it is God’s repose to human evil and violence and involve\s death and deliverance through water, followed by a covenant.)

The Exodus story is about our liberation. We are those Hebrews. But what we usually completely miss in our White American churches is that it’s also a story about our sin. We are also those Egyptians. We Whites are a dominant group that benefits from the enslavement of blacks which, even though it legally ended 150 years ago, is still at at work today. White Supremacy is the new Egypt. As we celebrate the Exodus we are also called to notice our racism, and our willingness to impoverish certain populations. Pharaoh’s command to slaughter male Hebrew children has a parallel in the targeting of young blacks in our incarceration rates, the police murder of unarmed black men, and our treatment of immigrants in the desert on our southern border. Many of the “liberties” we celebrate in this country are not available to non-whites. We’re not out of Egypt yet.

The Exodus is God’s will not just for the escape of some slaves, but for the abolition of slavery. It’s God’s judgment against all oppression. The Exodus and the resurrection are God’s nonviolent overthrow of the forces of evil and oppression. Baptized into Christ, we are not only grateful for our own liberation; in the words of the Methodist baptismal rite we “resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”

In that work we are not only convicted but also empowered by the cross. The cross is God’s nonviolent resistance to our sin: God exposes and overcomes our violence and our separation from God. When we hurt others, even for “righteous” reasons, we make God our victim. But God does not retaliate or punish— instead, God forgives us and reunites us with God. We are set free from the power of sin and fear of death to control our lives, free to live by the power of love alone. Jesus’ dying and rising is a new Exodus for us.

To take up the cross is to continue Jesus’ work of identifying with the suffering and the victims of violence and injustice, and changing unjust political, economic and social structures—beginning with confessing our own part in them. The cross of Jesus is not just a focus for personal piety. It is also a rallying point for God’s command to change this world on behalf of the poor and oppressed. This is the Great Passover, the New Exodus, a journey that we are still on.

See A Palm & Passion Sunday Service (Matthew) for a complete worship service as a dramatic reading of the Passion story in Matthew.

Call to Worship

Leader: Blessed is the leader who comes in the love of God.
All: Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!
Amid the powers of this world, Christ comes humbly, riding on a donkey.
Christ alone is our savior and our sovereign.
Christ, we thank you. We honor you. We follow you.
God of love and justice, we worship you. God, save us!

Leader: Hosanna to the Son of David!
All: Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest heaven!


Creator God, we praise you, for your Love rules over our lives with grace and beauty, creating us anew each moment. We thank you, for your Christ rules over us in humble tenderness, healing and redeeming us. We open our hearts to you, for your Spirit rules us from within with power, filling us with compassion. Grant that we will always turn to you alone for our salvation, and for the gift of life. Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in your name! Peace on earth, and glory in the highest! Grant us your salvation, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

We praise you and thank you, O God, for the great acts of love by which you have redeemed us through your son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Sovereign. Grant that we may ever hail him as ruler of our lives, and share in his obedience to your will, in joy and confidence. Blessed is the one who comes in your name! Peace on earth and glory in the highest! Grant us your salvation, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Gracious God, You are our strength and power. Open to us the gates of your presence, that we may enter and give thanks. Save us, we beg of you. Bless us with the presence of the One who comes in your name, Jesus, your Christ, our Sovereign, and our Lord. Amen.

Jesus, our companion, we walk with you.
Jesus, our host, we feast with you.
Jesus, our guide, we pray with you.
Jesus, our victim, we confess we betray you.
Jesus, our savior, we worship at your pierced feet.
Jesus, our mystery, we wait with you for new life.

Prayer of Confession

God, in our fear and distrust we have betrayed you.
In the failure of our love we have denied you.
In our selfishness we have crucified you.
Forgive us, heal our hearts,
and set us free to love,
in the name and the gentle grace of Christ.

Listening Prayer

We wave our palms at the foot of the cross.
We sing of our delight, and our despair.
Joyous, we are grateful, and we worship you.
Brokenhearted, we confess we have crucified you, and we repent.
We clutch our palms as you bear the cross.
Swept up, we join the procession.

Crucified savior,
you accept our weakness,
you receive our sin,
you bear our wounds,
you share our suffering and even our death.
We behold the mystery of the cross,
and we give ourselves to you.

3.              (Psalm 118, a paraphrase)
O Deep, you are my strength, my life.
Open to me the gate of your presence,
that I may enter.

What others have rejected is holy.
But to you alone, O Mystery, I turn.
I open my heart to all who bear your presence.

In awe and gratitude I marvel in your light.
I give my heart of thanks to you,
O Infinite Compassion.

Eucharistic Prayer

[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

Holy One, we give you deep thanks,
for you create us in your image, claim us as your Beloved,
and covenant with us to be our God.
You condemn the forces of injustice,
and set your children free from all oppression.
You call us to lives of love, mercy and justice,
and you give us the gift of your Chosen One, Jesus,
to show us the reality of the Empire of your grace.
Therefore we wave branches of palm and sing songs of praise,
with all Creation extolling you as Creator and Sovereign:

            [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
        Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
        heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
        Hosanna in the highest.
               [or alternate version]

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
who taught and healed, who loved at any cost,
even the cost of his own life.
He was arrested and crucified by the powers of in justice
and the forces of oppression, yet he responded with mercy.
Even in his death he embodied your Covenant to be with us in love.

     (The Blessing and Covenant)
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

             [Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
        Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
        Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
        Christ will come again in glory.
             [or alternative]

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,

crucified and risen,
ready to love as Christ has loved us.

     [Spoken or sung]

* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.

Prayer after communion

Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Grant that by this grace we may participate always in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Fill us with the Spirit of Christ, that as we behold his love, his suffering and his death, we may be moved to live lives of non-violent love and self-giving, to do justice, and to rely wholly on your life-giving grace, in the name of the crucified and risen Christ. Amen.

Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. You grant us to share in the self-giving love of Christ and to receive grace, forgiveness, and the promise of your faithfulness. As members of the Body of Christ may we continually die and rise, by the power of your Holy Spirit, in the name and the company of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

See all songs with tags for “Cross,” but especially these:

Kyrie (Original tune)

Kyrie Eleison. Christe Eleison. Kyrie Eleison.
Grant us peace and mercy.

Behold the Lamb of God
(Original song)

Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
Come, let us follow, come let us follow
the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

O Jesus, Wounded Sovereign (Tune: O Sacred Head Now Wounded)

Dear Jesus, you who suffer and walk among the poor
whose hearts and lives are broken, whose faith is still unsure:
despised, accused and battered, you do not say a word.
So powerless, yet loving!— you are my Sovereign Lord.

You bear no arms but loving, no threats nor flags unfurled.
You wear no kingly robes, but the sorrows of the world.
Yet your forgiveness conquers each worldly rule and reign,
and rises, whole, undaunted, from evil, death and pain.

While emperors abuse you, and people shrug or stare,
and dark injustice troubles the ones for whom you care,
your mighty grace arises, and hidden from our sight,
enfolds all living beings in your triumphant light.

O Jesus, wounded Sovereign, I pray, give me the nerve
without this world’s armor to love and bless and serve.
My master and companion, rule all eternity
with grace and deep compassion, and, Love, begin with me.

Oh, Jesus (Original song— an acapella solo)

Oh, Jesus, what have you done?
Carried my burdens, every one,
All of my sorrow, all of my sin,
Like a mother gathering her children in.
Now I’m left with nothin’ at all but love,
Nothin’ but your tender, tender love.

Oh, Jesus, what have I done?
Crucified my precious one.
I didn’t want to bear the pain or loss,
So I left you alone to carry the cross.
Now I’m left with nothin’ at all but love,
Nothin’ but your sufferin’, sufferin’, love.

Oh, Jesus, what will you do?
Forgive me like you always do.
With not a word of wrath or blame,
You died with love gently sayin’ my name.
Now I’m left with nothin’ at all but love,
Nothin’ but your precious, precious love.

Oh, Jesus, what will I do?
Give me the courage to follow you,
To give my love if I live or die,
And never again to crucify.
For I’m left with nothin’ at all but love,
Nothin’ but your dyin’, dyin’ love

This Is the Passover (Original Song)

This is the Passover you have desired to share
as you deliver us out of our slavery and fear.

This is the new living covenant sealed in your blood.
Grant that it may be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.

Stripped in our suffering of all but our need for your grace,
join us to you in your dying and rising, O Christ.

Come, Holy Spirit, and grant us new life in our Lord.
gather us into your Body, made new by your Word.

Woeful Cross (Original song)

Woeful cross, saddest wood, death in me of all that’s good,
I confess. Mother/Father, bless. Mercy.

Holy cross, mystery, love from fear of death set free.
Sin’s dark lie. Here I die. Mercy.

Gentle Christ on the cross, for our life your own life’s loss.
You forgive, and we live. Mercy.

Our own cross calling us to your love and gentleness:
may we live, as you give, mercy.

You Feed Us, Gentle Savior (Tune: O Sacred head Now Wounded)

You feed us, gentle savior, the bread that makes us whole,
the wine of your compassion poured out into our soul.
the food of your own presence, your spirit, strong, within,
the grace that heals us deeply and overcomes our sin.

You bind us, gentle savior, and weave us into one,
one flesh and blood, made holy, the Body of your Son.
We gather here in hunger, one hunger, all the same;
and with one grace you bless us together in his name.

You call us, gentle savior, and send us in your name.
You teach and heal and show us how we can do the same.
So strengthened by your Spirit and nourished by your grace,
we go to be your presence in love, in every place.

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