The Narrative Lectionary reading for Palm Sunday (April 9, 2017) is the traditional one, of Jesus triumphally entering Jerusalem on a colt with much fanfare. The climax of the story has begun, the journey to the cross almost completed. The story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is rich with history and meaning. Jesus is purposefully “quoting” the prophet Zechariah (9:9-10), not with words, but with actions, riding into Jerusalem on a colt. He is claiming to be the coming king, the Messiah of God, and this is not lost on the crowd. They are rejoicing, as they had been waiting for the coming of the Messiah for a long time. The twist in this story, however, is that the expectations of the crowd on what Jesus was about to do were very different than the reality. Jesus would be crowned and enthroned as king, but it would be a crown of thorns and a throne of a cross and a cold stone tomb. Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story!
How can this story, this festival, be used to form faith? It is perfect for faith formation! As a festival day, your congregation probably has traditions associated with palms and maybe even some sort of parade. Such traditions are a great model of one type of cross+generational faith formation experience, with an emphasis on “experience.” In the common (but not universal) tradition of a palm parade, kids, and hopefully adults, get to wave a palm branch or frond as they march to or around the sanctuary. The rich, sensory experience (touch, sight, sound, smell, but hopefully not taste) of the palms and the movement of marching (rolling, being carried, etc.) creates memories and engages the whole person.
So, make sure that you are crafting this faith formation experience on purpose!
- Tell the story! Take advantage of the physical, sensory details by playing up the sounds, sights, smells, and touch of this story, which adds meaning to the story for all ages (not just the kids!). As you tell it, include details from the historical context, so that listeners can understand what’s going on and why. (It doesn’t have to be too complex: “The people were excited because they thought Jesus was coming to free them!”)
- Connect the old with the new. Help people make connections between the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the New Testament in this story. Read or retell the words of Zechariah 9:9-10 and Psalm 118.
- Cross generations. Whether you do your education time divided by ages or not, make a point to integrate generations by having kids make palm crafts and hand them out to adults, or even help distribute the palms.
- Bridge classroom and sanctuary. Tie what students might be doing in the classroom with the worship service.
- Combine knowledge with understanding. As critically important it is to just know the stories of the Bible, the faith formation experience is deepened by understanding what is happening under the story and why. Even young children can deepen their understanding of the story.
This week’s FREE faith formation resource is a simple activity from our Living the Word: Cross+Generational Education product called “Shouting Stones.” This activity can be adapted for use with young kids and adults, or (even better) all the generations together in a classroom or even in the worship service! The Living the Word: Cross+Generational Education curriculum provides weekly lessons following the Narrative Lectionary that encourages the different generations to teach and learn from each other in a classroom or other flexible educational setting.
Please share below or on our Facebook page how your congregation is emphasizing faith formation on Palm Sunday!
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)