Alternative Ways to Worship
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First Presbyterian Church Worship – Palm Sunday, 4/5/20
“We Are Here To Help You in Your Walk With God.”
Welcome to our new way of sharing worship! And thank you for joining with us as we remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem! On Sunday morning, the Session will be delivering palms to our members and friends. We hope that the sharing of a palm will help you remember the joy and hope of Palm Sunday!
Let us now light our candles, yours at home, and mine here at church, remembering that Christ is with us in our worship and in our lives each and every day.
And let us now begin our worship together with this prayer:
Loving Father, as we journey with your Son in the week of remembrance and hope, help us to understand you and your love for the world more clearly. Transform us and prepare us for service in your Kingdom, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Call to Worship:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king come to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Enter our hearts today as you entered Jerusalem long ago, and lead us by faith in the way everlasting.
Prayer of Confession:
Let us say together:
Jesus, our Lord, we shout hosannas to praise you. With eager hands, we place our cloaks and palms on the path before you. Yet, Lord, we confess that the mouths that seek to praise you often deny or defy you. And we confess that the hands that seek to serve you often become fists. Lord, hear our hearts as we confess.
Let us approach the Lord with our silent confessions.
Assurance of Pardon:
Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! For Christ came into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Hosanna! Amen.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 21:1-11
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.[a]” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
5 “Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd[b] spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Message: Before the Passion Comes the Palms
This coming week our walk through Holy week is one of high drama. We’ll revisit the story of the Last Week of Jesus again and again. But before the Passion comes the palms. I think Palm Sunday is an invitation to make a choice. Palm Sunday invites us to choose between security and hope. Let me explain.
Theologians Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, say there were two parades into Jerusalem that day. Jesus on a colt and his band of followers came in from the Mount of Olives, shouting Hosannas, dancing, laughing, and spreading their cloaks and branches. The crowd hails Jesus, and there is an air of excitement and joy. This is Jesus’ flash mob, an action at the start of the great festival days in Jerusalem. He’s asking the people to pay attention. Jesus’ choice of steed, the cries of “hosanna,” they express an agenda. Jesus is proclaimed as savior, and Jesus’ parade is all about hope.
Another parade approached Jerusalem’s Western Gate, say Crossan and Borg. Pontius Pilate would have paraded up from Caesarea on the sea surrounded by legions of decorated soldiers to be in Jerusalem for the Passover. Banners flying on the ordered Roman Road, the soldiers carried the latest in weapons technology and heavy armor, the metal glinting in the sun. Pilate was coming for crowd control. Part of that control was intimidation. Pilate’s parade projects a message as well, “we are here to provide security, to keep things under control.”
So while we have the Roman governor and all the military might of the Roman army parading into Jerusalem from one direction, we have Jesus riding in with shouts of joy, humbly on a donkey, from another. He knew what he was doing. The prophet Zechariah foretold that the messiah would enter Jerusalem on a colt. Jesus encouraged the people’s hopes, even if the entrance to Jerusalem didn’t play out exactly as they might have expected. Jesus was working on hope.
Jesus’ followers didn’t carry weapons. They weren’t there to start an armed rebellion against Pilate. They would have lost. The Romans had made security an object of worship. Their parades showed off all of their implements of security. Pilate wanted to intimidate any rabble rousers. Pilate was there to provide security, security for the status quo. Jesus’ followers carried branches, the sign of peace. Jesus’ parade holds a different message, and that is a message of hope.
And I believe that those two choices, security and hope, are the choices that we need to make today. I certainly don’t want anyone to throw caution to the wind and dance in the streets with a crowd during this pandemic that we are experiencing. But I also don’t want us to become so frightened that we lose sight of hope. And our very best resource for hope is to look to our Lord, humble and riding on a donkey. Reaching out, as he taught us, through safe social distancing, to those who need our love and caring during this difficult time.
I suspect that the crowd around Jesus that morning, were not exactly sure what was going on as they shouted Hosanna. They didn’t know what was coming next. We know that Jesus had recently huddled with the disciples and explained that he expected to die. The crowd didn’t know. Even the disciples didn’t really know what the next week would bring. They didn’t have the comfort of doing things the way they had always done them. This was the first time they’d followed a messiah into Jerusalem.
Jesus had preached about the Kingdom of God. He used metaphors like mustard seeds and vineyards. He talked about the poor being valued, the lowly lifted up. Jesus incorporated all of the most unlikely people into his vision of the Kingdom. But no one had seen this Kingdom. No one had visited. They were working on instinct. They were following their gut. They were choosing hope in the face of an empire that was built on security.
I also want to pay attention to the tone of the crowd with Jesus. Earlier I compared them to a flash mob. I think a flash mob is a good modern day understanding of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem. If you’ve never seen a flash-mob video, they are unexpected happenings in ordinary places. They can happen in shopping malls full of shoppers, and suddenly music will start and from the regular shoppers you will see a group come together in a choreographed dance.
I remember seeing a video of a flash-mob that happened in the Smithsonian in Washington DC around Christmas time. A Single cellist walked into the Air and Space museum and started playing Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring. By the end of the video all 120 members of the orchestra had joined him from around the hall, and the Air Force Choir is singing “Joy to the World”. The faces of the visitors change as they realize what is going on. The onlookers at first seem uncomfortable, awkward, and even a little insecure. As they realize what is happening, their faces are transformed to joy. Letting go of security, leaning into hope, can take us from discomfort to joy. I think Palm Sunday was a similar event. The crowd was having fun, watching this unconventional Rabbi from Nazareth ride into the city on a colt, surrounded by branch-waving followers, shouting Hosanna.
I love Palm Sunday, and I try hard not to look too far ahead to the events of the coming Holy week. For this brief moment when we experience the joy and excitement of this impromptu parade, this flash-mob, when we move from the Lenten season of reflection and contemplation of our hearts, we have this day of unexpected joy and hope.
Jesus’ joyful mob still spreads joy for us today. Palm Sunday is an important moment, an important start to this Holy Week. Palm Sunday pulls us into the drama of what is ahead. Jesus, in his entry to Jerusalem challenged Rome and its cult of security. Jesus’ flash mob, his crazy band, invites us to hope, together. Amen.
Prayers of the People:
Lord, God, whose gracious love for us embraced that long and lonely journey to the cross, gather us close to you in these days when again we make that journey in meditation and recollection.
When we are weak, make us strong; when hurt and resentful, make us forgiving; when defeated and discouraged, make us hopeful. Keep us from asking for mercy without giving it ourselves, from praying for your kingdom, but never working for it.
Beloved friends, in this season of repentance and healing, we accept God's invitation to be ever-mindful of the needs of others, offering our prayers on behalf of God's community in the church and the world. We pray for the health care professionals and government officials as they do their best to keep us safe. Help us to be wise in this situation, finding ways to support and care for our congregation and all of Your children.
From this congregation Lord, we lift up: Alice, Susan, Delores, Sonja, & Rose’s daughter Cheryl as well as Eugene, Mary and Harlan.
Father, we lift up Kay’s family in their time of grief this past week as Kay passed away last Sunday. Help them through this time when we cannot gather, and rely on the love from others. Grant them comfort and your Holy presence.
We lift up Andrea’s Mom, Jan as she continues to recover from her surgery.
We continue to hold Chris in prayer as she continues to move forward with her chemo.
We pray especially for all the members of our faith family and pray that none become ill from COVID 19.
We pray for those who have become ill, that they would know your presence and comfort.
Guide and guard us through these days of meditation and remembrance. Guard and guide us through all our days until we come at last to that day when all our days and journeys will be gathered into eternity, and we shall be with you forever. Guide us into Your ways of peace, and fill our hearts. And now, we pray together the prayer that Jesus taught us saying:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
And now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
The fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
And the Love of our Might God,
Be with you now and forever. Amen.