Sunday of the Passion or Palm Sunday

Jesus Rides into Jerusalem as a King

And, a Week Later, Walks to a Humiliating Death

The last week of Jesus' life was crammed with events, as we follow him from his glorious entry into Jerusalem on Sunday until his death on Friday. In the days in between, he preached, taught, presided over the Passover supper, stood trial, and was condemned to death. We call this week Holy Week.

Palm Sunday

Luke 19: 28 - 46
Matthew 21: 1 - 17
Mark 11: 1 - 11
John 12: 12 - 50
John 2: 13 - 15

On Palm Sunday we study two sets of lessons.

The first set is about Jesus' ride into Jerusalem on a colt, fulfilling the prophecy in Zechariah 9: 9. The people greeted him as though he were an earthly king; they were sure he would end the Roman occupation, and Jerusalem would again be a Jewish city.

They shouted, "Hosanna," which means "save us," and comes from Psalm 118: 26.

And the second set are a detailed look at what happened in the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. We also read the Psalms which form a foundation for the events of Holy Week.

The color of Palm Sunday is red.

The time in the Gospel writers' accounts may be compressed. Their story is about being overwhelmed by the presence of Jesus, not an historical account of places or dates.

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Jesus Teaches and Preaches

Luke 21: 31 - 38

After his warm welcome into Jerusalem, Jesus taught in the Temple for a few days. Luke places many of Jesus' stories or parables during this time. We study many of these stories during Lent.

Jesus' Enemies Conspire Against Him

Luke 22: 1 - 2
Matthew 26: 1 - 5
Mark 14: 1 - 2
John 11: 47 - 53

Pontius Pilate and his soldiers went from Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast inland to Jerusalem every year for the Feast of the Passover. They were afraid that so many Jews gathered together from all of Palestine would start riots against the Roman government.

The Jewish Sanhedrin, the council of elders, played on Pilate's fears, because they were afraid that Jesus would start a religious revolution against them. They thought that if the people would follow Jesus' new ways of teaching and healing, the Sanhedrin would no longer have power in the Temple.

A Woman Washes Jesus' Feet and Dries Them with her Hair

Luke 7: 36 - 50
Matthew 26: 6 - 13
Mark 14: 3 - 9
John 12: 1 - 22

This story is told several times, taking place in different locations. John places it firmly in Holy Week, with Mary, the sister of Martha and of Lazarus, as the woman. Mark includes the story in Holy Week, two days before the Feast of the Passover, but Mark says it took place at the home of Simon, the leper, and he does not name the woman.

Lazarus and his sisters were close personal friends of Jesus. He and his disciples stayed with them often in Bethany, and because raising Lazarus from the dead was the great miracle of Jesus that the people of Jerusalem knew about, the high priests and elders wanted to kill Lazarus as well as Jesus.

Judas Betrays Jesus

Luke 22: 3 - 6
Matthew 26: 14 - 16
Mark 14: 10 - 11
John 18: 2 - 5

Judas told the Temple guards how to find and arrest Jesus in a quiet place at night; they were afraid there would be riots if they arrested him in the daytime in the city.

Because the Gospel writers were so angry at Judas for his participation in Jesus' death, we do not have a clear picture of him.

He was called Judas Iscariot, or Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, which may mean that his whole family belonged to a radical political group.

He was chosen by Jesus to be one of the original twelve disciples. Judas was the treasurer for the disciples, even though Matthew the tax collector also knew about money and finances.

And we know that Judas was so devastated by the part he played in Jesus' death that he killed himself, either by hanging or by disembowelment in the Roman fashion (somewhat like Japanese hara-kiri).

Jesus Prepares for the Last Supper and Washes the Feet of His Disciples

Luke 22: 7 - 13
Matthew 26: 17 - 19
Mark 14: 12 - 16
John 13: 1 - 20

Passover lasts for eight days, and the preparation for it is like the preparation for Christmas - it isn't all done in one day.

All leaven (yeast, baking powder, baking soda) must be removed from the house, and the house must be cleaned thoroughly to make sure no bread or cookie crumbs remain. Special foods are eaten for the entire eight days (no leaven is allowed back into the house), beginning with the Seder supper on the first night of Passover.

In Jesus' day, each family would sacrifice a lamb at the Temple, bringing part of the lamb home for their Seder supper.

Jesus Identifies His Betrayer

Luke 22: 14, 21 - 23
Matthew 26: 2 - 25
Mark 14: 17 - 21
John 13: 21 - 30

Jesus knew who would betray him to the Temple guards, but he also knew that for the prophecies to come true, he must accept what would be done to him. With no death, there could be no resurrection.

Jesus Presides over the Passover Supper

Luke 22: 14 - 20
Matthew 26: 26 - 29
Mark 14: 22 - 25

There is some disagreement between the Gospel writers on when this meal took place. For Luke, it is a true Passover meal, with the blessing of the wine before the bread. For the others it may be a pre-Passover meal with the two Jewish blessings, one for the bread and one for the wine.

John's imagery encourages us to see Jesus as the true Lamb of God, sacrificed at exactly the same time the lambs were slaughtered in the Temple for the Passover meals.

Whichever meal this was, it took place during the time of the Passover, when Jews remember that God freed them from slavery in Egypt, and it is the meal where Jesus asked us to remember that he freed us from our slavery to sin. Christians participate in this meal in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

Jesus Knows Peter Will Pretend He Doesn't Know Him

Luke 22: 21 - 38
Matthew 26: 31 - 35
Mark 14: 27 - 31
John 13: 36 - 38

Peter of the changing enthusiasms was so sure that if Jesus died, he would die too. But Jesus knew otherwise, telling Peter that he would deny knowing him three times before the rooster crowed at sunrise the next morning.

Jesus Prays while His Disciples Sleep

Luke 22: 31 - 33
Matthew 26: 36 - 46
Mark 14: 32 - 42
John 18: 1

Jesus knew what was in store for him that night (Thursday) and on Friday as well. So he took his disciples to a quiet place to pray, the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. The disciples fell asleep while he prayed, Luke says, "because of grief". In their own way, they, too, were preparing for the terrible times to come.

The Temple Police Arrest Jesus

Luke 22: 47 - 53
Matthew 26: 47 - 56
Mark 14: 43 - 52
John 18: 2 - 12, 20

Three distinct groups of guards or soldiers play a part in this story. Both Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas had their own troops, and troops (probably Pilate's) were garrisoned in Jerusalem, even though Pilate's official residence was in Caesarea, on the Mediterranean coast (Jerusalem is inland.)

The first troops to appear, however, are called guards or temple police. They took direction from Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest, and the Jewish council of elders. They were the guards who arrested Jesus. The Roman soldiers appeared later.

Peter Doesn't Know Who Jesus Is

Luke 22: 54 - 62
Matthew 25: 69 - 75
Mark 14: 66 - 72
John 18: 15 - 18, 25 - 27

Even though Peter said he would follow Jesus to his death, before the rooster crowed at sunrise on Friday morning, Peter said three times that he did not know Jesus or any of his friends. And even though it was obvious from his accent that he was a Galilleean, he said he did not come from Galilee.

Jesus Is Teased, Slapped, and Beaten

Luke 22: 63 - 65
Matthew 26: 67 - 68
Mark 14: 65

The temple guards, the followers of the Jewish council of elders, and perhaps even the elders themselves taunted and slapped Jesus after they arrested him. They finished their torment with a beating, and then took him to the house of Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest.

Jesus Stands before the Council

Luke 22: 66 - 71
Matthew 26: 57 - 68
Mark 14: 61 - 64
John 18: 12 - 14, 19 -24

The Sanhedrin, or council of elders, charged Jesus with blasphemy, which means to talk to or about God with disrespect. Considering the Jewish belief in the One God, it was disrespectful of Jesus to say that he was God's son, or to call him "Abba," which means Daddy.

The Romans believed their Emperor was a god living on earth, so they understood the Jewish belief, and in Palestine, respected it some of the time.

Christians, of course, believe that Jesus was exactly right, that he was the Son of the Living God, and that he was resurrected as the second person of the Triune God as they state in the Apostles' Creed.

Jesus Answers Pilate

Luke 23: 1 - 5
Matthew 27: 1 - 2, 11 - 14
Mark 15: 1 - 5
John 18: 28 - 38

Pontius Pilate was a Roman citizen, sent by the emperor of Rome to be the procurator or governor of Palestine. He had his own army and presided over his own courts of law.

Pilate was the man who called Jesus, King of the Jews.

Jesus Stands Silent before Herod

Luke 23: 6 - 12

Herod Antipas was the son of King Herod the Great whom the three Wise Men visited when they were searching for the Baby Jesus. Herod Antipas had previously told his soldiers to cut off John the Baptist's head.

Pilate sent Jesus to Herod because Herod was the tetrarch (or ruler of one-fourth of Palestine) of Galilee, the area in the north of Palestine where Nazareth lies, where Jesus grew up. Herod held less power and territory than Pilate, so it would be easy for Pilate to blame Herod if things went badly.

Pilate Releases an Innocent Man

Luke 23: 17 - 25
Matthew 27: 15 - 26
Mark 15: 6 - 15
John 18: 38 - 40
John 19: 4 - 16

Pilate believed Jesus was innocent, but because he was afraid that the crowds might riot, he allowed the Jewish court of elders to make the decision to execute Jesus. The crucifixion, however, was done by Pilate's soldiers, because the Temple guards who reported to Caiaphas did not have the power to put anyone to death by crucifixion.

The Soldiers Make Fun of Jesus

Matthew 27: 27 - 31
Mark 15: 16 - 20
John 19: 1 - 3

The Roman soldiers took Jesus to their quarters and made fun of him in a "king for a day" ritual that they may have performed on Roman holidays. The soldiers crowned Jesus with thorns and put a purple cloak on him. Choosing a make-believe king and tormenting him may have been a way of letting go of their anger at cruel rulers.

Jesus Walks to His Death on Golgotha

Luke 23: 26 - 43
Matthew 27: 32 - 44
Mark 15: 21 - 32
John 19: 17 - 24

Increasingly aware that he was fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah, Jesus walked quietly to his death, after making the firm, strong speech to the crowd we find in the Luke passage.

The Romans had several methods of executing criminals. Crucifixion, in which people slowly suffocated from the burden of their own weight on their chests, was both the most painful and the most humiliating.

Other Roman methods of execution included garroting (strangling with a special cord or wire) or beheading (cutting off the criminal's head with a sword). Both these methods were considered more dignified than crucifixion, as well as being much quicker and much less painful.

The two criminals (or bandits) who were executed with Jesus are nameless. They may have been highway robbers: simple theft may not have been a serious enough crime to demand crucifixion as the means of death. Only in the passage in Luke do the two men enter into conversation with Jesus.

The Sky Turns Black and the Curtain Is Torn

Luke 23: 44 - 56
Matthew 27: 45 - 61
Mark 15: 33 - 47
John 19: 25 - 42
Psalm 31:5

Jesus spoke from the cross to his family and followers. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me," is the first line of Psalm 22, a beautiful hymn of praise to God. His mother, Mary, and Mary Magdalene were present, as well as some other women followers.
Jesus' last words are from Psalm 31: 5, "Into thine hand I commit my spirit."

The Temple Guards Watch Jesus' Tomb

Matthew 27: 62 - 66

The Temple guards took their position late Friday afternoon, because they were afraid that Jesus' friends would steal his body from the grave to pretend that he had risen from the dead.