Engaging Young Adults in Worship: Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday is a day for pageantry in most churches. It's a time in the liturgical year that includes a Gospel story you can taste, touch, smell, hear, AND see. There are donkeys, a singing and a shouting crowd, palms, and, if you go into the passion, shouting crowds, a crown of thorns, a trial that includes Pilate washing his hands, and the crucifixion. It is sensory overload and it means many, many opportunities for the church to have creative liturgies that help people interact with the story.
Most churches have a song with the word "Hosanna" and some palm branches waving. Some do a procession of children around the church. Many do a dramatic reading and use the congregation as "the crowd". I used to work at a church that brought in a donkey! Many churches strip the sanctuary at the end of the service to help the congregation move into Holy Week. All of these props and actions can help the service be more meaningful and create a mood that helps your congregation fully enter worship and the Gospel story. A difficult thing to get across to a modern audience at Palm Sunday is the desire the crowd has for Jesus to be the Deliverer, the Anointed One, the king who will conquer Rome. In almost an instant the crowd turns when they realize the Deliverer is not who they expect. It's a time to question what kind of Deliverer we want, even now. Palm Sunday offers a chance to give a political message about God's Kingdom and God's desire to deliver ALL people. At Servant Church we try our best to put this old story with palm branches, the Roman empire, and donkeys into a modern context. The mood is set first by the Table:
We were blessed by a church member who created this image of Jesus with a youth group. It's modeled off a Che Guevera image and was pretty easy for the group to paint on a canvas. We use the image to invoke the type of savior people were expecting and to remember that we often want a revolutionary leader too. Obama's "Hope" poster is similar and might also make for a good image in the modern church. The image is supposed to be ironic, which is how much of Palm Sunday feels. Our band also has a tradition of playing "Christ for President" by Billy Bragg and Wilco as the opening song: It's peppy and great for an updated processional hymn that makes sense in our culture here in the U.S. It's also ironic in that it ends with the U.S.A. being "prosperity bound" with Jesus as President. It's what our crowds want, right? We do several other upbeat songs and then move to the message. We also have a tradition of singing "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord" but we don't sing the final stanza of "rose up from the grave" until Easter.
After the band plays the final notes (without a clear resolution), the message begins. At the end of worship, the band reprises "Christ for President". Several people who we enlisted that morning begin to walk forward and start removing things from the Table. Everything walks out while we sing and then, we exchange a black cloth for the purple cloth and place a large crown of thorns over the cross. Members of the band just start walking out until there is only a drum playing. Then, the lights go out and we leave in silence. There are a lot of ways to update a well-known story or liturgy like Palm Sunday. This one works for our context in Austin, TX. What might work for you?