Reflection: Palm Sunday

Welcome to our series of Lent and Easter reflections.

The Reverend Dr James Hawkey discusses the sentiment of Palm Sunday in relation to the story and legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This reflection is inspired by Mark 11: 1-11.

Receive upcoming reflections direct to your inbox by signing up to our newsletter.

Listen to the reflection

Mark 11: 1-11

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'

They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.


Palm Sunday is a day of noise and action. Several decades later, the Jewish historian Josephus would estimate that over two million people were present in Jerusalem for Passover. Even accounting for hyperbole, the crowds and their shouting messianic fervour would have been a heavy mix. Jesus is surrounded by a great of company of people, for now celebrating Christ’s deeds of power. Ultimately he will be scorned, and those who follow him, will often be mocked in the eyes of the world?

One of the twentieth century martyrs portrayed here above the Abbey’s Great West Door is the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed by the Nazis in 1945 for his resistance to Hitler. Bonhoeffer knew in his own context that in order to accompany Christ, the Nazi ideology of death and annihilation had to be challenged and exposed. The Body of Christ, he claimed, had to be a visible body, or it was no body at all. It couldn’t exist in the abstract. 'When Christ calls a man', he wrote, 'his bids him come and die.'

As Bonhoeffer’s friend Bishop George Bell put it, there are different kinds of dying, but 'the essence of discipleship is contained in those words.' The Christian life is a Palm Sunday procession, acclaiming Christ and his Kingdom, witnessing to a new world. We have died to the old one. Bonhoeffer writes, 'Having taken their life from them, [Jesus] sought to confer on them a new life, a life so perfect and complete that he gave them the gift of his cross.' That is the mystery of love which we encounter this Holy Week.


O Lord Jesus Christ,
who as on this day didst enter the holy and rebellious city where thou wast to die: enter into our hearts,
we beseech thee,
and subdue them wholly to thyself.
And as thy faithful disciples blessed thy coming,
and spread their garments in the way,
covering it with palm branches,
make us ready to lay at thy feet all we have and are, and to bless thee,
who comest in the name of the Lord,
and art our God now and always,
and unto the ages of ages.