Palm Sunday (05-04-2020)

WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE OCEAN GROVE/BARWON HEADS CONGREGATIONS

This service was streamed live via Zoom on April 5th at 10am.

 “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?'” (Matthew 21:10).  So, too, as Jesus enters our lives this day, he finds not only the city, but the whole world in turmoil.  Perhaps you find yourself in turmoil, looking for a saviour, but be careful what you look for.

This is the second weekly publication of the text for an entire service of worship for home use while the ban on public worship is in place.  Even though the service is being streamed live, those who are unable to participate 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. 

CANDLE: You may also wish to light a candle, as a reminder of the spirit of the Lord among and within you.

SOUND: There  are links to YouTube files for music and, should you rather listen than read, sound files for some of the text, including the sermon. When a YouTube clip has finished, simply click on the back button of  your browser to return to this page. This week, at the request of a member, sound files have been added for the responsive prayers and readings. In these files,  Rev. Bob is the ‘Leader’ as in church, and you may respond along with the other voice.  

PICTURES: Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.

 A NOTE FOR NEWCOMERS:  Common churchy words like “God” are used freely, but those who have not been exposed to Rev. Bob’s use of such words may misunderstand.  Though he is an old man, his theology is not.  Traditional usage of those familiar churchy words in popular Christianity is often wide of the mark of a good theological understanding.  To acquaint yourself with more up-to-date definitions (i.e. ones that actually make sense in our modern world), see “Words of the Word” on this website.  (You might start with words such as “Prayer” and  “G-O-D”.)

FOR YOUR REFLECTION

PERSECUTION

A disciple was one day recalling how Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed were branded as rebels and heretics by their contemporaries.  Said the Master, “Nobody can be said to have attained the pinnacle of Truth until a thousand sincere people have denounced that person for blasphemy.”   (Anthony deMello, S.J.)

CALL TO CELEBRATION  

L: Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!  Don’t miss the act of the millennium. Rejoice! Rejoice, you people of the Bellarine!  Shout for joy, you children of the righteous!  Look and see!  Your king is coming to you!

R: He comes triumphant and victorious, yet humble and riding on a donkey.

L: The Lord will save his people as a shepherd saves his flock from danger.

R: Like precious stones in a crown, we will shine in God’s own land.

A RESPONSIVE READING    (from Psalm 118)

L: Give thanks to God who is so good,

R: whose sure love flows on forever!

L: Let all the people join in the chorus;

R: God’s love flows on forever!

L: Swing open the gates of love that I may enter

R: and give thanks to our wonderful God.

L: Here is the gate that belongs to God,

R: believers can freely go in through it.

L: Thank you, God, for answering me;

R: you are my healing and liberation.

L: The stone that the builders threw aside

R: has become our cornerstone.

L: This is the day that God has made;

R: let us be happy and celebrate it.

L: Save us all, God, please save us;

R: and make our faith a success.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

Holy God, most awesome is your friendship, most wondrous is your self-giving.  We come praising you for the joy of your Christ, for the loving courage with which he has fulfilled his mission to seek and save the lost.  We come adding our hosannas to the millions of voices, past and present, who watch and wait for your breaking into our history in our time. Amen.

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

Grief and joy are about to be mixed.  Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday, ushers in the most poignant week in the church calendar.  It begins with shouts of praise as Jesus of Nazareth, hero of the common people, enters the Holy City, yet in so doing, marches inexorably toward his bloody death.

Today we begin the walk to Jerusalem; The holy week;
The demand that we face the darkness, the broken path, the abuse of power.

Today we walk toward the dayspring breaking through, the Easter day of joy. So let us join together in silence to see what holiness resides within and about us,
To welcome in the day and make straight the path for the work of God.

Let silence be placed around us now, like a mantle. During this quiet time may we move from busy-ness to quietness. May we look with gratitude upon this day, for the beauty of the world, for the first radiance of dawn and the last smouldering glow of sunset. May we be appreciative above all for the countless other blessings present in our lives.    (30 seconds of silence)

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

This hymn is probably new to most of you, but it is worth listening to and has a delightful melody.  It is worth learning.

WE REFLECT UPON OUR RELATIONSHIPS

L: Let us confront our estrangement from God, confessing that even our praise can become contaminated.  Let us pray.  If our songs of praise are a habit that has lost the enthusiasm of its first love, Lord have mercy.

R: Lord have mercy.

L: If our songs of praise are hampered by a multitude of small doubts and fears, Christ have mercy.

R: Christ have mercy.

L: If our songs of praise have become hollow shells of a faith that has withered, Lord, have mercy.

R: Lord have mercy.

L: God of stringent light and relentless mercy, please reveal to us the condition of our true selves.  Expose the ugliness we have ignored, affirm the beauty that has not been surrendered, forgive the wrongs for which we have made pathetic excuses, and heal the faith which, although lame, has not surrendered to the world’s pessimism.  Encourage us to bear the pain of complete self-honesty, and to embrace the joy of rehabilitation which comes to us through the grace of the Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.  Then let us live boldly to the praise of your Holy Name. Amen.

A WORD OF ASSURANCE

L: Sisters and brothers in the faith, through the Christ who comes to us, we are a people who have nothing to fear and everything to hope for, and so I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

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

FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Zechariah 9:9-10

FROM THE GOSPELS  – Matthew 7:13-14

 

A FIRST REFLECTION     “The Broad Way”

From “Last chance: The final week of Jesus’ life” by Wood LakeThen as now, people thought in power terms. They suffered from what might be called the ‘Superman Syndrome.’  They expected the Messiah, the Saviour, to act like a fairy godmother and make things right by waving a magic wand.  Zzzap! – everything’s fixed. Fairy godmothers and Superman belong in children’s stories and comic books. But the pattern of thinking persists in adults. Adults wouldn’t dream of asking a boss to ‘kiss it better’…but they still buy lottery tickets, hoping that unearned wealth will solve their problems. Or they elect a popular but vacuous politician to restore national prosperity. Or they beg a charismatic television evangelist to cure their cancer. In Jesus’ time, people expected their promised saviour to drive the hated Roman army out of their territory, and to restore Israel to the glory it had known, briefly, under David and Solomon.  

They looked for an easy way. They looked for someone like the one prophesied in Zechariah.  But Jesus taught this easy way – the wide gate and the broad way – leads to destruction, whereas the gate leading to life is narrow and way is constricted and few find it.  I have always been wary of the story of Palm Sunday, for it depicts a ‘broadway’ Jesus.  A Jesus who would save the people, bring them life with health, wealth, freedom and happiness; who would do it all.  This is exactly how Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness; exactly what Jesus rejected  because he knew that this was the easy, well-travelled, easily found broad way to destruction.  The people wanted a broadway Jesus, so they gathered to cheer him on with their loud hosannas.  

It troubles me that Jesus may have played out the Messianic image depicted in Zechariah; riding in on a donkey as if to say, “I am he.  I am the one who will save you.” I just don’t buy the “riding humbly on a donkey image.”  In Zechariah’s context, a king on a donkey only was more humble than a king on a horse or in a chariot.  If Jesus wanted to enter humbly, he would have walked liked everyone else. Did Jesus finally succumb to the Satan’s temptations and portray himself as the kind of messiah that the people wanted?  Did sinless Jesus finally fall? Or was the story merely the story-teller’s fabrication to express his own belief that Jesus was, indeed, the one promised by Zechariah?  I don’t know, but I do know that the broadway Jesus will not lead us to life, but to destruction.

HYMN 333  “All Glory, Praise and Honour”   (click to hear the hymn)
PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING

L: God, our most holy Friend, every day in every place your faithful children rise up to give you thanks and praise.  For this planet, Earth, with its wealth of gifts, for our birth into this generous place, made in your own likeness, stewards of creation, pastors of one another.  even when we degrade the divine image within us, you do not give up on us.  We thank you for your project of reclamation envisaged by the eminent prophets, sung by temple choirs and humble workers in the words of the Psalms, and made visible in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  Especially today, we praise you on this Palm Sunday for the faith-courage that brought Jesus to Jerusalem to the costly, bloody destiny to which he set his face like a flint.  Therefore, with all the messengers of God we thank and praise you, saying:

R: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of truth and grace, heaven and earth are full of your glory.  Hosanna in the highest!   Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!

ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE        “The Middle Way?”

Okay, being folk who have been raised in the church and fed on the stories of Jesus, you know that the apparently broad way, down which the Palm Sunday drama proceeded, very quickly narrowed into the broken trail up the Mount of Olives and through the garden paths of Gethsemane.  Even if Jesus did briefly fall into Satan’s messianic trap, he reconnected with his calling that very week and, in the end, he chose the narrow gate and the hard road.

But the temptation remains for those of us who would follow to believe that Jesus walked the hard road for us.  That his death, in some way, saved us from having to take the same path.  Certainly we will not find life by following that large materialistic, hedonistic, faithless crowd out there on the broad way, but surely Jesus must have provided a middle way.

Some will find comfort in the claim, made by various brands of Christianity, that once you accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour then salvation is yours.  St. Paul had trouble with some in the Corinthian church who believed that once ‘saved’, they were free to live in any way they wanted.  Jesus is recorded in Matthew’s gospel as saying, “Not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven.”  (Mt.7:21)   Simply believing the right things or having a personal relationship with Jesus will not do the job; it will not bring you life.  

Fair enough, but you might well be able to say, “Not only do I believe, I live my belief.  I work for justice and peace, I give my time not only to the church, but to other charitable organisations, and I give generously of my wealth to the poor. Surely, I am entitled to life’s little comforts and pleasures along the way.”   

Of course you are, but this misses the point, and perhaps is indicative of why Jesus said that so few people find the narrow gate to life.  Jesus, in speaking of doing the will of God, was not speaking simply about the choices you make and the things that you do, and whether or not you live a moral, virtuous life.   Living a good life may not be always easy, but neither is it the hard road.  It is, rather, a middle way that has come to dominate popular Christianity.  Though we may readily recognise the broad way as mere glitz, and be rightfully wary of its trivial values and ultimate futility, we may not be so conscious of the fact that the apparent satisfaction of the middle way is only superficial and, indeed, it is but a branch of the broadway crowded with church people who march to perdition in the false comfort of like-minded company.

The hard road is not in the outer world, but in the inner world of attitudes and awareness, where, Jesus said, “you must take up your cross daily and follow me.”  The core of the gospel is found in the so-called Great Paradox, “He who would save his life will lose it, but he who loses his life will gain it.”  Jesus’ choices in the days between Palm Sunday and Good Friday were a demonstration of his belief that this is the narrow, twisted path to life.  It is recalled in the ancient hymn recorded by Paul in his letter to the Philippians which he introduces with these words that echo Jesus;  “Always consider the other person to be better than yourself, so that nobody thinks of his own interests first, but everybody thinks of other people’s interests instead.  In your minds, you must be the same as Christ Jesus….”

FOR YOUR PRIVATE REFLECTION

The task we are set to follow Jesus, to take up our crosses daily, must seem impossible, especially if you feel that you are already giving so much of yourself to his work that there is no more to give. The role of the church is to be a place where you can share the journey with others: to encourage and be encouraged, to help and be helped, to challenge and be challenged. The question now for you is: what is your next step, your next challenge?  To what of yours do you still cling? What of yourself is still a mystery to you? What is your next step from the ‘middle’ way to the narrow and twisted way?

FROM THE EPISTLES  Philippians 2:5-11 

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION 

L: Holy Friend, we turn to you in prayer for those around us, not trying to twist your arm or change your mind, but linking our little compassion to your great compassion for all those whom Christ came to save. We pray for those who today are faced with a clear choice between doing the lonely will of God or conforming to the cosy will of the majority.  May your grace win the day

R:  and your salvation prosper.

L: We pray for those who are confused by an apparent lack of clear choice, who must make decisions within being sure which is the best option, especially in this time of pandemic, with its special rules and social isolation.  May your grace win the day

R:and your salvation prosper.

L: We pray for the health professionals on the front lines of a new kind of war, and others who are risking much and suffering much because of their decision to put Christ first; many of whom are now scorned or isolated, abused or persecuted. May your grace win the day

R: and your salvation prosper.

L: We pray for those who, without any say in the matter, are thrust into  unexpected situations of suffering or sorrow. May your grace win the day

R: and your salvation prosper.

L: We pray for those who are living with the consequences of bad decisions, who cannot put back the clock but wish to learn from their sins and grow in humility and faith. May your grace win the day

R: and your salvation prosper.

L: We pray for your church when it is harried by critics, disgraced by its own weak or arrogant members, and given challenges that appear to large for its resources. May your grace win the day

R: and your salvation prosper.

L: God of Palm Sunday, please endower each of us with the courage and humility of Christ, that his love at work in us may enable us to do much better than seems humanly possible. May his hands take even that which is twisted or scarred and shape it for a greater purpose and sublime glory. May your grace win the day

R: and your salvation prosper.

L: Through Christ Jesus our brother and friend, who taught us to prayer, “Our father…”

LORD’S PRAYER

LENTEN MEDITATION  “He Will Walk” 

A: He will walk a little in front of us towards Jerusalem. He will not be scared, though we are apprehensive. If we try to discourage him, he will recognise the devil in our voice,  and he will tell us as much in no uncertain terms. Then he will go on again, in faith, towards Jerusalem.

B: He will walk a little in front of us into controversy. He will not be scared, though we are apprehensive. He will argue with the intelligent, stop in their tracks the self-assured, touch the scabby, upset bank balances by his outlandish behaviour in the sanctuary, and weep in public. Then he will go on again, in faith, toward Jerusalem.

A: He will walk a little in front of us into Gethsemane. He will not be scared, though we are apprehensive. He will sweat blood and ask God if there is another way.  And when God says no, he will take the traitor’s kiss,  the soldiers’ spit, the bile and venom from the princes of religion. Then he will go on again. in faith toward the cross.

B: He will walk a little in front of us towards Calvary. He will not be scared, he will not be scared. He will feel the pain of wood and nails;  but more than this he will feel the weight of all the evil, all the malice. all the pettiness. all the sin of the world heaped upon his shoulders. He will not throw off that weight, though he could.

A: He will not give back evil for evil, return malice for malice, take revenge on the petty-minded,  or spew out hate on all who have despised or rejected him. He will not give back the sin of the world. He will take it away…  into death, into hell, so that he can lead us into life. Then he will go on again, in faith, toward the resurrection.

B: He will walk a little behind us through the graveyard. He will wait until we realise that he has died and admit our complicity in his life’s ending. Then he will come up behind us, and say our name, so that we can say his for ever.

HYMN 348  “Ride On, Ride On in Majesty” (Click to hear hymn)

Listen again, but substitute the words of John Bell, written for this tune:

        • Ride on, ride on, the time is right:
        • The roadside crowds scream with delight;
        • Palm branches mark the pilgrim way
        • Where beggars squat and children play.
        • Ride on, ride on, the critics wait,
        • Intrigue and rumour circulate;
        • New lies abound in word and jest,
        • And truth becomes a suspect guest.
        • Ride on, ride on, while well aware
        • That those who shout and wave and stare
        •  Are mortals who, with common breath,
        •  Can crave for life and lust for death.
        • Ride on, ride on, though blind with tears,
        • Though dumb to speak and deaf to jeers.
        • Your path is clear, though few can tell
        • Their garments pave the road to Hell.
        • Ride on, ride on, the room is let,
        • The wine matured, the saw is whet;
        • And dice your death-throes shall attend
        • Though faith, not fate, dictates your end.
        • Rise on, ride on, God’s love demands.
        • Justice and peace lie in your hands.
        • Evil and angel voices rhyme:
        • This is the man and this the time.

SENDING OUT  

L: Go gladly on your way as those who have seen past the broadway lights and glitter to recognise the real Palm Sunday man as the key to the healing of the world.

R: Hosanna!  Wonderful is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

L: Translate your hosannas into the language of daily loving, picking up your crosses and following the one who leads the way to life through death.

R: Hosanna!  Wonderful is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

BENEDICTION

The peace of this ancient earth to you: of the high blue heavens which embrace it, and the winds which blow freely over it. The peace of splintered light sparkling on gum leaves, and gentle rain falling on parched earth. The peace of star-jewelled skies and full-orbed moons, of breathless dawns and splendid dying suns. And the peace of the God of Peace to you. Amen!

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