Invite your youth to explore the meaning behind the gospel narratives of Palm Sunday with this interactive Bible study.
Scripture focus: John 12: 12-19
Youth will compare the four versions of the “Palm Sunday” study in scripture.
Youth will discuss the significance of this story in Christian tradition.
Youth will present their own updated version of the story.
Getting Ready - Invite students to ponder the following questions in groups of three or four, then bring everyone together to report their responses and write them on a flip chart or white board: What sort of welcome do you think you would get if you were the President arriving for a visit here in our town? What would it be like when you arrive? Who would be there? How do you think you would be treated? (Convoy of limos? Red carpet? Lots of media?) How would you feel being the center of attention like that?
Digging In: Introduce any random video clip that portrays Jesus entering Jerusalem as part of the Palm Sunday narrative. This could be from an animated cartoon or any of the many films made about Jesus' life. Mention to youth that the challenge in presenting any sort of animated, film, or dramatic version of this event is that the story appears in all four gospels and each tells it a little differently. If you were to make a movie of this scene, you would have to decide which details are most important to include.
Divide youth into teams and have each team explore one of the four gospel versions of the Palm Sunday narrative. Next, have each group report the basic details of their version and note these details on the flip chart or white board. Invite youth to notice the differences or similarities between the different versions. For example, the Gospels don’t all agree on what sort of branches the people were waving. Mark, Luke and Matthew all include the people shouting “Hosanna….” which is actually a quote lifted from Psalm 118. Some gospel writers mention details others don’t include. It might be worth noting that, according to most mainline scholars, none of the gospel writers was likely to have been an eye witness to these events. The writers of Matthew and Luke had access to, and were copying from, Mark's earlier text. Each writer is penning their Palm Sunday narrative in a different time and place and writing for different audiences. They include details and ideas that they hoped would be meaningful for the people for whom they wrote.
Reflecting: Point out to the students one detail included in all versions: Jesus entering the city riding a small donkey or colt. Invite them to to think back over your brainstorm about how the President would be welcomed if s/he came to town. This is much the same way the Emperor would have been treated in Jesus' day. He likely would enter Jerusalem riding a warhorse or chariot, flanked by soldiers and banners. Ask: Why do you think the gospel narrative depict Jesus entering on lowly donkey? Based on what you know about the people who were drawn to Jesus, who are the likely people welcoming him into Jerusalem? (Peasants? Lepers? Women? Children? Beggars?) What sort of message about the Kingdom of God do you think this way of entering the city sent to the people? If you were one of the gospel writers, why might you think this was the best way to tell the story?
Next, divide youth once again into their smaller groups. Invite them to imagine they are going to make a modern-day movie update of this scene. What sort of transportation would Jesus use to ride into the city? Who would greet him? What would he be wearing? What might people being cheering instead of “Hosanna”? Challenge groups to depict their ideas in some creative way. They might want to work together to make a movie poster of the story or perhaps prepare a short improvised scene of their updated narrative. When groups are ready have them present their ideas to the others.
Closing: Despite the triumphalism that often accompanies Palm Sunday depictions in worship, the story reminds us that the Way of Christ often runs counter to the ways of popular culture and of those with power. Invite youth to prayerfully consider, as we head into Holy Week and the journey to the cross, how they might emulate Christ's humility and counter-culturalism in the days to come.