Palm/Passion Sunday C (10-04-2022)

This service was streamed live from the Ocean Grove church via Zoom on April 10th at 10:30am

Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use for those who are not able to attend public gatherings.   Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate online may use this material at any time for their private devotions.  If ‘two or three’ are gathered with you, you may choose a ‘leader’ in order to use the responsive prayers and readings as you would in church. 

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-oOo-

 “He who  suffers much  knows much.”(Greek Proverb)

 

CALL TO CELEBRATION

L: Cry out, people of faith!  Rejoice and praise God!

R: If we did not sing praise, the very stones would cry out!

L: Blessed is Jesus the Christ, who did not turn back for fear of the cross. Let us praise the God who loves us, sharing Christ’s sufferings, and facing with courage our path of faith.

R: Hosanna!  Blessed is the One who comes in God’s name.

INTRODUCTION

For the past five weeks of the Season of Lent we have been on a journey remembering the story of Jesus’ journey. Now we’re one week from the season called Easter! Today is what has traditionally been called ‘Palm Sunday’. But you won’t hear about ’palms’ in this story from Luke. That’s in the story as told by John. Mark and Matthew mention only ‘leafy branches’. Anyway, this is the day on which, our tradition tells us, Jesus entered Jerusalem, and just days before his death. So today you are invited to reflect on some of the feelings associated with Holy Week.

HYMN  “Prepare the Royal Highway” (click to hear the hymn)

JOURNEY  INTO SILENCE

     Meditation –  “Donkey Day”  by Janet Lees. 

Cross-marked beast, bearing cross-burdened Christ,
what is your message today as you travel the palm-strewn way
Stumbling on a stony track, people’s coats on your back, you were chosen for faithfulness.
This is a calling we share,
as the cross-marked hill comes closer still.
Your job is to carry him today, yesterday’s weight forgotten; tomorrow’s burden still uncertain.
May we, his cross-marked people bear him just as faithfully.

      Silence

Take some deep slow breaths and relax. Begin to let go of the tensions in your body. Feel the pressure and busyness slipping away. As you draw breath think of how your body is using oxygen: It is being carried to every part of your body.  Feel the life it brings. As you exhale, you breathe out carbon dioxide which you don’t need. Trees and plants take this is. They then produce oxygen which sustains you.  You are an integral part of God’s creation.          (30 seconds silence)

WE REFLECT UPON OUR RELATIONSHIPS

L: The Scriptures tell us, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Seek the grace of Christ Jesus while it may be found, call upon him while he is near. Let us pray.”

Because your words and deeds are perfection but our goodness is like soiled and torn clothing; Lord have mercy.

R: Lord have mercy.

L: Because we become locked into mediocrity, having lost enthusiasm for reaching high because of bruising knock backs; Christ have mercy.

R: Christ have mercy. 

L Because from personal experience you, merciful Friend, know how hard it is to keep the faith when the future appears to be threat and pain; Lord have mercy.

R: Lord have mercy. Loving God, Friend and Saviour, please continue to forgive our sins and heal our fractured faith and love. Restore among us the joy of salvation and the simplicity of uncluttered goals. We pray for hands eager to serve you, wills keen to follow you, and for minds that are wild about exploring the height, depth, length and breadth of your redeeming love in Christ Jesus. Let this be, dear Lord, let this be. Amen!

THE ASSURANCE

L: My Friends, if your minister should keep quiet about the Gospel, the very stones would cry out and declare salvation through Christ Jesus! In him we are a forgiven family of God. Live as those who are liberated, not looking back with remnants of guilt but looking forward to the fulfilment of the promises of God.  I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

 R:Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!

FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES   Isaiah 50: 4-9a

4  “The Lord God has given Me
The tongue of the learned,
That I should know how to speak
A word in season to him who is weary.
He awakens Me morning by morning,
He awakens My ear
To hear as the learned.

The Lord God has opened My ear;
And I was not rebellious,
Nor did I turn away.

I gave My back to those who struck Me,
And My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard;
I did not hide My face from shame and spitting.

“For the Lord God will help Me;
Therefore I will not be disgraced;
Therefore I have set My face like a flint,
And I know that I will not be ashamed.

8  He is near who justifies Me;
Who will contend with Me?
Let us stand together.
Who is My adversary?
Let him come near Me.

Surely the Lord God will help Me;
Who is he who will condemn Me?
Indeed they will all grow old like a garment;
The moth will eat them up.

FROM THE GOSPELS   Luke 19: 28 – 44

28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

41 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “If you, even you, had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognise the time of your visitation from God.”

HYMN 682 – “When Human Voices Cannot Sing”  (click here to listen)

PSALM 31:9-16

Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am in distress!
My eyes grow dim from suffering.
I have lost my strength.
My strength fails me because of my sin,
and my bones become brittle.
My strength fails because of my iniquity,
And my bones waste away.
Because of all my enemies, people disdain me;
my neighbours are appalled by my suffering,
those who know me are horrified by my condition;
those who see me in the street run away from me.
I am forgotten, like a dead man no one thinks about;
I am regarded as worthless, like a broken jar.
For I hear what so many are saying,
the terrifying news that comes from every direction.
When they plot together against me,
they figure out how they can take my life.
But I trust in you, O Lord!
I declare, “You are my God!”
You determine my destiny.
Rescue me from the power of my enemies
and those who chase me.
Smile on your servant.
Deliver me because of your faithfulness.

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS – “Joy and Tears in Tension”

     Part 1

There is profound tension in Palm Sunday. We have a brief but haunting burst of sunshine as Jesus is surrounded by the crowds, waving palm branches and songs of praise to God. Yet the storm clouds are quickly gathering. There’s a brooding sense of impending tragedy as Jesus stops his descent from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem and weeps like a broken hearted lover.

The different churches are not of one mind as to how best observe this final Sunday before Easter. Some go for an uninhibited Palm Sunday celebration : Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Some keep close to the Passion Sunday theme of Christ suffering. Other churches focus on the hosannas in the morning and the tears at evening. At least in this way a little of the true tension of the event is retained.

Many poets have tried to capture the profound tension. One attempt is in Clive Sansom’s poem, ‘The Donkey’s Owner’, in which he compares the pompous entry of Pilate to Jerusalem one day followed by the arrival of Jesus the next morning.

 Snaffled my donkey, he did — good luck to him!
 Rode him astride, feet dangling, near scraping the ground
 Gave me the laugh of my life when I first saw him,
Remembering yesterday — you know, how Pilate come
 Bouncing the same road, on that horse of his
Big as a house and the armour shining
And half of Rome trotting behind him.
Tight mouthed he was; looking as if he owned the world.
Then today, him and my little donkey! Ha! Laugh — I thought I’d kill myself when he first started.
So did the rest of them. Gave him a cheer
Like he was Caesar himself, only more hearty:
Tore off some palm twigs and followed shouting,
Whacking the donkey’s behind .
Then suddenly
we see his face.
The smile had gone, and somehow the way he sat
Was different — like he was much older — you know —
Didn’t want to laugh no more.

Powerful stuff. At first the donkey’s owner thinks it’s a great laugh, but when he sees the face of Jesus, something profound spears at his heart: “Didn’t want to laugh no more.”

Indeed there is something both gloriously joyful and awesomely bitter about this day. Are we looking into the mystery of the heart of God? How does God hold infinite sorrow and infinite joy together?

The lectionary readings for today helps us live with the tension.

We started with the passage from Isaiah ( 50:4-9a) which is the third of the so-called ‘servant songs’- the poems about the true servant of God whose willing suffering will become deeply redemptive. Here is a brief glimpse of a noble person whose back is bared for a flogging, and whose beard in ripped out by the handful, and

      I did not hide my face from shame and spitting.

Then comes the Psalm (31:9-16), where there is a similar mood of impending suffering, although without Isaiah’s remarkable concept of redemption.

For I hear what so many are saying,
the terrifying news that comes from every direction.
When they plot together against me,
they figure out how they can take my life.

     Part 2

This grim scene is followed by the Epistle, from Philippians 2: These sentences are most likely a section from an early Christian hymn, sung in honour of their Christ. It sings of a Jesus who does not make a grab for power, but bends low like Isaiah’s suffering servant, accepting mutilation and a cruel death.

When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

You may think this is all very gloomy stuff.  But that is not how it reads in the Scriptures. There is no despair here. Hope rules. We are taken close to the pulsing, passionate Centre of existence, to the heart of God, where we find redemption at work through willing self sacrifice.

This is the path to the only genuine new age; to the only sustainable new heaven and new earth. This is true love, not that we loved God but that God loved us. 

Of course, the teeming world around us does not admit this. It wants to save itself by clutching at life, hoarding it, grabbing all that one can, treading on other heads to get more than our share. Looking after number one, feverishly possessing, mastering, exploiting. Yet with every fierce grab they lose more than they gain.

There are frenetic people everywhere chasing the big lie. Sadly, in what they think will be gaining greater life, is found less; futility; despair; darkness.

Yet here in the Gospel we have the Man from Nazareth (secretly many see him as an impractical fool), not only saying, “Lose your life and you will find it,” but also acting it out, living it, ready to go to the bitter end.

Palm Sunday begins the drama of purest Love in the jaws of humiliation. Like most of the profound moments of life, it is joy mixed with tears.

Luke is alone among the Gospels in highlighting the tears. In a few lines that other writers do not include, Luke tells how, when Jesus rounded the Mount Olives and saw Jerusalem ahead of him with the golden temple brilliant in the morning light, he broke down and wept for the doomed city.

Do you recall the other occasion where is said that Jesus wept? At the grave of his friend Lazarus? In that case the Greek word  for “wept” used by John is dakruo, meaning “shed a tear”.

Later in Luke’s story of the crucifixion, as Jesus stumbled his way to the up the hill to Golgotha, broken-hearted women wept and wailed as he went by. It is the weeping of women who are utterly distraught with grief. Here the Greek word is kalaio.

And this is the word (kalaio) is used when Jesus weeps on Palm Sunday.  It’s not just the gentle shedding of a tear or two as in dakruo. It is the shaking shoulders and heaving chest of a very strong, brave man caught in a flood of grief for the city he loved. It is kalaio.

Here is the irony of Palm Sunday: Christ’s racking grief takes place in a celebration that, on the surface, looks like the most triumphant day of his life. We are delighted that for once in Jesus’ experience, he is given the treatment he deserved. We want to join the cheering and the waving of palms. And we do.

But always there is the tension. Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday. Happiness allied with profound grief; human joy in the gift of Jesus, and his sorrow over that which is lost and doomed.

Today we are close to the final frontier; to that Divine Mystery who brought us into being and follows us through all the hours of life. Close to that Lover who cannot bear that even the least person should perish. The Christ who wept over Jerusalem weeps over us, and his is the weeping of God.

Tension.
Laughter and weeping.
Trumpet and then plaintive oboe.
God’s redemptive suffering.
Hosanna!
Followed by a solemn prelude to “Father forgive them,
 for they know not wha
t they do.”

As the owner of the donkey in Clive Samsom’s poem concludes:

Then suddenly
We see his face.
The smile had gone, and somehow the way he sat
 Was different — like he was much older — you know —
Didn’t want to laugh no more.

HYMN 357 – “When Our Life Began” (click here to listen)

A PALM SUNDAY REFLECTION Twenty Centuries Past”

L: Twenty centuries past, what city has not heard of your coming? From Beijing to Berlin, from Jerusalem to Johannesburg, from New York to New Delhi, surely the word has spread that you’ve come in peace, not violence, to enrich, renew, transform our lives and bring us to shalom

R: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
Hosanna in the highest.

L: Twenty centuries past, what city has not heard of your church? From Catholic, Orthodox, Uniting or Anglican, Evangelical, Progressive or Pentecostal surely the message of acceptance, healing, confidence in your royal advent, has been passed on through faithful living?

R: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
Hosanna in the highest.

L: Twenty centuries past, what city has not rejected you? From penthouse to tenement, from factory to leisure centre, from theme park to concert hall, surely the news is that this life is for taking, not giving and what stands in the way of this lifestyle must now be removed?

R: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
Hosanna in the highest.

L: Twenty centuries past, what city does the Christ seek to enter?  From leafy suburb to shanty town, from housing estate to West-End flat, from salon to slum, surely the sign of the church free from pride, united in deed, must be the welcome the Christ longs for as he enters our city?

R: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
Hosanna in the highest. 

OFFERING OUR JOYS AND CONCERNS TO GOD

Please give us the grace, loving God, to pray with our hearts as well as our lips, and to serve with our deeds as well as our prayers. In places where the church celebrates with joy today, where it laughs with little children and praises with elderly saints, till hosannas overflow from every loving heart; may your kingdom come,/  And your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

In places where the church gathers in sorrow or fear today, weeping with Christ Jesus for the cross that must be carried in the face of misunderstanding and abuse; may your kingdom come./ Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

In places where ordinary people are disillusioned with that greed and injustice that wants the poor and the weak blamed for the deprivations that afflict them; your kingdom come./  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

In places where people are at their wits end, angry or frightened, ready to hit out violently at those around them, or falling into despair and planning to take their own lives; Your kingdom come./ Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

In places where there are small hopes begging to be kept alive,  programmes of compassion needing to be supported, and the beginnings of faith requiring recognition and encouragement; your kingdom come./ Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

God of Christ Jesus and our God, enable each of us to enter into fellowship with the Spirit of Christ, that our personal happiness and suffering may not be wasted, but dedicated to your infinite purposes which are often baffling but always loving. In the words you gave us, we pray, “Our Father…”

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil.  For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.

HYMN 348 – “Ride On, Ride On in Majesty”  (click here to listen)

WORD OF MISSION

L: Palm Sunday is found:

R: whenever we are serving a noble and unpopular cause with selfless devotion, holding to the ideals of truth and justice;

L: whenever we are seeking to uplift the fallen, to comfort the brokenhearted, to strengthen and encourage the weak and hopeless;

R: whenever we are working bravely and persistently in the face of abuse and criticism to establish more equitable relations in the world;

L: whenever we are sacrificing our lives in behalf of what we believe to be the service of love for all humanity.  

R: That is Palm Sunday!

BENEDICTION

Go in peace.  And may the Holy God surprise you on the way, 
Christ Jesus be your company and the Spirit lift up your life.  Amen.

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