Sunday Service, 28th March 2021
Led by Mo Brand
Good morning and a very warm welcome to everyone joining us today for worship at Wardie Parish Church.
Our locum, Bob, has been keeping those at home updated with the number of people in the building, which has varied greatly between three and I think six over the last while, so it’s lovely to say that the building is open again (in restricted ways) and that we do have people joining us here today as well as at home – everyone is very welcome on this Palm Sunday. We’re going to be trying some different things with our technology today; we’re focusing on ensuring everyone can hear the service, so if things have wee pauses then just relax – the people behind the scenes are doing some very complex things.
Call to Worship
Let’s start our service with a call to worship where we have many voices joining us from their homes:
Hosanna – We welcome Jesus
Alleluia – Glory to God
Hosanna – Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord
Alleluia – We are filled with Joy
Hosanna – Peace from heaven
Hosanna – Jesus is welcome here
Alleluia – Praise to our King
Hymn 279 – Make way, make way for Christ the King
Our prayer this morning along with our closing words, when we get to them, come from the Church of Scotland weekly worship.
Let us pray:
Living God, as we step into Holy Week, open our hearts and minds.
May this coming week be holy for us.
May we live this time expecting that in some way You will meet us.
In whatever way we live this week, give us the times and spaces to ponder again that You know and understand suffering and You offer to meet us and hear again – our struggles over this past year and old pains that have not healed for us, inner struggles that never quite seem to go away. May this week help us to name and offer to You our wounds. Help to ask and tune in to Your wisdom and listen for your response to us.
Loving God, we may not have the words for our prayers. We may not understand ourselves as much as we would like, but we step into this week trusting in the tradition of which we are part – that by pondering Your walk towards the cross, by focusing on Jesus’ last journey, somehow You will speak to us on our journey. You will honour our effort and intention and draw us closer to You. So, in the quietness of our hearts now – we take a brief moment of silence and we speak to You of our intentions for this Holy Week.
And now we pray together in the words Jesus taught his disciples:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be 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,
for ever and ever. Amen.
I wonder if you’ve ever been to a party! Now, I could be about to talk about being swept up in the excitement of the day and the activities and celebrations, but I was thinking about party games. An obvious choice for this morning would be pin the tail on the donkey! I miss having volunteers, so what if I demonstrate.
You have a donkey image and a tail and, there, it’s done. It seems quite easy. I’m not sure if it provides enough excitement when the target is quite so straightforward. So hopefully you play it properly with a blindfold, and I don’t have much room to turn here, so I will also make the target smaller. So, smaller, harder to see and … definitely more of a challenge.
My alternative today could have been some archery. Do you notice the points on the outside are smaller because they’re easier to hit, but the big challenge and the one that’s worth the most is the one in the middle – the gold or the bull’s eye? Today’s story reflects both of these games. We’re about to hear about Jesus in his Palm Sunday journey but it’s the start of a much bigger picture. It seems the people liked him and expected him to come to them as a great king, they even welcomed him and shouted Hosanna, so he probably could have got away with some sort of government overthrow and ruled the city, but Jesus’ target wasn’t to be popular or to be an earthly king. Jesus knew that what he needed to do was a much greater challenge but that by doing it, he would be providing a much greater reward for him and for everyone – from the people then to all of us today.
Let’s hear our first reading.
New Revised Standard Version
Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
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.”
Now Bob gently reminded me in February that this Sunday was Palm Sunday, and my first thoughts were along the lines of “Help – what do we do on Palm Sunday or what do we as a church need to do?” While it’s fair to say I’ve spent a lot of time at church when it comes to some key services, I’m often away with the children where the focus can be something different – Palm Sunday is the joyful celebration, it’s hosannas and palm branches. I don’t give much thought to it being a key story told in all four gospels, that 29 of the 89 combined chapters from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John focus on the last week of Jesus’ life and the start of that week is Palm Sunday.
But when you start to explore the context in which the story sits, it helps show more of its importance – a third of the gospels telling the final week.
Let’s start with the hosannas and palm branches and of course a donkey, the parts many of us have heard and explored before. Jesus is approaching Jerusalem and the crowd have heard of this Jesus, the miracle worker, the one who heals, the one who raises the dead. They hear he is coming. You might have just been coming for the Passover festival but now you hear Jesus the miracle worker is passing by and you want to be part of that. It took you days to get to Jerusalem on foot, a journey you’d done many years in a row, walking by day and sleeping simply under your cloak by night, you didn’t think you’d be seeing Jesus but the crowd is stopping its journey; the temple and buying goods at the markets there can wait – Jesus is here. The shouts grow louder, Hosannas are ringing out, Hosanna seems like the right thing to shout. Hosanna – “save us”. “Blessings on the King.” Jesus would be a great king to free everyone from the tyranny of Roman rule. A messiah was promised and surely Jesus was coming to liberate everyone, he would be perfect. There’s no way you’re going to miss the chance to see him, but what does he look like? Will he ride past with an army? He does great things – maybe he’ll give out food or money as he passes by; maybe that’s why the cheers are so loud? HERE HE COMES … wait … he looks like just an average man, nothing special; no crown, robes, sceptre … if he wasn’t on a donkey you wouldn’t even know which man he was. You know the Bible readings, “look, your King is coming to you, he is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey – riding on a donkey’s colt” – you didn’t think THAT would be HIS grand entrance, but he’s surely the promised messiah, he can restore the nation to its former glory! So off comes your most valuable possession, your cloak, and you throw it down on the dirty, dusty road to help line the journey. You don’t even look at it as you join in the shouts, “Hosanna, Jesus the king is here!”
However, not everyone is celebrating. The pharisees see the crowds’ cheers as blasphemous, and worse they see Jesus as a threat. He could indeed take power; he could easily lead a revolt that would bring the Roman army down on them, so they ask him to keep his people quiet. His response, that if he tried even the stones would cry out, makes it clear he isn’t going to follow their rules and that something big is happening. They don’t take note of the humble, non-threatening entrance on the donkey, they only focus on their own fears.
Almost everyone is looking at Jesus from their own agenda. They want him or believe him to be about to take this big easy target of some sort of political movement – they don’t see the hard-to-hit, high-reward target of God’s kingdom being built.
And I found my answer to what we need to do on Palm Sunday – and it’s to tell the story, to join with Christians the world over remembering that Palm Sunday celebrates a king’s arrival, not the one people would expect or the one that filled their agenda but one that’s still remembered as a stand-out moment, a prophecy being fulfilled, the start of a great change.
Hymn 364 – All Glory, Laud and Honour. Listen here.
Now we’ve joined in the celebration of Palm Sunday together, I wonder about the rest of Holy Week. Do you think you would have joined in the crowds shouting “Hosanna”? Do you think you would have still joined in with the crowds mere days later shouting “Crucify him”? After all, despite his prophetical entrance, he wasn’t the king they thought he was. I could have focused simply on that, but I was intrigued by one of the suggested lectionary readings which a reader may say sounds quite depressing, at least the start of it – so let’s hear that now:
New Revised Standard Version
9 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
and my bones waste away.
11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
a horror to my neighbours,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16 Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.
I read that the psalms reflect what it means to be a human before God because they portray such a wealth of emotion and relation, so in a week where we’re aware of Jesus’ humanity and the sorrows which are about to come it seems well to look back to the psalms.
A psalm in which the author reflects such sorrow and pain and yet still puts his trust in God seems to echo events that came after Palm Sunday. It’s evident Jesus knew his scripture, not just from his choice to ride in on a donkey but from the words he spoke, and we can read later in Luke’s Gospel from this morning’s reading: how he prayed at least an earlier line of this psalm – with the words “Father into your hands I commit my spirit”. He would have known the words that follow and experienced them first hand – to be a scorn to his adversaries, a horror to his neighbours, a dread to his acquaintances, “they scheme against me to take my life”. And yet when it looks so much like Jesus was firmly in the hands of his enemies they still can’t hold or possess him – he was never truly in the hands of his foes but even in unspeakable suffering was still in the hand of God.
But this commitment of spirit didn’t come easily, not even to Jesus. Do you hear in the psalm that despite being a broken vessel and full of sorrow the writer still believes enough to ask for help, “deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors”, and fully acknowledges “my times are in your hands”? I wonder if Jesus was drawn to the same psalm when in Mark he says “remove this cup from me; yet not what I want but what you want” – an unimaginable struggle to trust in God when things are so hard.
Continue reading through the gospels for Holy Week, but also look back at Psalm 31 and you’ll continue to see echoes of emotion. Psalm 31:22, “I am driven far from your sight”, reminds us of Jesus feeling abandoned, crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (which Jesus is actually quoting from Psalm 22). In such times of hardship Jesus used the psalms to express his own anguish and emotions. He knew the Bible and used it to give him strength and to be reminded of God’s plan.
Holy week is no easy time. It’s hard to reflect on the pain and suffering; it’s a time when despite our shouts of “Hosanna” to start this very service, hosannas are taken away. There are no shouts of joy during this week. We wrestle with the difficult aspects of life and faith, of sorrow and hurt, of denying Jesus, of needing Jesus in death and in life. A time when we may feel very far from the sight of God, secure in his hand, or somehow both at the same time.
But God knew exactly what he was aiming to do and what kingdom was truly being built, so read Psalm 31 to the end and you’ll find it ends with a much more positive encouragement of “be strong and let your heart take courage all you who wait for the Lord”, and maybe wherever you in the challenges of your life, be them easy or hard, we’ll be able to say the words of verse 14 – “I trust in you, O Lord; you are my God. My times are in your hand”.
Prayers of Intercession by Sarah Matthews
Let us pray.
On Palm Sunday give us joy in our hearts as we shout Hosanna, welcoming Jesus our King. Celebrating all that we hope for as the Easter Story unfolds. Give us the faith we need to follow you on the way to the cross.
We thank You, God, that spring has sprung. The days are getting longer, the flowers are brightening gardens and parks and we can hopefully enjoy time outside together.
We pray for our church community as we open the church again for services. May we stay safe and may there be opportunities for those who haven’t been back to church for many months to restart and enjoy communal worship in person.
We pray for those around the world in terrible situations. In Myanmar in the middle of a violent military takeover, in Brazil with devastating coronavirus cases and a collapsing health service, as well as other areas not reported in our mainstream media. Lord God, we pray that your hand will be on those who are suffering.
We also pray for the unseen suffering in people’s minds. We pray, Lord, that you will walk alongside the many people whose mental health is in decline at this time.
A year on from our first week in national lockdown, Network have written some prayers focusing on the pandemic. They are as follows…
Lord, we think of those who have lost loved ones this year and we pray for those bereaved.
Lord, we pray the vaccine roll out is successful and we can once again fill the church and gather together. We are joyful for today’s start to returning to being in church.
Lord, we pray that we can protect ourselves and each other as we continue to adapt to our new way of living as we still have some way to go.
Lord, we pray for those across the world living in challenging conditions for whom protection from the virus is hard.
Lord, we pray for those who are isolating, who are alone and for whom going out doesn’t feel safe.
And finally a moment for the prayers in our hearts and minds which remain unsaid.
In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Hymn 549 – How deep the Father’s love for us
There is a tradition that sees the whole of Holy Week as one long service and so no benediction is pronounced –
The time is not yet, but the darkness is gathering.
The time is not yet, but the main players are taking their positions.
Dither not, but come back tomorrow and wait with the Son of God,
for his friends are few in this world of hatred.
The time is not yet, but our time is now; to be here and trust a love that will see this thing through.
Go, but be back, for Jesus needs his friends.