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Palm Sunday

Contemporary Worship


By Maria Hoshaw

Preparation 1 week+ before Service:

Organize/delegate music group

Buy one king-size bed sheet. Remove all four boards. Notch the ripping edges at 2" intervals for easy tearing.

Construct/find a huge cross (I used a six foot by 4 foot cross made of railroad ties.) The cross needs to be big and natural looking. The cross should only be wood, with no pictures or Jesus figures on it.

Create the bulletin with professional yet casual look so everyone can follow along with program. Remember to give special thanks by name to the various participants in the service and behind the scenes- listing people by name in the bulletin. Many hands go into this service.

Setting for start of service

Welcoming music draws people in. Quieter music, not happy clappy Jesus music.

The huge cross is set prominently front and center, either standing in a platform or leaning against something. Should be visible to all. The sheet is draped over the cross like a shawl.

If there will be a communion/Eucharist component to the worship, then set those up according to custom. If there will be a shared load of bread, have the uncut fresh loaf prepared and ready for later in the service.

Opening Music


Leader: Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

All: And Blessed be His kingdom, now and forever. Amen

Leader: Bless the Lord, who forgives all our sins.

All: His mercy endures forever.

Leader: Jesus said, "The first commandment is this: Hear O Israel; The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these."

Opening Prayer led by anyone

It is right to praise you, Almighty God, for the acts of love by which you have redeemed us through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. On this day Jesus entered the holy city of Jerusalem in triumph, and was proclaimed as King of kings by those who spread their garments and branches of palm along his way. Help us remember the palm branches as signs of his victory, to hail him as our king, and to follow him in the way that leads to eternal life. Amen

Collective Opening prayer

Please let us all stand and pray together as we begin our worship together this evening.

Almighty and ever living God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility. Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Please be seated for the dramatic reading, "Were you There" from Gospel Dramas by Don Nadasday. 1985, Augsburg Publishing House.

(Note: This dramatic reading is contemporary drama. Various voices come forward, giving interpretations. Each of these many "witnesses" give perspectives of "being there" on Palm Sunday and for the events that followed. This skit lasts about fifteen minutes, is easy to learn, and is very powerful. To use it and print copies of the drama to use for readers, publication permission must be obtained from Augsbury Fortress. The small fee they charge to use this skit is worth it!)

Repentance for ripping the Church to Pieces

The plain, white sheet is symbolic of the Church. When Christ died, the curtain of the temple was torn in two. We all have sinned in some way. We all have caused the church to be torn in some way by our actions, by our attitude, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. During this time, reflect on the words being spoken here.

(The worship leader then slowly rips the sheet down the center. The two halves are draped over the arms of the big cross which also is set standing up in the front)

You are invited to come forward during the following reading, and to rip off a strip of the sheet. Return to your seat with the strip of sheet.

All (kneeling):
Most holy and merciful Father;
We confess to you and to one another,
And to the whole communion of saints
In heaven and on earth,
That we have sinned by our own fault
In thought, word, and deed;
By what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

Leader: We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.

All: Have mercy on us, Lord.

Leader: We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ serves us. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit.

All: Have mercy on us, Lord.

Leader: We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives.

All: Have mercy on us, Lord.

Leader: For our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of others.

All: Have mercy on us, Lord.

Leader: For our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves.

All: Have mercy on us, Lord.

Leader: For our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work.

All: Have mercy on us Lord.

Leader: For our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us.

All: Have mercy on us, Lord.

(Silence is kept after that as the rest of the congregation comes forth to rip a piece of fabric from the sheet. The sound of the repeated ripping is haunting.)

Repentance through the strips of Fabric

Nurses and doctors and medics used to use strips of sheets to help heal the wounds of those they were helping. During World War I and II, families were asked to tear up bed sheets and turn them into the Red Cross so they could be used as bandages.

Black strips of fabric have been used by those in mourning, tied to their arm. A yellow strip of fabric has been used, tied around a tree, with the hope of someone returning. A red strip of fabric is used today, folded over on itself as the symbol for AIDS ministry.

Now let us revisit the strip of fabric we tore from the sheet. As a visual sign of our prayers and petitions to God, and as a sign of our confession to God for things done and left undone, please let us each come forward with our strip of fabric during the following prayers and tie it someplace on the cross.

Leader: Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done;

For our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty.

All: Accept our repentance, Lord.

Leader: For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us.

All: Accept our repentance, Lord.

Leader: For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us

All: Accept our repentance, Lord.

Leader: Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;

All: Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.

Leader: Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,

All: That we may show forth your glory in the world.

Leader: By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord;

All: Bring us with all your saints in the joy of his resurrection.


Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desires not the death of sinners, but rather that they may turn from their wickedness and live, has given power and commandments to his ministers to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the absolution and remission of their sins. He pardons and absolves all those who truly repent, and with sincere hearts believe his holy Gospel.

Therefore we beseech him to grant us true repentance and his Holy Spirit, that those things may please him which we do on this day, and that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure and holy, so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Please share with each other some sign of peace.

Communion bread or Shared Bread

(In the Episcopal, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Lutheran Traditions, a special time for communion bread and wine then follows at this point in the service. Typically these faith groups have standard ways of doing this part of the service so these aren’t spelled out play by play here. If there is no communion bread in your tradition, an alternative ancient tradition of sharing a large loaf of bread could be done. If this is the case, the loaf is broken in two and two halves are distributed among all. Everyone tears of his/her own small piece of the shared bread.)

Shared Prayer

Let us all pray together the following

God of our Lives,
You are always calling us into the future,
Inviting us to new ventures,
New challenges,
New ways to care,
New ways to touch the hearts of all.
When we are fearful of the unknown, give us courage
When we worry that we are not up to the task,
Remind us that you would not call us
if you didn't believe in us.
Be with us, we pray; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Final blessing

May God's blessing be yours
Encircling you round
Above you
Within you.

May the Son's blessing be yours
The wind and the water
The bread and the stories
To feed you
To remind you.

May the Spirit's blessing be yours
The wind, the fire
The still small voice
To comfort you
To challenge you.

Closing Music

Food and fellowship

(pizza, potluck, or any other special dishes would do. Move the group from the "prayer space" to a "food space" where lively music and food are available.)


Art-Hands-bw.jpg (14169 bytes)

maria.jpg (9156 bytes)Submitted by Maria Hoshaw. Maria and her husband Joel live and work in Alexandria, Virginia., and attend an Episcopalian church. Maria's avocation is young adult ministry and postmodern evangelism. She has degrees in Pastoral theology and Religious education, but presently works for USAID.

Maria developed the Palm Sunday service as a monthly evening service geared for youth and young adults in her parish.  She designed this and other services to be experiential in nature, engaging each individual, inviting them to make a personal connection to God in the service.  A key aspect to the service is it engages the whole person, mind, spirit, body, imagination.  The service doesn't "dumb down" themes like sin, brokenness, or needing God's grace. Ancient symbols - candles, incense, silence - are used as frequently as drama and skits. The service was held on a Sunday evening, and was followed by a pizza party for all, especially for the many hands who helped present the program.  The experiential worship service was wonderfully received by all, especially from those who commented "they didn't feel connected with church" and found the regular Sunday morning services significantly "lacking."

[Maria's web page]

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Why a liturgy?

In the last 20 years we have seen the rise of so-called contemporary services; services with upbeat music, clapping, and a positive message.

In recent years, however, many younger people have expressed a desire for more contemplation, quiet and meditation. In short, we are witnessing the re-introduction of the concept of liturgy.

This service was designed by Maria Howshaw, Washington. We bring it to you here as an example of one creative way in which people are exploring meaningful liturgical services.

If you are interested in discussing liturgy, or have a Liturgy that you like, we invite you to submit them to us.

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