A Reflection for Palm Sunday

Reading: Matthew 20:17-19

While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.’


You may be surprised that the reading above is not the usual account of our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives as crowds of people spread their coats on the ground and greeted him with shouts of ‘Hosanna!’ That is the reading we usually hear on this Sunday at the start of Holy Week (You can find that in Matthew 21:1-11).

The short passage from the preceding chapter of Matthew’s gospel gives us an insight into the mind of Jesus as he made his way to Jerusalem and what must have been uppermost in his mind as he made that feted and fateful journey. This was the third time Our Lord had predicted his arrest, suffering death and resurrection. It was clearly no accident that he was executed on Good Friday at the insistence of the religious leaders and by order of the Roman governor. This was part of the divine plan and Jesus went willingly in obedience to his heavenly Father’s will.

It is also clear that the twelve disciples had no grasp of the reality of Jesus’ prediction – how could they? They had come to a gradual and limited understanding of his role and mission after Peter had declared him to be the Messiah, but their expectations of a Messiah were completely at odds with the path of suffering that their Master foretold. Nor did the crowds who hailed him along the road have any idea of what lay ahead. When they greeted him with the words ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, they expressed the long-held hope for a king and liberator who would restore the monarchy to Judah.

Only Jesus fully grasped the fate that awaited him and he did nothing to avoid it. In fact his subsequent words and actions as recorded by Matthew made his arrest inevitable. His first action in Jerusalem was to drive out the money changers from the temple and his condemnation of the religious leadership was forthright and provocative.

Despite the crowds and their celebratory singing and chanting, Jesus cut a lonely figure as he made his way through them astride a donkey. This is expressed in the hymn we often sing on Palm Sunday:

Ride on, ride on in majesty; In lowly pomp ride on to die.

There are many people who are lonely and isolated during the current coronavirus pandemic. Some are self-isolating at home because they have symptoms of the virus. Many are in nursing homes and have been unable to see family members for several weeks now. Others are hospitalised and we hear of some heart-rending stories about how some have died without their loved ones by their side. We remember also the lonely role performed by the brave workers at the frontline of the health and emergency services working in extremely difficult situations. Let us continue to remember all of them in our prayers.

In the drama of Holy Week, we are assured that God is with us in all adversity and in all of life’s most challenging circumstances. We already know that after Good Friday, Jesus rose from the dead and is alive for evermore and is present with us through the Holy Spirit. The gospel of Christ is one of triumph and hope, but not the triumph that the crowds envisaged on Palm Sunday. Christ suffered for us that we might have the hope of eternal life.

We are unable to come together as a church family this year for public worship and to mark the events of Holy Week, or at Easter. Might I suggest that you take time during the week to read the passion narrative in chapters 26 and 27 of Matthew’s gospel? If we read this prayerfully, then we will be able to enter into the joy of Easter more fully. There will be further reflections posted on this site on Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

Collect for Palm Sunday

Almighty and everlasting God,
who, in your tender love towards the human race,
sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh
and to suffer death upon the cross:
Grant that we may follow the example
of his patience and humility,
and also be made partakers of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayers of intercession

Let us bring to the Father our prayers of intercession
through Christ who gave himself for the life of the world.
For forgiveness for the many times we have denied Jesus,
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For grace to seek out those habits of sin which mean spiritual death,
and by prayer and self-discipline to overcome them,
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For Christian people,
that through the suffering of disunity
there may grow a rich union in Christ,
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For those who make laws, interpret them, and administer them,
that our common life may be ordered in justice and mercy,
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For those who still make Jerusalem a battleground,
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For those who have the courage and honesty to work openly for
justice and peace,
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For those in the darkness and agony of isolation,
that they may find support and encouragement,
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For those who, weighed down with hardship, failure, or sorrow,
feel that God is far from them,
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For those who are tempted to give up the way of the cross,
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

That we, with those who have died in faith,
may find mercy in the day of Christ,
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

Holy God,
holy and strong,
holy and immortal,
have mercy upon us.

Dear Lord,
You are the Maker of heaven and earth,
As we face the coronavirus pandemic, help us to lift our eyes to you,
May your peace be with those who are feeling anxious,
May your strength be with those working to keep others safe,
May your comfort be with those who are grieving,
May your wisdom light the way for those making decisions,
May your healing be upon those who are unwell,
May your hope fill those who are fearful of the future,
May your compassion prompt us to love our neighbours,
Keep us from harm,
Watch over our coming and going,
Both now and forevermore,

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