Sunday Worship – 24th March 2024 – Palm Sunday

(All our songs this morning are from Singing the Faith (StF) numbers will be given where available)

Welcome to our Sunday Service, today shared on paper across our circuit and with the congregation at Baildon Methodist Church and led by Martin Bashforth one of our Circuit Local Preachers. Today is Palm Sunday.

Click on the blue links to follow them for bible readings and associated links

Call to worship         

Rejoice, people of Zion! Shout for joy, you people of Jerusalem!
Look, your king is coming to you! He comes triumphant and victorious,
But humble and riding on a donkey.

Song – StF 264 – Make way, make way       


Hosanna to the Son of David! Gracious God, on this day of celebration, we join with the crowds of Jerusalem to praise and honour the name of Jesus, whom you sent into the world to be our Saviour. He has opened the way for us to have a living relationship with you, our Father in heaven.

We thank you, loving God, that you have revealed to us your great love for humankind; and we thank you for the blessings which abound for those who believe in Jesus and follow his ways. Keep us faithful to our calling.

As we begin another Holy Week, when we retrace the last days of Jesus’ life on earth, give us again the sense of wonder at his sacrifice for our sakes. May we realise the cost of his love for us; the price he paid for our sins – in order that we might be forgiven and reconciled to you. Help us to respond to such amazing love, by giving our lives in your service.

So, gracious God, we dedicate this hour of worship to you. May it bring glory to your name. May our offering of worship be worthy of all that you have done for us. And may your name be honoured, not only with our lips, but in our lives. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Song – StF 265 – Ride on, ride on, in majesty 


Mark 11: 1-11 

Song – StF 362 – Meekness and majesty    


Gracious God, thank you for the life you have given us and for the love you have placed in our hearts. Grant us the help of your Holy Spirit, as we pray for the needs of the world.

God of peace, we hold before you all parts of the world, where people are suffering from violence. We pray especially for the situation in Gaza, where innocent people are suffering from bombardment and a lack of food, water and health care. And we don’t forget the people of Ukraine, whose plight has gone from the front pages of our newspapers, but who continue to suffer oppression and bombardment. Lord, please encourage the nations of the world to put pressure on the warring countries to seek political solutions, so that the suffering can be brought to an end.

We pray for people all around the world, who are suffering from the effects of extreme weather, caused by climate change. We think of those in our own country, whose homes have recently been filled with flood water or damaged by gales. Extreme weather events are becoming widespread and often. Lord, please open the eyes of the governments of the world, to see that we have it in our power to control and even reverse global warming, and that if we do nothing, this extreme weather will continue and our beautiful earth will be doomed. We remember also the people of Turkey, Morocco, and Afghanistan, still working hard to recover from recent devastating earthquakes.

Lord, we pray for people in our own country who are anxious about the rising cost of living, and many who are struggling to pay for food and energy. Give to our Government wisdom and compassion to take measures which will help everyone to get through these trying times. We pray for the foodbanks, which are running out of food to pass on to people, that they may find ways to replenish their stocks.

And finally, Lord, we bring to mind friends and families of members of our church, and others, known to us, who have special needs at this time, and for whom we wish to pray. And so, in silence now, we can each offer our own prayers, for those about whom we are concerned. Let us pray together…..


Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers and deal graciously with them. Comfort those who suffer and those who mourn; and bring your healing to the sick.

We ask all our prayers, in and through the name of Jesus, our living Lord and Saviour, who taught us, when we pray together, to say……    Our Father, who art in heaven…….

Song – StF 696 – For the healing of the nations


Philippians 2: 1-11

Sermon for Palm Sunday 

The triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is one of only a few events which are recorded in all four accounts of the gospel story. The others are: the meeting between Jesus and John the Baptist, when John announced that Jesus is “the Lamb of God….”; the feeding of the 5,000, and the story surrounding the arrest, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  Of all the other stories of Jesus with which we are so familiar, at least one of the evangelists left them out of his account, as not being important to the message he was trying to portray. So the fact that they all report this particular event indicates its great significance.

I have examined again, not just the account which we have heard read this morning – from Mark – but also the accounts of Matthew, Luke, and John, with the help of a great biblical scholar, William Barclay, and I have found that there is much we can learn from this important event.

First: this was not a chance happening. It was carefully planned by Jesus. Even down to the detail of giving a password to the owners of the donkey that he would ride, so that they would know to let the disciples take it away. It was important that the donkey had never been ridden by anyone, in order for it to be worthy of its sacred task. The timing of the event was chosen very deliberately as the Passover, when Jerusalem would be filled with people from many parts of the world. Apparently, around the time of Jesus’ death, a Roman governor took a census of the number of lambs slain in Jerusalem for the Passover, and it amounted to almost 250,000 lambs. Now there was a Jewish regulation that there had to be a group of at least 10 people for every lamb slain. So if you do your sums, that means there must have been at least 2½ million people in Jerusalem for Passover.  A big festival, and big crowds. And Jesus chose this time to make his triumphal entry into the city. So, this particular Passover day, now known as Palm Sunday, was judged by Jesus to be the right time to make his dramatic entry, in the full light of day, and to the acclaim of the multitudes.

There is great significance in Jesus choosing to ride into town on a donkey – which the gospel writers describe, variously, as an ass, a colt or a foal. I guess to us non-horsey types, they are all pretty much interchangeable. A humble animal, sometimes portrayed as a dumb animal. Not the kind of steed to impress people! But chosen by Jesus very deliberately, in order to fulfil scripture.  Ch 9 v 9 of the prophecy of Zechariah says: “Tell the city of Zion: Look, your king is coming to you! He is humble and rides on a donkey” Actually, for all wemight think of a donkey as insignificant, to the people of Jesus’ day, it was regarded as a noble animal, often ridden by kings, as a symbol of peace. A king who had been triumphant in battle would ride into town on his big charger horse. But it was not unusual, and would be recognised as appropriate, for a king who came in peace, to ride on a donkey. So – not an animal to be ridiculed, but a noble beast of burden, whose presence conveyed a message.

However, a message which, it seems, was lost to the cheering crowds. They were hailing a conquering king. The Messiah they had been expecting was the one who would overthrow their Roman oppressors and restore Israel to God’s chosen people. For them, this was Liberation Day! No wonder they were celebrating with such fervour! I was not yet born, when World War 2 came to an end, but I have seen photographs of some of the celebrations which took place on VE Day, in May 1945. One picture which sticks in my mind is of a public place in the centre of a city – possibly London, although I have no idea where – and the streets were thronged with masses of people, waving flags and singing, some having climbed up lampposts to get a better view. And no wonder they were celebrating, as 6 years of war across the world came to an end.  A victory for freedom and democracy! That was the kind of feeling which was abroad on Palm Sunday. The end to occupation by a foreign army was in sight!

You may not know this, but the word ‘Hosanna’, which we commonly use in place of ‘alleluia’ or ‘whoopee’, actually means ‘save now’? It is not so much a shout of joy, as an appeal to a powerful liberator. That makes sense, if you realise that the crowds saw in Jesus, the one who had come to save them. He was coming in triumph. Triumph over what? Triumph over the hated Roman army…….. Yes, it appears the crowd didn’t see the significance of the donkey!

Apparently, there were two crowds greeting Jesus that day. One had come out from the city to the Mount of Olives, to await his arrival. The other was following Jesus from Bethany. The account of Palm Sunday in John’s gospel comes in Ch 12. In the previous chapter, John recounts the raising of Lazarus from the dead. You will remember, Lazarus had been dead for 4 days when Jesus arrived at his house. This had allowed time for family and friends to come round to the house to offer condolences and the place was pretty full, when Jesus got there. So a lot of people witnessed the raising of Lazarus. And word of the miracle soon got round the neighbourhood. This is what John records in Ch 12:

“Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, the man he had raised from death…..A large number of people heard that Jesus was in Bethany, so they went there, not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from death.”

So, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem, there was a great crowd in front of him, and also a great crowd following him. The crowd was chanting “Praise God! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! God bless the King of Israel! Hosanna! Save us Lord!” It is interesting that these are not just random sayings. They are quotations from scripture. In fact, from Psalm 118, verses 25 and 26. This psalm had many connections, which were bound to be in the minds of the people that day. It is the last in a group of 5 psalms known as the Hallel. Hallel is the root of the word ‘hallelujah’ and it is a word which means praise. The Hallel are all praising psalms. They are amongst the first psalms which Jewish boys have to learn by heart, so just about everybody knows them. They are used often for praise and thanksgiving and as an integral part of the Passover ritual. Psalm 118 is also characteristically the conqueror’s psalm.

One occasion when this psalm would almost certainly have been sung, in a very similar fashion to Palm Sunday, was more than 100 years previously, to welcome back Simon Maccabeus, a national hero from the clan of the Maccabees, who had conquered Acra, and wrested it back from years of Syrian domination. On that day, people carried palm branches and sang their psalms – almost certainly Psalm 118 – to welcome back the conqueror. There is no doubt that the people of Israel, on Palm Sunday were welcoming a conquering king, in the tradition of the Maccabees. Knowing this, how must Jesus have felt? He knew that he had no intention of matching up to their expectations.  In fact, just the opposite.

The question is often asked: How could a crowd which shouted praises on Palm Sunday change to shout crucify on Good Friday? Why did the cheering become jeering? I think we can work it out.

The crowd wanted instant gratification – much like crowds of today. Many of those who came to see Jesus were curious because they had heard that he had raised Lazarus from the dead. No doubt they were hoping to see some other spectacular miracle. And when they didn’t, their enthusiasm began to wane. Maybe they felt let down, or worse still, cheated. A former Prime Minister, Harold Wilson once said: “A week is a long time in politics.” He knew how the mood of the people can quickly change.

Mass hysteria is a phenomenon which can fluctuate, when manipulated by clever people. This fact did not escape the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, as they schemed and plotted through the week. Their influence had much to do with the mood of the crowd. But I think, the main reason for the change in the attitude of the people, was their failure to accept the radical message which Jesus brought. It was a message which had been consistent throughout his ministry, but which he emphasised, demonstrated and lived with increasing clarity as Holy Week unfolded.

Think for a moment, about what it was that made Jesus so popular during his ministry. He performed amazing miracles which always had a good outcome: he turned water into wine; he fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves and two small fishes; he gave sight to a blind man; told a crippled man to pick up his bed and walk. He was an amazing man to have around, and one worth following. As well as the miracles, he told wonderful stories, to illustrate a way of living which would bring about a better world. They were great stories, which you could decide to apply to your own lifestyle – or, alternatively, if you chose to, you could ignore. People liked Jesus. They liked what he did. And they liked what he said. He was interesting. And he was a nice bloke.

But as he made his journey towards Jerusalem, his message changed. He began to speak more and more about commitment. He himself was committed to see God’s plan of salvation fulfilled, despite the great cost to himself. He knew that, once he fell into the hands of the authorities in Jerusalem, there could be only one outcome. It was an outcome he dreaded and of which he was terrified. But that did not cause him to turn back. As Paul said in our reading, “He walked the path of obedience, all the way to death.” And he demanded a similar commitment from his followers. You may remember the occasion with the rich young ruler, who ran up to Jesus enthusiastically, and asked what he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus answered him: “Go and sell all that you have and give the money to the poor. Then come and follow me.” That was a shocking message to the young man and he walked away disappointed. It was also shocking to the crowd who heard it. A kingdom which involves sacrifice and self-giving is somehow not as attractive as one where hungry people are fed, and sick people are healed.

“If anyone wants to come with me,” Jesus said, “he must forget self, carry his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his own life, will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it.”

It began to dawn on Jesus’ followers that his way was not always going to be an easy way. And it lost its appeal. In the event, Jesus did not perform another miracle after his entry into Jerusalem. He was no longer the charismatic healer and story-teller. What was the point of following him now? And as for the hope of the nation being liberated from its oppressors – that had now evaporated, like steam on a hot day. The crowd turned against him.

Where do we see ourselves in all this? What was it that first attracted us to Jesus? No doubt it was his nature and his miraculous powers; and his interesting parables.  Are we with the crowd? Can westomach the demands of Jesus, which involve taking up our cross every day and following him to places we would prefer not to go? In an age where people increasingly follow their own instincts, do what they choose to do, and leave alone those things which do not appeal, the Christian way is running more and more against the grain of modern society.  We are left with the choice. Do we follow the crowd?  Or do we walk with Jesus the path of obedience? I invite you to make use of the days of this coming Holy Week, to examine where you stand as a follower of Jesus, in the light of his example. And I hope you are still with him next Sunday, to celebrate his wonderful resurrection.

Let us pray:

Lord God, your ways are not our ways. For you see beyond today. You live in eternity. And you have invited us to join you in eternity. We thank you that in Jesus, we have a clear picture of the extent of your love for us and for the world. Thank you that he was prepared to walk the path of obedience, all the way to the cross. Show us, that the only true way for your kingdom people, is to take up our cross with Jesus. And in his strength, to live a life of obedience. For that is the only way we shall see your kingdom come, and your lost children saved for eternity. In Jesus’ name and for his sake, we pray. Amen.

Song – StF 287 – When I survey the wondrous cross


May the God of peace provide you with every good thing you need in order to do His will, and may He, through Jesus Christ, do in us what pleases Him. And to Christ be the glory, for ever and ever. Amen

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