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Foretold in Zechariah 9:9, Palm Sunday celebrates Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where the crowd of people laid out palm branches to honor him as king. In true humility, Jesus rode over those branches into Jerusalem, not on a magnificent stallion, but on the colt of a donkey. Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday, begins Holy Week celebrating the glory of Jesus Christ, yet by Friday, he is hanging on the cross.

To help you worship and celebrate his glory, this page offers a few options for a Palm Sunday call to worship and Palm Sunday prayers to use in your service.

How does the Palm Sunday service prepare us for Easter?

The service for Palm/Passion Sunday reflects the sharp contrasts of Holy Week. Worshipers enter the sanctuary in joyous procession praising Jesus as Lord. The service then moves to a reading of the passion narrative, allowing the congregation to hear the whole story of Jesus’s suffering and death. Since many will not be in worship again until Easter Sunday, the service on Palm/Passion Sunday is a significant opportunity to represent the wholeness of the gospel and to remember that the way to Easter joy is the way of the cross.

Palm Sunday Call to Worship Ideas

When we gather in the Lord’s house to worship, it is necessary to focus our minds, our hearts, and our attention on him. This can be done in many ways, though often churches use Bible-based opening sentences or prayers with a response from the congregation.

Here are some opening sentences and prayers to choose from for your Palm Sunday call to worship.

Sentences from Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Zechariah 9:9

Litany from Psalm 118

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.
Hosanna to God, Hosanna in the highest!
Let Israel say, “His love endures forever!” and all who fear God say, “His love endures forever!“
Hosanna to God, Hosanna in the highest!
With the Lord on our side, what can we fear? What can humankind do?
Hosanna to God, Hosanna in the highest!
We shall triumph over those who surround us and stand in confidence in the Lord, our God!
Hosanna to God, Hosanna in the highest!
The Lord is our strength and our might. The Lord has become our salvation!
Hosanna to God, Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna to God, Hosanna in the highest!

—adapted from Psalm 118

Opening Prayer of the Day (Church of Scotland)

Humble and riding on a donkey,
we greet you;
Acclaimed by crowds and caroled by children,
we cheer you;
moving from the peace of the countryside to the corridors of power,
We salute you: Christ our Lord.

You are giving the beast of burden
a new dignity;
you are giving majesty
a new face;
you are giving those who long for redemption
A new song to sing.
With them, with heart and voice, we shout:
Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

—from Common Order, Panel on Worship, Church of Scotland, 1994. Used by permission.

Palm Sunday Prayers

While there is often time set aside in worship to confess one’s sins, prayers of confession for Palm Sunday are specific to that day. So, too, are prayers for illumination, which are prayers for understanding as one reads the Bible, hears the Word, and prepares for the week ahead. Pray these with one leader, as a call and response, or as a congregation.

Prayers of Confession

  1. O Lord, who on this day entered the rebellious city that later rejected you:
    we confess that our wills are as rebellious as Jerusalem’s,
    that our faith is often more show than substance,
    that our hearts are in need of cleansing.
    Have mercy on us, son of David, Savior of our lives.
    Help us to lay at your feet
    all that we have and all that we are, trusting you
    to forgive what is sinful,
    to heal what is broken,
    to welcome our praises,
    and to receive us as your own.

—written by John Paarlberg, retired minister of Word and sacrament

  1. Triumphant Lord, We rejoice in your entry into the world and into our lives!
    Joining with the crowds, we sing your praises and exalt your reign,
    but even so, our hearts are far from true worship,
    our minds are distant from true understanding.
    We are disappointed with your humility,
    we are uninspired by your selflessness.
    Our sin leads us to give you death
    even though you give us life.
    Our treachery guides us to war
    even though you call us to peace.
    Help us to reflect in our lives the glory of your Son
    and to live faithfully here and now.
    Have mercy on us, Savior of all,
    find us in these forsaken places.
    Forgive what we have done and who we have been.
    Bring us home again and impart within us a new song of joy and celebration.

Prayer for Illumination

Merciful God, as we enter Holy week, turn our hearts again to Jerusalem, and to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Stir up within us the gift of faith that we may not only praise him with our lips, but may follow him in the way of the cross.

—written by John Paarlberg, retired minister of Word and sacrament

About the author

Jennifer Knott is a writer and editor for the Reformed Church in America’s communication team.