Some reflections from the Precentor on the days from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday

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Jesus, Lord of the Journey, we thank you that you set your face firmly towards Jerusalem, with a single eye and pure intention, knowing what lay ahead, but never turning aside.

Jesus, Lord of the Palms, we thank you that you enjoyed the Hosannas of the ordinary people, living fully in that moment of delight, and accepting their praise.

Jesus, Lord of the Cross, we thank you that you went into the heart of our evil and pain, along a way that was both terrible and wonderful, as your kingship became your brokenness, and your dying became love’s triumph.

Angela Ashwin

from The Book of a Thousand Prayers

© 1996 Marshall Pickering


The story begins on the Friday before Palm Sunday. It was on that Friday evening, six days before the Passover festival, that Jesus reached the little village of Bethany, just a couple miles outside the city of Jerusalem. He may well have stayed with his friends Martha and Mary – we are not told: but since the following day (Saturday) was the Sabbath, we can reasonably assume that Jesus spent that day quietly in rest and reflection preparing for his entry into Jerusalem on what has become known as Palm Sunday. Jesus wouldn’t have been the only visitor in Bethany, by any means, because the village would have been hosting lots of other pilgrims from all over Israel, who were flocking towards Jerusalem for the annual celebration of the Passover – that was quite usual. This year was different, however, because word had got around that Jesus of Nazareth would also be attending the festival, and since he was famous throughout the land and was known to many people as the great Galilean prophet, the crowds would also have been interested to see what he would do to stir up the religious establishment.

By the time Jesus stepped outside on the morning of Palm Sunday, the crowds were already starting to line his route, so that they could watch him as his procession passed by. They all understood the significance of what he was about to do. For Jesus the time for reserve was now over, because he knew that his hour of glory was near. So he rode into Jerusalem, making it perfectly clear that he was God’s Messiah, and he accepted the cheering of the crowds along the way as a kind of tribute. His popularity had waxed and waned several times throughout his ministry: now, for a few hours at least, it was rekindled.

Entering Jerusalem in such a dramatic way was the spiritual statement by which Jesus declared himself openly. At the beginning of his ministry in Galilee, Jesus had always withdrawn from popular acclaim and from the cheering of the crowd. In those early days he seemed to want to hold back the secret of his royal dignity from everyone except his chosen disciples. But now, on Palm Sunday, Jesus said in a planer way than words could express ‘Behold your king!’, and he made his bid for the vacant throne of the great King David. His entry into Jerusalem was an acted parable, and it gave his followers the sign that they had been waiting for. It is also focused the whole city’s attention on him, so that, wherever he went during the last six days of his life, crowds followed him and waited expectantly for his next move.

Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was also a challenge to the religious authorities: he was flinging down the gauntlet. Every token of royal honour which he accepted that day added weight to his challenge, and every shout of ‘Hosanna’ drove it home. The members of the Sanhedrin must have been alarmed by the behaviour of Jesus and by the adulation that he received from the crowd: they could tolerate many things, but this procession through the streets was intolerable. They realised that this deluded fanatic would have to be put down once and for all, before he made a decisive bid for power.

There were two things about this procession, however, that puzzled the Sanhedrin and troubled even the most devout of Jesus’ followers. If Jesus was intending to make a bid for the throne of King David, why did he chose to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey? Why not on a camel or a war-horse? What kind of king rides on an ass’s colt? That was one thing. Then there was that extraordinary outburst as Jesus rode over the crest of the Mount of Olives and saw Jerusalem for the first time. One minute Jesus was smiling and waving at the crowd as the narrow road wound around the crest of the hill, and the next he was sitting silent and absorbed, with tears rolling down his cheeks. What kind of leader was he going to be? The crowds were hoping to see Jesus assert himself with vigour and with might – and yet here he was weeping like a child. No-one knew what to make of it. When the procession moved on, perhaps the shouts of Hosanna were a little less convinced. Was this man really the king whom the people of Israel had been expecting? To confuse matters still further, when the day was drawing to a close and the excitement was still running high, Jesus was nowhere to found: he had slipped away quietly, back to Bethany, to the bitter disappointment of those who were still hankering after a messiah who would take the throne by force.



Lord Jesus, we greet your coming, pilgrim Messiah, servant King, rejected Saviour. You rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, symbol of humility and lowliness, mocking our dream of pomp and glory, demonstrating the foolishness of God before the eyes of the world. You have shown us the way of humble service, the way of true greatness. Lord Jesus, help us to follow.


from Patterns & Prayers for Christian Worship

© 1991 Oxford University Press


Over the next two days, the Monday and Tuesday of Holy Week, Jesus was seen again in the city. Fearlessly and without any attempt at secrecy, Jesus showed everyone what he thought about the trading that went on in the courtyard of the temple. Nowhere else in the Gospels do we see the anger of Jesus blazing out more terribly than when he stood with the whip of cords raised above his head, and in his eyes a fierce light which made even the strongest men shrink away. He threw over the tables of the money changers and caused mayhem right at the heart of the holy city. This act alone would have been enough to seal his fate. But during these two days, Monday and Tuesday, he also engaged in public controversies with his opponents. Most notably there was the discussion about tribute money ‘Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s’, and then there was Jesus’s fierce onslaught on the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, when he called them serpents and a brood of vipers who were destined for hell. The temperature was rising steadily and dark clouds were gathering for a storm.

Two days before the Passover, a meeting of the Sanhedrin was hastily convened to discuss ways of suppressing Jesus once and for all. The Sanhedrin was an aristocratic body with seventy-one members, who formed the General Council of the Jewish nation and who also functioned as the High Court of Justice. It consisted of chief priests and scribes and elders, and since its membership included leaders of both Pharisees and Sadducees, contention and friction within the Sanhedrin was commonplace. About the matter of Jesus of Nazareth, however, there was no dissent whatsoever: both parties were united in demanding his immediate arrest and trial.

But how should the arrest be carried out without inflaming the situation? – that was the dilemma for the Sanhedrin. The real difficulty for them was in predicting the behaviour of the crowd. Crowds of human beings are highly volatile groups. No-one knew with certainty whether an open, official move by the Sanhedrin against Jesus would be welcomed by the crowd, or whether it might precipitate a sudden revulsion of popular opinion in favour of Jesus. This was an awkward problem, demanding careful strategy: the council would have sweated for hours weighing the pros and cons of the argument. But then, right out of the blue, an entirely unexpected solution offered itself, when one of Jesus’s own disciples sought an audience with the court. Judas Iscariot was ushered into the Sanhedrin, and he said that Jesus could be taken secretly under cover of darkness. He knew his master’s movements in advance, and he knew his favourite haunts: he would lead them there, and they would have Jesus at their mercy. So it was all planned: blood money was given, and the pact was sealed.



O God our heavenly Father, who to redeem the world didst deliver up thine only Son to be betrayed by one of his disciples and sold to his enemies: take from us, we beseech thee, all covetousness and hypocrisy; and so strengthen us, that, loving thee above all things, we may remain steadfast in our faith unto the end; through him who gave his life for us, our Saviour Jesus Christ.


Lawrence Tuttiett  1825–97


What took place the next day, Wednesday of Holy Week, remains a mystery to us. We do not know where Jesus was or what he was doing. He may have been in Bethany, or he may have walked in the hills around the city. He couldn’t have been far from Jerusalem because, by the Thursday evening at the hour of Paschal feast, Jesus was sitting with his disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem – possibly the guestroom in the house of one of his many friends. As the disciples gathered round the Lord’s table, Judas was the only disciple who would have known that, before sunrise the next morning, a terrible storm would break over Jesus.

For a few hours in that upper room, the peace of God reigned supreme: Jesus ate and drank for the last time before he died with those who had loved him and clung to him and accompanied him through three long years of public ministry. It was in the upper room that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples; it was in the upper room that he gave them his new commandment ‘to love one another as I have loved you’, and it was in the upper room that he instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the upper room has occupied such a vivid place in the Christian imagination down through the centuries. What we often forget, though, is that the story of the upper room was not finished when Jesus rose from the table and led his friends out to Gethsemane: it was not finished when the candles were extinguished that night and the room fell silent once more. We often overlook the fact that, after the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday, the broken-hearted and leaderless disciples returned to hide in the upper room – they used it as a refuge from the threats of the crowd. The upper room was the place where they mourned the death of Jesus and tried to puzzle out what they should do next – a process that took them at least a couple of days: it was also a special place, because it was in that particular room that they had shared their final meal with Jesus.

But let’s not jump ahead – let’s keep our thoughts are focused on the events of Maundy Thursday night. At the end of their meal together in the upper room, probably towards midnight, Jesus led his disciples out of the city and into the garden of Gethsemane, which was one of our Lord’s favourite places. This was certainly not the first time that they had retired there for prayer and quiet: but on this particular night, Jesus left most of his disciples at the edge of the olive grove, and asked even Peter, James and John to stay a little distance away from him, because he felt in need of some solitude and silence. Jesus moved off into the darkness of the trees to pray. When he was out of sight in the shadows, he fell on his knees and lay with his face to the ground. This was the beginning of his spiritual agony in the garden: ‘Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.’



Lord Jesus Christ, we follow you into the garden, to watch with you. Help us to be ever vigilant for signs of the dawning of your day; to struggle unsparingly to understand and to be obedient to your perfect will.


adapted from Worship in an Indian Context edited by Eric J Lott b 1934

© 1986 United Theological College, Bangalore


There is little that we can know about what passed through the heart and mind of Jesus as he sweated his way through this great spiritual trial: this episode, although it is vitally important, is shrouded in mystery as well as darkness. We might ask ourselves whether it was fear of death that made Jesus shrink: yet many martyrs have faced their last hour unflinching, some of them with a song on their lips, and we have no reason to think that Jesus lacked the courage that they had.

So, if it was not the fear of death that made Jesus cry out to God, is it more likely that his agony in the garden was the moment when Jesus felt the full weight of the world’s sin upon his shoulders? Was this the moment when, quite suddenly, he was overtaken by the sheer horror and repulsiveness of sin? We cannot know: this is a place to which we cannot go. After all, if Jesus chose to leave behind even his beloved disciple, it is not for us to intrude upon his agony. This was something that he had to do for us, on his own, without any human support or understanding. Like the rest of the disciples, we can only stand at a distance and listen to his cries of agony until finally we hear his words ‘Father, if this cup cannot pass from me, unless I drink it, your will be done.’ From these words we can tell that Jesus’s faith in God, survived his agony in the garden and remained intact and secure into the early hours of Good Friday morning.

By this time the disciples were weary and had fallen asleep: the strain of the last few days was beginning to take its toll on them. If they had been awake and watchful, they might have seen the flickering lights of the torches crossing the brook Kidron and moving towards the edge of the olive grove; they might even have seen shadowy figures moving among the trees to encircle them. But none of the disciples was keeping guard, they were all sleeping: and besides, resistance by force was far from Jesus’s thoughts. So when Judas and the temple police arrived, they found little difficulty in making the arrest. After a brief skirmish, Jesus was led away, and the disciples, having lost their nerve completely now, all forsook Jesus and fled.

It is hard to guess what was going through the mind of Jesus as he was led back into the city under armed guard. He must have felt desperately lonely. It was only a few hours since he had been sitting comfortably at the table in the upper room with his disciples around him and with his arm around his beloved disciple, John. Now there was no-one to hold him or comfort him or love him, and no crowds to wave and shout Hosanna. He had been betrayed by a kiss from one of his chosen twelve, and now he stood alone to face his darkest hour as the storm broke around him.


O thou, the very Light of light, whom men in their darkness approached with lanterns and torches: keep us from following the little lights of the world that deepen our night; and lead us into that holy city where the true light shineth and never goeth down; and thou with the Father and the Holy Spirit livest and reignest, God, world without end. Amen.


Eric Milner-White 1884–1963

from A Procession of Passion Prayers © 1956 SPCK