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Sunday 5th April 2020 – Palm Sunday
Call to Worship
We raise our voices and wave with joyful hope
the palms of deliverance of God’s people.
Hosanna! Hosanna to the son of David!
Our hearts are filled with expectation
as we welcome the coming king.
Hosanna! Blessed is he
who comes in the name of the Lord!
We receive into the crowded streets of our lives
the one who is saviour, not only of us,
but of all the earth.
Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest heaven!
Prayer of Adoration, Confession and Renewal
Lord Jesus Christ
we welcome you into our midst,
here on this Palm Sunday morning,
just as the people of Jerusalem welcomed you.
You come to us as Christ the King,
triumphant over darkness and hate.
You come to us as Christ the King
victorious over pride and injustice.
You come to us as Christ the King,
humble, on the back of a donkey.
Teach us your ways, Lord,
that we too might conquer
that which makes us less than pure.
In our listening and reading,
in our thought and question
help us to walk in humility and service.
We confess that we are all too quick to shout:
How easy it is to be swept by a crowd,
and to miss you in those at the wayside.
Forgive us, Lord,
and guide us in your paths.
When we are called to follow the crowd,
instead of you,
when we are snared by popular opinion
instead of our own way.
When we are lulled to bask in glory and fame
rather than the shadow of integrity and honesty.
In our prayers renew us and transform us,
enter our hearts, our minds, our souls today,
that your kingdom might come amongst us.
Let our journey through Holy Week
In these challenging times
Help us to cry out truly,
Reflection – Identity
So who do you think you are this week? Who are you in this new and strange world of social distancing we find ourselves in? Are you usually based in an office, and now fill out spreadsheets from home. Are you constantly meeting clients to keep the organisation turning over, but now find yourself in online zoom meetings and conference calls? Are you usually surrounded by students, and now they are online tutorials.
Are you challenged to find you, and what you do, amongst this new normal? Are you an outdoor enthusiast, now restricted to the square foot patch of back garden. Are you trying to do all of this, and at the same time home school your children? Often our identity is partly to be found in our usual weekly routine, a place of work, or the people we socialise with.
This week I was told who I was, as I was given a letter of identity signed by the Principal Clerk of the General Assembly, to prove who I was in case was stopped by the police on the way back from a funeral or from the church office. I would have thought that black robes and dog collar might have been a giveaway, but you never know.
In the Palm Sunday reading that Tiffany read for us of Jesus processing into Jerusalem, we find a procession of much noise and celebration, palm branch waving and donkey riding. It is clear that no one had heard of social distancing, otherwise it might have been a more demure procession. Amongst many things this is a story about Jesus identity, about who he was and what he came to do. As he enters the city of Jerusalem, we are told the city is in turmoil and asks “who is this”?
The theologian Marcus Borg talks of two processions entering Jerusalem on a Spring day in the year 30. It was the beginning of the week of Passover, the most sacred week of the Jewish year. One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives cheered by His followers. Jesus was from a poor village in Nazareth, and his message was about the Kingdom of God.
On the opposite side of the city, possibly on the same day, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Though Matthew doesn’t mention the Roman procession, he and his community would have known about it. It happened each Passover when Jerusalem’s normal population swelled with visitors. Jesus’ procession proclaimed the Kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire. Two processions that symbolize the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’ crucifixion, a week of challenging identity and pitting sacred and secular against each other.
Imagine the royal procession’s arrival in the city. A visual show of majestic power: cavalry, foot soldiers, leather, armour, helmets, weapons, banners, sun glinting on metal and gold. The marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers some curious, some awed, and some resentful. Now imagine Jesus’ counter-procession on the other side of the city. Donkeys, palm branches, slow wandering crowds, laughter, cheering. The story is familiar but still contains surprises for us.
Two processions, the authority of Rome, and the ruling authority of the religious leaders; and Jesus. Before the end of the week, they will kill Him. Two processions entered Jerusalem on that day with different ideologies. The same question and alternative faces us today, which procession might we be in? What would our procession be about and what might it stand for?
Would we take a stand against prejudice and discrimination? What if we could heal communities, and banish weapons of war and concentrate instead on healing a world from a pandemic? What if we could harness the power of togetherness and bring about peace? What if it could offer a word of hope to those living in despair, isolation or loneliness? What are the pressures for people and communities today that we would want to focus on?
There is a simple song by John Bell in which these words are sung: “don’t be afraid. My love is stronger, my love is stronger than your fear. Don’t be afraid… I have promised, promised to be always near.”
Who is Jesus’, is not just a question for the people then, it is for us now. He is the one who asks us what we are doing about him, for him, with him. Whilst we are waiting for the world to begin again, the people of faith, with others, have already started rediscovering what is church. The question today may still be ‘Who is this?’ But there’s another question: ‘who are we?’ We are the friends of Jesus, doing what he would do in this time. Let it always be so.
Questions for Reflection
In what ways has your lifestyle or identity recently been changed?
What would Jesus procession be about today? A challenge to power and politics or something else?
What are we doing about Jesus, for Jesus, with Jesus?
Prayers of Gratitude and Concern
We pray to you, Loving God
at this the threshold of Holy Week.
We bring our prayers for ourselves
and the world around us
and we pray for those who journey
through difficult places and times.
God, you cried over your people
and we cry with you.
For we know the road ahead in Holy Week.
We know it is we who wait on the sidelines
and silently watch you slip by
in a night’s silent garden,
in a betrayer’s wine-stained kiss,
in the shout of hammer on nail.
you continue to journey with us
as we experience challenging times
for the world we know and the people we love.
We know only too well the hurt and despair,
the places of conflict around the world.
Yet we know too there is love and healing.
You showed it yourself
in your gentleness and compassion.
We pray for all those who work to help and heal
nurses, doctors and all medical staff,
for those caring for loved ones,
and for those who worry about those they love.
visit the desperate places of our world.
give strength to the powerless places,
walk in the lifeless places,
tend in the needy places,
comfort in the painful places.
In times of fear and anxiety
from despair or stress, the changing of identity
of finding a new way to live,
bring your presence and your peace.
God, may our hosannas
be good news
for the world
and all who need your love.
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.
Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.