Learn more about the readings, music, and worship-service planning helps for the Sunday of the Passion (March 25, 2018).
Season & Preparations
Palm Sunday, or the Sunday of the Passion, marks the beginning of Holy Week. Your congregation may have its own local customs regarding the celebration of Palm Sunday. One common custom is a palm procession at the beginning of the service. In Gathered Guests, Timothy Maschke writes this:
The palm procession, which recalls Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, dates to the practice of Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem in the fourth century. The use of palms, however, can be found in Jesus’ own lifetime, when they were used as symbols of hope, life, and victory. (pp. 67–68)
In some congregations, the palm procession is done by the children, who march around the sanctuary waving palm branches. In other congregations, the entire congregation gathers in the narthex and marches in waving palms. Whatever your local custom, you will likely need some palm branches. Also, don’t forget to keep some of the palm branches if you wish to make ashes from them for next year’s Ash Wednesday service.
Maschke writes, “The color for the Sunday of the Passion is scarlet, a royal red that is darker than the red used for Pentecost and other festivals. The color reminds worshipers of the blood of the Lamb of God” (300). Your congregation may not have scarlet paraments; you can use red or you can stay with the violet or purple of Lent if you wish.
Readings & Theme
The first reading of the service will be the Gospel processional text, John 12:12–19. This is typically read from the back of the sanctuary immediately before the palm procession.
The Old Testament Reading for Palm Sunday, from Zechariah 9, is a prophetic text related to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Zechariah writes, “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).
The Epistle, from Philippians 2, is rooted in the mysterious beauty of Jesus’ humility and obedience. Jesus humbles Himself to the point of death, even a criminal’s death. Jesus obeys His Father’s will, even though it means death. Because of this, God has exalted Jesus. We meditate and reflect on Jesus’ humility and exaltation throughout this Holy Week.
You have three choices for the second Gospel, which is read during the normal time for the readings. You can continue from John 12 with verses 20–43. This would be more of a Palm Sunday focus than a Passion Sunday focus. You can also choose to read the entirety of Mark 15, or the entirety of Mark 14 and 15. Mark 14 includes events from Tuesday to Thursday of Holy Week. Mark 15 includes events only from Good Friday. You may choose to break up the long Passion reading with hymn stanzas.
Hymns & Music
There are actually two Hymns of the Day for Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion. The first is for the processional: “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” (LSB 442). The second is “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth” (LSB 438). The second hymn, written by Paul Gerhardt, is rich in imagery about Christ’s Passion.
Other hymns that fit the occasion are “Ride On, Ride On in Majesty” (LSB 441), “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna” (LSB 443), and my personal favorite for Palm Sunday, “No Tramp of Soldiers’ Marching Feet” (LSB 444).
Additional Resources for Worship & Study
Arch Books that may be useful for teaching the story of Holy Week to children include Jesus Enters Jerusalem and The Week That Led to Easter. You can find numerous other resources for Holy Week music and devotions at CPH.org.
Looking for additional information on planning for the Sunday of the Passion? Download our planning sheet to help you get started!
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Quotations from Gathered Guests by Timothy H. Maschke, copyright © 2003, 2009 Timothy H. Maschke. Published by Concordia Publishing House. Used by permission.