Palm Sunday is a rare occasion for the preaching life of the lectionary preacher for this reason:  no sermon is recommended.  What is recommended are three worship movements; Liturgy of the Palms, Procession of the Palms and Holy Communion.  What’s a preacher to do?

Here is one bold suggestion.  Shut up and sit down.  A more polite invitation would say, “Please refrain from the 20-25 minute sermon.”  Tradition teaches us well.  Here are reasons why and a few tips on how.

Holy week follows Palm Sunday and Holy week, for the preaching life, can be a marathon.  Consider Palm Sunday your carb uptake and nap before the big race to the finish line. (The finish line being Easter lunch.)  A view from the pew would suggest that the unfolding story of Holy Week is so heavy with it’s emotional highs and lows the congregation needs a time of calm and reflection.  Palm Sunday can be a time of preparation for sadness of the sacrifice and the joy of the resurrection.  Make is simple, weave in times of silent reflection, and make the most of the two prescribed rubrics (Procession and Communion).

LITURGY OF THE PSALMS Due to the Biblical illiteracy of many churches mixed with the importance of these upcoming holy-days, I recommend using the welcoming time as an educational moment.  The congregation needs an explanation of why worship will be out of the ordinary today.  Once again, siting Biblical illiteracy as my reasoning, I suggest using a time early on in the worship service to expand upon common words of the season like “Hosanna” or “Palm”.  As the preacher educates, she weaves in the political background of the upcoming New Testament metanarrative and/or interpersonal relationships highlighted in the last week of the life of Jesus and/or the theological implications of what is happening. 

All the preacher is doing is setting the stage.  Allow the narrative to stand on it’s own.  Don’t preach by making life applications to modern day politics or human relations.  This Palm Sunday allow the liturgy to do the work for you.  Choose prayers, blessings, benedictions and communion liturgy that challenge the congregation to do the spiritual work of making connections from Palm Sunday to their own lives.  An excellent example is a prayer that would compliment a preacher’s explanation of Palm Sunday through the lens of the political powers of Jesus’ day (a socio-political view).  This prayer is entitled “Be Careful Jesus”.    It is powerful and thought provoking.

After all, liturgy means “work of the people”.

This Sunday my liturgy of Psalms would look something like this.  The Call to worship would be the Psalm of the day, then an 5-8 minute explanation of what is about to happen by expounding of what the word “Hosanna.  What did it mean to those who said it verses those who heard it.  In this short educational moment, I highlight the misconceptions about Jesus in the crowd that day:  The Jewish people the Roman government.  I incorporate historical points like the past uprisings the Romans have experience with the Jewish people of this region.  I use Old Testament scripture that highlights the meaning of Messiah heard by the Jewish people during worship.  I begin and end with the meaning of “Hosanna”.   This section of worship would close with the scripture reading for the day:  Matthew 21:1-11.  This leads nicely into The Procession of the Palms (so would Psalm 118 as a responsive reading!).

THE PROCESSION OF PALMS  The next portion of worship would be the Palm Processional itself.  Due to the makeup of the congregation, some have children sing and bring in the palms.  But if your congregation is older, perhaps inviting them to sing while bringing forth the palm they were given to the altar would make more sense.  If a choir is available, after the palms are placed is a great time for their worship contribution.  This time of joy would be followed by the prayer entitle “Be Careful Jesus” and a silent reflection.

Whenever allowing the liturgy to make challenge the congregation, do your best to give them times of silence to soak it in.  Glossing over the work done by congregants will only negate the preacher’s efforts.

HOLY COMMUNION  Finally choose sections of the communion liturgy to incorporate life applications of the day’s worship events in conjunction with the theme offered in the opening welcome and explanation.  A great example of a prayer of confessions is also on the same page as “Be Careful Jesus”.  Keep it simple and reflective.

Just a few thoughts on Palm Sunday……