Prayers of Approach
Let us come with enthusiasm to meet the Lord today. Let us pour out our love and our praise and bring the best we can offer to our generous God.
Lord of all, when Jesus entered into Jerusalem, the people welcomed him with praise and gave him the best they could offer. As we gather here, we ask you to fill our hearts with joy and love. Help us to understand what it means to give freely and extravagantly of our time, our treasure and our talents. Most of all, inspire us to give you our praise. Amen.
Prayer of thanksgiving
The gates of Holy Week are open, and we gather to celebrate our King who rides a donkey. As we give thanks we bring to you the best of what we are, Lord Jesus, laying down our lives in service, as you laid down your life for us.
We give thanks for all the good things in our lives; for times of celebration, when we share our best and give of our best. Praise be to you, Father, for blessing us so bountifully. We thank you for the one who had nothing, who rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey. Praise be to you, Jesus, for giving of yourself so richly. As we enter the gates of Holy Week, may we embrace the celebration with all that we have. Amen.
Music: Make way, make way, for Christ the king (R&S 141)
Readings: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Psalm 118 is the last of six psalms (113-118) that form the ‘Hallel’, the ‘praise’ psalms, from which we get ‘Hallelujah’ – ‘Praise the Lord’. They were used at the major festivals, sung by pilgrims on their way up to Jerusalem and during the Passover meal, and Psalm 118 was sung at Tabernacles, or the Feast of Booths, when palm branches were waved in procession in the Temple. So there would have been a party atmosphere as Jesus entered Jerusalem with the crowd carried away with excitement and anticipation, and moved to make extravagant gestures as they hailed him, ‘blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’. (A cloak was a very valuable possession and would not be offered up lightly).
Music: You are the King of Glory (R&S 271)
A teacher asked students to suggest some modern-day heroes. After a thoughtful silence, one student ventured, ‘It’s difficult, because today we have celebrities rather than heroes.’ As he rode into Jerusalem Jesus seems to be both of those things: well known and acclaimed, like a celebrity; but also recognised as one who is worthy of praise.
At the time when Jesus entered Jerusalem there would have been plenty of other preachers, teachers and healers hoping to gain attention. So, what was it about Jesus that attracted the crowds to him with such fervour? We can make same informed or intuitive guesses, although we cannot know for certain. We were not there!
But we can ask: How do people today see Jesus? Some people may say that he was a good person from history. Some may well think of him as something of a celebrity from the past. But what about us – how do we see Jesus? Do we too see him as a good person from history or a celebrity from the past? As Christians we acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, the Messiah, the son of God, but where would we have been in that Palm Sunday crowd – on the edge and hanging back? Taking pictures with our phones? With the crowd that acclaimed him? Or with those who turned on him days later
Let’s examine the events of those days a little more closely. Jerusalem would have been bustling and crowded. Despite the party atmosphere, the rejoicing for the festival, there would have been an underlying tension. Recent unrest had resulted in the arrest of insurrectionists including Barabbas, who was now in prison awaiting the Roman governor’s sentence. Around the same time as Jesus rode into Jerusalem from the west, on his borrowed donkey, Pilate would have entered the city from the east, on his horse accompanied by his troops and with trumpets and drums to announce his coming. It would have been a show of power very different to Jesus’ peaceful procession yet the two had uneasy resonances and similarities.
The people’s expectation of a Messiah who would restore Israel’s glory and reinstate a Davidic kingdom made the Jewish authorities nervous as well. They knew that an uprising against the might of the Roman Empire had no chance of success but even more worrying for them was the challenge that Jesus posed to their authority. His preaching undermined their teaching and interpretation of the Law and called for a renewed relationship with God, based on justice, righteousness and loving kindness rather than a strict observance of rules and regulations, and Jewish traditions. Judaism was recognised as an official religion of the Roman Empire and to some extent enjoyed a protected status giving its leaders a standing within the system but if Jesus threatened their influence with the people they were in danger of losing this status too. It was a threat that had to be removed.
For the ordinary people though Jesus brought hope. Hope of a new way of living, of a more just and equitable society and they were ready to embrace it. For the poor a cloak was a treasured possession, valued far beyond what an expensive coat would be for us today. Those throwing their cloaks on the road were rejoicing at God’s deliverance and responding extravagantly, giving the best they had, knowing that they risked being ruined, that they wouldn’t get them back undamaged. We usually think of giving in terms of worldly use but Jesus brought meaning into people’s lives in a way that was far beyond worldly considerations. In today’s world, how do we show that Jesus is someone whose life, death and resurrection have meaning for us now?
Music: Ride on, ride on in majesty (R&S 209)
Prayers of Intercession
Lord, open the gates of righteousness, so that through our prayer we might enter and give thanks to the Lord.
We pray for the nations of the world, praying for justice and freedom…
We pray for our own nation, praying for unity and generosity…
We pray for our community, praying for perception and openness…
We pray for our church, praying for kindness and truth…
We pray for ourselves, praying for grace and humility…
Lord, open the gates of righteousness, that we might follow the King who rides on a donkey into the kingdom of God. Amen.
Music: All glory, laud and honour (R&S 208)
Gracious God, we thank you for bringing us together today. We bless you for being our hero and the focus of our praise. Send us out of this place full of love, joy and hope. Let our enthusiasm be infectious to those we meet, and may others be drawn to you – especially in this most holy of weeks. Amen.
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Used by permission.