This article is from Issue 9 of “On The Move,” a publication of new learning possibilities for churches, at one time published by The Joint Board of Christian Education of Australia and New Zealand.
Although some ideas and liturgies may appear somewhat “dated” in style, concept, imagery or language, they may nevertheless offer a spring-board for new ideas among people who find themselves leading worship, perhaps in a new context, and with some trepidation.
Reproduced by permission. May be reprinted for use in local congregations only.
Planning worship for Palm Sunday and Easter
The BIBLE can speak for itself
SUNDAY MORNING starts early in our church, with a simple eucharistic service at 8.00 a.m. The congregation at this hour is small, ranging from about twenty people to perhaps three dozen.
There was a time when discussion was a part of every service, following the reading of Scripture. However, the overall time limit (another service begins at 9.30) meant that all too often the discussion had to be cut short. Then we began having the discussion over breakfast or after breakfast but those who liked also to attend the big contemporary celebration at 9.30 felt excluded. In recent months Brian (our minister) has been sharing his insights into the readings for the day before the service begins. That has solved the time problem nicely, but has created another one in cutting down on opportunities for personal involvement. Im not sure whose idea it was, but we decided to spend the whole of one Sunday morning planning the services for the next month, with particular attention to the Gospel readings as set out in the lectionary we follow.
So we took our lunch the nine or ten of us who were free and went on to Rob and jennys house after breakfast at the church. We represented a fair cross-section of the congregation: two young married couples, a couple in the grandparent bracket, several single young adults and one single and fortyish.
Our first task was to look at the readings set down for the next Sunday, which was Palm Sunday. We seemed to have struck the jackpot! In addition to the usual Old Testament, epistle and Gospel readings there was an extra Gospel reference: Matthew 26:14 27:66. When we looked it up we found that we had two very long chapters, covering the whole of the Passion narrative.
The response was enthusiastic: “Terrific! We so seldom get the chance to see things whole. Lets read it all.”
We could run into the old problem of not enough time, but Brian readily agreed when someone suggested that there would be no need for any exposition or sermon. Such a narrative could surely speak for itself.
After looking at a few other possible methods of presentation, we decided to divide the passage into manageable sections and have a different person read each one. We used the divisions in Good News for Modern Man as our starting point, sometimes combining two of them. The sections were allotted. With a whole week for preparation, we were able to include some of the children as readers of the shorter sections.
The service was built up around the readings (which is probably how it always ought to be). The communion would come earlier than usual in the service, following the Last Supper narrative, and the subsequent readings would form a kind of meditation, with taped music between the sections.
We dont go in too much for gimmicks, but we do like festival services to be a bit special. Every Sunday we have a procession from the front of the nave to the small side chapel, the children leading the way with the offering plate, the elements, and a lighted taper, so we had to think of something that would mark this procession as something more.
We decided to start from the back of the church so that we could use the whole long centre aisle. Those of us who could would bring olive branches and pieces of eucalypt and other greenery (Matthew says nothing about palm branches) and we would form a guard of honour right down the aisle so that the procession would have something to process through. As the end of the procession passed by, we would join on behind. All the branches and boughs would be set down in front of the communion table when we reached the chapel. Geoff, our guitarist, would lead the way and we would sing as we processed.
Easter and after
So much for Palm Sunday. We also had to plan for Easter Day. The givens were a 6.00 a.m. starting point, a Paschal candle and a Paschal bonfire in the car park. The Scripture readings, naturally enough, spoke of resurrection.
Members of the group pooled ideas about the most effective ways of colouring the hard-boiled eggs which were to be a part of the Easter breakfast. We also agreed that a chocolate egg would be broken during the service to symbolize the breaking forth of new life.
With plans well in hand for two special festival services, I guess some of us felt that anything else we did that morning would be an anti-climax. However, Brian kept us hard at it. He divided us into two groups and gave us all the Gospel readings from Easter to Pentecost. Our assignment was to find some connecting link or theme running through them.
As we explored the Gospel together we began to find common themes like faith in the risen Christ, alive and ever-present; like the recognition of Christ as Son of God; like the risen Christ as the source of the churchs life. We didnt plan anything special for these services after Easter, but we had seen the pattern that would hold them together. The Word had spoken for itself, and we were looking forward to further encounters.