Palm Sunday

04 April 2004 | Faith & Society

These prayers follow the journey to Jerusalem and to the Temple which every Jew made every year at the approach of the Passover. This is the journey which Jesus made for the last time when the crowds greeted him with palms.


It is March. The rains have stopped but the ground is green. We are travelling towards Jerusalem - from every country, more than 100,000 pilgrims, towards a city where 25,000 people live.

 Who are we? We are Israelites and Gentiles. Poor and rich. Priests and traders. Men and women. Lepers and slaves. Most of us walk for days, although a few of us have donkeys. But as we reach the gates of the Holy City, the lepers leave us, for they are outcast and are not allowed in.

Heavenly Father, you are God of the outcast. The face of those whom we dare not face is your face. The limbs of those we would crush are your limbs. Those parts of ourselves which we will not admit are parts of you. We pray for all outcasts.

Lord in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We reach the Temple rapidly, for the city is only a kilometre across. The Temple is the marvel of our world, built of alabaster, marble and cedar wood, eighty years in its final construction; the work of construction employed at one time more than half the city.

We reach the court of the Gentiles, and a terrace 5 metres across bounded by a shoulder-high stone lattice. The Gentiles leave us now, for stone tablets in Greek and Latin warn them of death if they cross the lattice. On this terrace the sick most often sought Jesus’ help.

Healing God, we pray for those who are sick or need help.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.


We enter the court of Women, where hang golden lamps and golden bowls. At the western end rise 15 semi-circular steps towards the fabulously beautiful Nicanor Gate, with doors of Corinthian bronze. Here Mary came after the birth of Jesus; here Jesus was presented and God’s revelation was proclaimed by Simeon and Anna. Here women can go no further; so here the adult Jesus, who treated women with a new status, spent much time.

Almighty God, for your incarnation, first revelation, crucifixion and resurrection you trusted women to be closest to you; grant in our day and throughout your church that every gate, however historic and splendid, shall swing open for all women.

Lord in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Now we enter the court of Israel, the altar of burnt offering and, one metre higher up, the court of the priests. Here only sufficiently able-bodied Jewish men, if ritually clean, may enter. Here is the place of worship and sacrifice, and all the senses are assailed: salt, baking, wood fires and incense; harps, flutes, cymbals and singing. Here at Passover stand 7,000 priests in white linen vestments. Here, the slaughtering of 18,000 Passover lambs requires 3 ‘sittings’. Here is the furthest that Jesus could go into the temple of his faith.

Lord Jesus Christ, through your new covenant you set an end to sacrifice. By your death you opened the way to a new priesthood not spattered in blood. Take the stain of human bloodshed away from all our dealings. Grant that the institutions, forces and instincts of bloodshed which surround us no more mesmerise us than the Temple mesmerised you. Let us sacrifice each other no longer.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

 Finally we approach the sanctuary, by its porch; a building entirely covered in gold, 50 metres square. A concave mirror of gold reflects the rays of the rising sun to dazzle the entrance. Only priests may be here.

Now even priests must fall away. We are the high priest on the day of Atonement, and we walk down the sanctuary’s 20 metre corridor. We reach the double curtain before the Holy of Holies. Woven in 6 colours, when the veil has to be purified, it takes 300 priests to wash it. We enter, alone and in the dark and by faith, into your presence.

Almighty God, we give thanks for those who have died. Be with us all at the moment of death, when we enter your presence, alone and in the dark. Give us the gift of trust; tear down the curtain of our fear; and wrap us in the radiant cloth of your resurrection and ours.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.

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