Holy Week Helps: Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday

From the forthcoming book White Flour by David LaMotte. Illustration by Jenn Hales.

First, do you know about Liturgy Link? It’s a place for open-source liturgy creation. The folks there recently asked about Palm Sunday and my answer was longer than a comment, so I’m sharing my plans here. Feel free to borrow or use anything I post. I don’t need attribution. Although, if someone leaves worship and tells you, “That was awesome,” I’d love for you to tell them about The Blue Room and my work.

If they hated it, blame it on some random person on the Internet.

So… Palm Sunday is also April Fool’s Day, which is an amazing opportunity to work with some of that Pauline stuff about God choosing the foolishness of the world to bring down the wise. Also the deep paradoxes that are present in Jesus’ teachings: to save your life you must lose it, and so forth. Reign of God as a series of topsy-turvy reversals. That sort of thing.

I am thinking about doing the service in reverse. I will start with the benediction—a blessing to the community. It’s communion Sunday, and since we usually have that near the end, we will move it towards the beginning. At its best, when communion is at the end, it’s the climax of the service (rather than the afterthought). But if it’s near the beginning we can hit themes of the grace of God that is a free gift for the asking, without even having to sit through the sermon as payment first. Heh.

For the message, I will read the poem “White Flour” by David Lamotte. Read the poem here, or hear more on Kickstarter about David’s plans to publish a children’s book—it’s due out in May. The poem is a true story about a Klan parade in Knoxville five years ago. A troupe of clowns called the Coup Clutz Clowns mounted a counter-protest that exposed the ugliness of the Klansmen. From the Kickstarter page:

Rather than shouting down the shouters, meeting rage with rage, they simply refused to take such foolishness seriously. Fight and flight are not our only two options, and humor, it turns out, beats hatred.  At least it did on that day.

I find this a powerful story to connect to the Palm Sunday narrative. Jesus, too participates in a parade, and while he doesn’t don a clown nose, he rides in on a donkey. He confronts power with humility.

We will move the confession to the latter part of the service, as we start to shift from Palm to Passion… and then we will close with the call to worship—the idea being that as we move into Holy Week, our lives are an act of worship.


For Maundy Thursday, the message will borrow from a story I heard on The Moth podcast a few years back. You can read about it here and listen to it here. In this story, writer Andrew Solomon talks about researching his book on depression, which took him to Cambodia to see the impact of the Khmer Rouge on the people there. He met a woman who works with other women to help them recover, and the recovery involved three basic components.

First, she teaches the women to forget—to have something in their mind besides the trauma. This will be an interesting twist as we have communion that night—because communion is all about memory. But what kind of memory we cling to is important. Jesus says, “do this in remembrance of me.” In communion we are called to remember not just the trauma of the cross, but the totality of Jesus’ life and ministry, and of course, the story of his resurrection.

Second, this Cambodian woman gave the other women meaningful work. Here I will talk about the life we are called to lead as followers of Jesus.

Third and most surprising—and specific—she taught the women to do manicures and pedicures. Wait, what? But listen to what she says:

You know, the worst atrocity of all that was brought by the Khmer Rouge was that half the country turned against the other half of the country. And people who lived through that period knew that they couldn’t put anything in anyone else, and they completely lost the habit of looking anyone else in half in the eye.

All of these women had been deprived for a long time of any occasion to indulge in the least bit of personal vanity. I brought them to my hut, and I built a special room that I would fill with steam. And it was a pleasure for them to feel beautiful. But what was really amazing for them was that, in this context, it was something that was at once very intimate and very impersonal. And they would start, because I was telling them how to do it and giving them some instruction, to handle each others’ fingers and each others’ toes. And it meant they were touching each other. And if I had told them to begin to hold each others’ hands or to have some kind of physical contact with other people, they would’ve shied away and they would have pulled back. They weren’t ready to do anything with anyone. But, in this context, they would touch each others’ fingers, touch each others’ toes, and then, because it was such a funny context, and because they felt so happy about the fact that they were, for a moment, feeling a little bit beautiful again, they would begin to laugh together. And they would begin to tell each other little bits of stories and things and that was the way that I taught them to trust again.

This, of course, leads right into the washing of feet. We will actually wash hands, because feet are a barrier for folks. Hands are vulnerable enough; in fact more vulnerable, in a way, because you can look someone in the eye. I will probably not shy away from the beauty aspects of this story, because I think that’s important. Not in a vain way, but in the sense that our physical selves are more than just a utilitarian container for our brains. Our bodies are precious to God.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that we are going to close Maundy with a pivot to Good Friday, since we alternate MT and GF each year. I’m going to borrow an idea from my friend Jan, who used to have people bring thirty “pieces of silver” (i.e. coins) as an offering. People dropped the coins into the empty (?) baptismal font. Since the thirty pieces of silver are symbolic of Judas’s betrayal, the money collected goes to an organization that works with individuals who have been betrayed in some way (e.g. domestic violence, child abuse).


So, them’s the plans. I am excited about all of this… my only anxiety is that for Easter, I got nothin’.

What are you doing Holy Week?

19 thoughts on “Holy Week Helps: Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday

  1. Silent

    I love your Palm Sunday plan–and think it would work on any Palm Sunday, not just April Fool’s day. We are doing a series, so Palm Sunday is planned, but I might file this away for next year! Thanks!

  2. marciglass

    Have you read Carol Howard Merritt’s most recent article on footwashing?

    For Palm Sunday, a member of our church has arranged Mark’s holy week texts into a reading for 6 voices, so we’re making that worship. It will also, interestingly, start with communion, because of where it is in the narrative.

    Maundy Thursday will be worship in the fellowship hall during dinner. Communion will be served around the tables. After worship, people will be invited up to the sanctuary, where we are setting up prayer stations, including foot (and hand) washing. I need to get that booklet together so people can be self guided through the stations.
    Here are the stations I have so far:
    1. foot (hand) washing
    2. pulpit–the holy week readings will be printed out and put on the pulpit. People are invited to read the passages silently or out loud.
    3. table–people will be invited to strip the table, carrying elements from the table out to the narthex to help prepare to end our Lenten journey.
    4. Finger labyrinth
    5. seed planting–there will be a big bucket of dirt and people will be invited to plant seeds and consider new life.
    6. prayer group–our prayer group will be a prayer station, available to meet and pray with people
    7. Icon gazing prayer station
    8. cross box–someone in the church made a box that cannot be opened. It has a cut-out cross in the top, so people will be invited to write prayers down on a piece of paper and offering them to God. Considering how once they’ve given it to God, they can’t take the piece of paper back. (If you don’t have a cross box, a small trash can with a lid works too).
    9. Buddha Board–because I love them.
    10. water color table with psalms, inviting them to paint their prayers.
    11. clay table–consider creation
    12 and prayer flags. We have tibetan prayer flags hanging in the prayer center, and this table has material and twine so people can decorate and create their own prayer flags.

    1. nuevacantora

      Is a Buddha Board the one you paint with water and it looks like black ink but then disappears when it evaporates? I have a thing like that called Zen Board… just wondering! (I love prayer stations!)

      1. marciglass

        Yes, that’s the one. The prayer station for that one involves comparing God’s creation to our creation. Ours is fleeting and transitory. etc, etc.

  3. Erin Thomas

    The interplay of April Fool’s Day and the Gospel is brilliant. And the backwards of it, is fabulous.

    Thanks for the creative ideas grounded in the Gospel!

    Riverside, CA

  4. MaryAnn

    I added this update to the post:

    UPDATE: I forgot to mention that we are going to close Maundy with a pivot to Good Friday, since we alternate MT and GF each year. I’m going to borrow an idea from my friend Jan, who used to have people bring thirty “pieces of silver” (i.e. coins) as an offering. People dropped the coins into the empty (?) baptismal font. Since the thirty pieces of silver are symbolic of Judas’s betrayal, the money collected goes to an organization that works with individuals who have been betrayed in some way (e.g. domestic violence, child abuse).

  5. Roy Howard

    I was installed in my congregation on April Fool’s Day which 11 years ago was also Palm Sunday, so this has always been a great day of holy strange laughter together as we’ve moved through the years. For many years we’ve done readings in multiple voices without a sermon. This year I’m going to preach a sermon on Palm Sunday – first time in recent memory! That’s a weird way to mix it up.

    Maundy Thursday we will have a foot washing service before gathering around table for dinner with all middle eastern foods. At each table will be focal questions designed to aid a deeper reflection on the occasion of Jesus’ supper and trial and its meaning for us. Eucharist will take place around the tables. We will then process to the memorial garden (where the ashes are buried in the ground) for prayer and singing.

    On Good Friday, the Presbies will gather with Methodist, Episcopalian and UCC folks. This will be Taize oriented liturgy with 1 person from each congregation giving testimony by responding to the question, “how is God’s love revealed to you on this particular night?”

  6. Kate McGee

    Hi MaryAnn – I really love this idea, and I’m looking to implement it in our evening worship on Sunday. As I work backward planning, I’m wondering – are you envisioning still reading Scripture before the message? Or will you follow your sermon with the Scripture? I just am so excited about this, but I want to make sure that the congregation can follow it as well 🙂

    1. MaryAnn

      That’s a good question. I think I will read scripture first. I’m reversing the order of the service, but keeping most of the chunks intact. So for example we’ll do communion in the regular order (invitation, prayer, words of institution, etc.), it’ll just be first thing instead of at the end.

      You probably could do something cool with having everything completely reversed, but it feels a little more Mad-Hatterish than I want to be.

      Good luck!

  7. Pingback: a different kind of parade | saying grace

      1. Barrett


        Came across this post tonight as I was searching for a fun, creative idea for Palm Sunday, I love your thoughts, and I was wondering if you could send the bulletin (if you still have it)? Fun fact: you preached at the Presbytery worship service where I was examined and approved to take my first call. (Sheppards and Lapsley in Alabama).

  8. Pingback: Book Giveaway: Share Your “White Flour” Moment « The Blue Room

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