If Palm Sunday occurred today, how might it be covered by the media? That was the question I found myself asking as I was preparing for Palm Sunday and thinking about the gospel reading. My answer to that question comes in the form of the following Palm Sunday “broadcast.”
In front of the church (on the stage) the news anchorperson was seated at a desk with the acronym JNS (Jerusalem News Service) on it. The other reporters were stationed in different locations in the sanctuary where they were visible to all. All four were dressed in Hebrew costume. The person representing Jesus was seated in the balcony where he could be heard but not seen.
Before the broadcast, we invited the congregation to say the words (projected on the screen) of the crowd and explained that songs would be unannounced. During the singing of “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna,” children marched with palms into and through the sanctuary. We also projected images of the triumphal entry and Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives while the “reporters” spoke.
Joseph ben Hanani (News anchor)
Crowd (Members of the congregation recruited in advance)
News Anchor: Good evening, and welcome to Jerusalem News Service. My name is Joseph ben Hanani. It has been an event-filled day in Jerusalem. As you may know, today marks the beginning of the week-long Passover celebration. People by the thousands have entered the city as required by the law of Moses. Pilgrims from all over the world are swelling the number
of people in Jerusalem to four times the usual population.
Our governor, Pontius Pilate, has provided extra security in the form of Roman soldiers patrolling the streets. This is just a precautionary measure: we do not expect any public disturbances.
The big news story of the day, however, is not the influx of thousands of people into the city for the Feast, but the arrival of one person in particular—Jesus of Nazareth. This controversial rabbi came riding into the city on a donkey, accompanied by his disciples and surrounded by a multitude of people. For more on his arrival, we take you to Elijah ben Shur.
Elijah: Thanks, Joseph. I am standing on the two-mile road that connects the village of Bethany with the city of Jerusalem. A few hours ago Jesus, the rabbi from Nazareth, passed by this spot. According to one of his disciples, he had spent the night at the home of his good friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. Lazarus, you may remember, claimed that Jesus raised him from the dead several weeks ago.
As Jesus left Bethany, some of his disciples fetched a donkey for him to ride on. Jesus mounted it and began his journey. A crowd quickly gathered around him. Many of them, curious to meet the man who allegedly raised Lazarus from the dead, had come out of the city to greet him.
The mood along the road was festive. Some people took off their coats and placed them on the road for the donkey to step on. Others tore palm branches from nearby trees and spread them on the road or waved them. Clearly the crowd gave Jesus a hero’s welcome. As they spread their garments and branches on the road, the crowd shouted,
Crowd: Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna to the Son of David!
Song (choose one):
“Hosanna, Hosanna” SFL 160
“Mantos y palmas / Filled with Excitement” SFL 158, SNC 133, SNT 92
News Anchor: Elijah, you mentioned that many people lined the road and welcomed Rabbi Jesus enthusiastically. Were any of our religious leaders among them—the Pharisees and Sadducees? If so, what was their reaction?
Elijah: Yes, they witnessed it. But they were not happy. At one point they actually approached Jesus and asked him to rebuke the people for their enthusiastic greeting. But Jesus said,
Jesus: I tell you, if they keep quiet, the very stones will cry out.
News Anchor: Thank you, Elijah, for that fascinating report. Our coverage will continue in a moment.
Song: “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” CH 300, PH 88, PsH 375/376, SFL 161, TH 235, WR 265
News Anchor: We continue our coverage of the unexpected arrival of Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem. There had been much speculation among the people whether Jesus would indeed come here for the Passover Feast. To the delight of hundreds, he did.
Jesus left Bethany this morning, mounted a donkey, and made his way to Jerusalem amid the applause of many. As he approached the city, however, something rather unusual took place. For more on this, we switch to our reporter Shamani.
Shamani: Thanks, Joseph. I am standing on the Mount of Olives. From this vantage point I have a splendid view of the city of Jerusalem. Jesus came to this location a few hours after leaving Bethany. But I noticed something unexpected. Instead of relishing the acclaim of the people, when Jesus saw the city stretched before him, he began to weep, and said:
Jesus: Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often have I longed to gather you to me as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.
Solo: “Come to the Savior Now” (st. 1 and 2) PsH 535, TH 475
News Anchor: No doubt the most striking and disturbing happening of the day took place when Jesus entered the temple area. Elizabeth has this report.
Elizabeth: It is unbelievable what took place here this afternoon. The temple court is a mess. Throughout much of the day, temple servants and money changers sat behind tables, collecting the temple tax from the worshipers and selling sheep and other pigeons approved for sacrifice.
When Jesus arrived, he was filled with anger. He overturned the tables of the money changers, leaving some of them broken, and money scattered on the ground. He opened the cages that contained lambs and doves. It was bedlam. As he overturned the tables and drove out the temple merchants, I heard him say:
Jesus: My house will be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers!
Elizabeth: In the same temple area, children were milling around. Picking up the refrain they had heard from the adults earlier in the day, they burst into song. The Jewish leaders were displeased. Indignant, they said to Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are singing?” Jesus replied:
Jesus: Have you never read, “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise”?
Song: “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna” CH 297, PH 89, PsH 378, WR 267
News Anchor: All is quiet in the city now—at least as quiet as can be expected, considering the unusual events of the day. Reliable sources tell us that Jesus has left the city and returned to the village of Bethany where it all started. But we’re left to wonder what it all means. What do we make of it? That is the subject of tonight's commentary.
[The pastor offers the sermon here.]