Charles Dickens could have been writing about Palm Sunday:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…
[The opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities.]
On the last Sunday of Lent we remember the drama, ecstasy, promise and irony of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem in the last days of his pre-Resurrection life. The crowds love him and recognise him as King, but we know that those same crowds will be calling ‘Crucify him!’ a few days later.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Many churches devote Palm Sunday, as this day is also known, to enacting the story in their congregations. There might even be a real live donkey!
Just telling the story is quite sufficient this week, so I encourage you to act it out together.
The focus for our candle-lighting this week is on two ideas: Jesus is a King, and Jesus is a surprising King.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are visiting New Zealand at the moment. We came across their motorcade on a rainy day in Wellington last week – we were on our way between SBJ’s first kindy visit and our favourite cafe – and I can tell you that Prince William was not riding a donkey, or even in any kind of humble Japanese-import car. There were about fifteen vehicles, a police escort, a fancy flag on the Royal car and we were stopped – by the police – to make way for them.
Jesus’ way of being a King is pretty different. Read what happened in Matthew’s account:
When they neared Jerusalem, having arrived at Bethphage on Mount Olives, Jesus sent two disciples with these instructions: “Go over to the village across from you. You’ll find a donkey tethered there, her colt with her. Untie her and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you’re doing, say, ‘The Master needs them!’ He will send them with you.”
This is the full story of what was sketched earlier by the prophet:
Tell Zion’s daughter,
“Look, your king’s on his way,
poised and ready, mounted
On a donkey, on a colt,
foal of a pack animal.”
The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They led the donkey and colt out, laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted. Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!” “Hosanna in highest heaven!”
As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going on here? Who is this?”
The parade crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Quick Guide to Week 6
- Bible reading:
- Candle lighting and sentences:
Once a day, light the first six candles:
1. the first candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus is wise,’ then
2. the second candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus and the prophets make us brave,’ then
3. the third candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus gives us important jobs to do to make the world better,’ then
4. the fourth candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus gives us a fresh start whenever we need one’ then
5. the fifth candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus is in charge of life (and death)’ then
6. the sixth candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus is a surprising King’
Light all six candles each day this week, but on Good Friday, you could light them and immediately snuff them all out.
Don’t light them on Saturday.
On Easter Sunday, light all six and then the seventh, final, Christ Candle.
- Spiritual Practice: Testimony.
The crowds acknowledged who Jesus was: their King. Who do you say Jesus is? Do you choose to follow him? Do your kids know that and know why?
Take the opportunity this week to tell some of your personal experience of committing to follow Jesus.
Any children you are doing Lent with will be riveted, and honoured to be trusted with hearing important, personal things about adults they know.
Not convinced? Take a look at this post I wrote for Lulastic and the Hippyshake about the limits of relying on osmosis and example to pass on faith to our kids.
- Prayer: ‘Thank you Jesus, for surprising us.’
Longer version for older children and adults:
‘Please show us what kind of King you are, and help us to get to know you better.’
- Conversation starters: What kind of kings do you know? What are they like? What would your town/country look like if Jesus were the President/Prime Minister/King instead of your current leader?
- Artworks to look at together: The work of a Zambian painter, Emmanuel Nsama, includes a scene of the triumphal entry.
See Andrew Mulenga’s blog for the story of the image and more of Nsama’s work.
See the top of this post for a scene of Russian clergy re-enacting the events.
As always, and even more this week, consider together all the different people in the paintings, what they’re thinking and doing, and which one represents you right now.
- Poems: Charles Funston has collected five Palm Sunday poems, spanning five centuries, at his blog ‘That which we have heard and known’ – including one from the perspective of the donkey. Which one chimes most with you?
- Art and craft: People all over the world will be making palm crosses this week. Join them. Traditionally, it is the ashes made by burning these crosses that marks us on Ash Wednesday the next year, so you might like to plan together where you will display your crosses to keep until then.
There are also these super-cute palm branches made of traced hands if you’re short of the real thing.
If you are doing crafts with older children, you might be interested in these ways of turning the waving palm branches of Palm Sunday into a crown of thorns on Good Friday.
See my Lent board on Pinterest for heaps of other crafty links for Palm Sunday and Lent generally.
- Hospitality: There’s something very powerful about acknowledging someone’s importance, as the crowds in Jerusalem did on Palm Sunday.
Can you think of someone you could invite for coffee or a meal, telling them that it’s because of how much you appreciate and honour them? It might be the best thing that happens to them this year. Who is the person that comes to mind for you?
- Movies: This could be a good week to just type something like ‘Jesus enters Jerusalem’ into YouTube and watch some movie scenes. It’s pretty much a compulsory scene in any film about Christ.
- Reading for adults: Shane Claiborne on his Jesus for President campaign: ‘What would America look like if Jesus were in charge?’
TextWeek.com has a heading ‘Contemporary Commentary’ that has some great extracts this week.
Joy Cowley’s modern psalm is worth a look, too, with a kick in the last lines.
And a benediction adapted from the New Zealand Prayer Book:
Jesus, when you rode into Jerusalem
the people waved palms with shouts of acclamation.
Grant that when the shouting dies,
we may still walk beside you.
Even to a cross.
When all we are and everything we do
are called into question,
God grant us dignity and direction,
grant us patience;
Jesus, be there then.
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And I’d love to hear how it’s all going! Please pop a comment below if you are finding Lent to be a useful time for you or your household. Let’s encourage each other (and me, especially! 🙂 )