Palm Sunday 2017
Welcome and Intimations
Call to Worship
Hymn – 265 – Ride on, ride on in majesty
Prayer of Adoration
Reading – Luke Ch.19 – vv. 29 – 48
Hymn – 253 – Love inspired the anger
Hymn – 264 – Make way, make way, for Christ the king
(Palms distributed during the singing of the hymn)
Reading – Exodus Ch. 20 vv. 1 - 17
Hymn – 245 – Blest are they, the lowly ones
Prayers Intercession and Thanksgiving
Hymn – 249 – Jesu, Jesu
Prayer of Adoration
Lord God of mystery which we cannot fathom, we honour you. You have been, are and always will be the same. The same in love and in purpose. A consistency of love and purpose which stands contradictory to our ever changing human nature and desires. So we approach you humbly, opening ourselves to you, seeking to understand.
Heavenly King, high above the highest heaven, yet lowly and riding on a donkey, we want to follow you.
Lord Jesus, you entered Jerusalem in public, acclaimed by the crowd, but nursing a sorrowing heart for those who seemed overjoyed at your presence. We come before you quietly and open our hearts so we can receive you, we adore you in silence.
Jesus Christ, who was lifted high on a cross, and sits on the throne of heaven, we acclaim and adore you
Man of sorrows, whipped, scourged, disfigured and cruelly executed on a cross we acknowledge you as our Lord, King and Saviour and worship you.
Lamb of God, whose life demonstrated your ways and whose death on the cross was for our sakes, a sacrifice for our sins, a pathway back to God, we offer you our praise.
Prayer for Peace and Confession
Jesus, Prince of Peace, on this day as we recall your entry into Jerusalem on a donkey a symbol of peace, we light this, our peace candle another symbol.
As we do so we confess that in today's trouble torn world we too often do too little to bring about peace and justice in your world and our world. Forgive us our sins.
May our candle and your word inspire us to greater efforts to bring about unity among all people May its light light up our lives and spread, through us, out into the world bringing peace and hope.
Today, on this Palm Sunday, we recall that as you approached the entrance to the city of Jerusalem you wept for its people. We today remember the people of Jerusalem, of Israel and Palestine and pray that all the descendants of Abraham, of his sons Ishmael and Isaac, may live together in peace and harmony, so that all may enjoy the bounty of the land promised to them and the tears and fears of the people may be changed to laughter and joy.
We pray also for peace in the wider area around Palestine and Israel and remember especially the people of Syria and the terrifying attacks that have been made on the people. We pray that what has happened will spur leaders of the nations to work more diligently and closely together to resolve this long running and complex conflict. We give thanks for the people who in times of great danger go to the assistance of those around them giving what aid they can. We ask your blessing on them.
Lord Jesus, we also recall that this candle's origin lies in words of a woman from Moscow who gave a candle to a couple of American tourists and asked them to take it home, light it in their church and pray for peace. As candles were passed on from church to church so one came to us. We thank you for the witness of that woman of prayer and we pray for the people of Russia after the bomb attack on the underground in St. Petersburg. May those bereaved be granted comfort, the injured healed and all people be granted peace.
Prayers of Intercession
Prayer of Thanksgiving
Heavenly Father, creator God, we thank you for your love in creating this world and in sending Jesus, your Son, to make plain you intentions for us. We thank you that when he faced opposition he stood firm. We recognize that through his example the strength of gentleness and the weakness of power; we see in his death and resurrection the victory of unselfish love.
So now we offer you our thanks. Thanks for those who seek to bring justice and harmony between those in conflict. Our thanks for the United Nations and for everything that promotes understanding among the nations of this world. We thank you for all the agencies that seek to bring reconciliation between conflicting factions and for those who help others who are going through hard and difficult times and find the fulfilment of their needs.
We thank you that, through the Holy Spirit, we can gain a broad vision of society as your love would have it. A world where no one need be in want or fear and that we, through your strength, can pursue this vision with grit and determination but with the awareness of the pitfalls and constraints.
We remember, with thankful hearts, that Jesus was not made afraid by opposition, that he set his face steadfastly towards Jerusalem and entered the city with a grieving heart. We pray that we also may act bravely and commit ourselves to your will and that through us your persuasive love may be demonstrated and victories gained.
This we ask for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord, our saviour, our companion along the way.
The Entry into Jerusalem
The Passover Festival in Jerusalem was, and still is, a great occasion. Today the pilgrims arriving in taxis and buses from the airport join with local people who have arrived in their cars. In Jesus' day the vast majority would have arrived on foot, having walked some, perhaps many, miles over several days. Others could have arrived on camels, horses or donkeys, perhaps the richer folk in some form of carriage.
As with any event that involves a very large crowd of people there would have been an atmosphere. People from all over the known world would be present, there would have been a riot of colour from the clothing that they wore and tents that would have been erected outside the city. The cacophony of noise from the many languages being spoken in conversations, shouted at children who were in danger of being lost, instructions being barked out by those in authority as they tried to create order out of chaos, the cries of the sellers of food and goods from every possible place imaginable. Then there were the animals adding their own distinctive noises, probably of protest and confusion. The smell would have been equally varied, sweaty bodies, animal dung, wood fires with food cooking on them, people burning incense to try and counteract the more objectionable of the odours.
There would be feelings of tension and great relief at having arrived. The joy of family reunions, the anticipation of the great festival. The children and young people desperate to go off and explore this wonderful new place and the parents just wanting to sit down and rest, getting the weight off their feet. All of life was there.
But the entry into Jerusalem on this particular year was not just some glorious carnival procession that would culminate in a great religious festival. As Jesus rode into this scene of utter chaos he gave it a focus. Those who had seen Jesus before ran over and began to shout and cheer. The Passover was always a time when there was an hugely increased expectation of the promised Messiah arriving and heralding in some new era, a great era, a 'make Israel great again' moment for the Jewish people.
Was this radical preacher from Galilee to be that promised Messiah? Some thought so and laid their cloaks on the ground as the people of old had done for Jehu. Luke does not mention the tearing down of palm branches but this is what the citizens of Jerusalem did as they welcomed Simon Maccabaeus to their city after one of his great victories. There were those who believed that Jesus was to be the Messiah who would bring about a new and renewed Jewish state. How different it would turn out, their expectations dashed, their hopes crushed
Jesus' entry into Jerusalem was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of his statements about the meaning of his life, the purpose of his incarnation, of his life and ministry that ended with his execution on a cross and then the ongoing mission of his disciples after his resurrection, ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
We may want to think that the entry of Jerusalem by Jesus on this one off occasion is just that. But we would be very wrong for the visual message that Jesus portrayed on that day has as much meaning today, if not more so, in our very troubled world.
So let us look again at that whole day, as recorded in Luke's Gospel. Let us look at what Jesus rejected and what he embraced
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a royal beast, a regal beast, one that was ridden by kings as they journeyed their kingdoms and beyond. A king on a donkey gave the message that the king was coming in peace, not looking for a fight. But no king would have ridden around his country without a heavily armed escort on horseback, and his own warhorse would not be far away. No king, even on a mission of peace to a neighbouring country or kingdom, would have gone without some military backup.
Jesus arrived on a donkey with a small band of disciples and the people gave him a welcome that was normally reserved for a conquering king, a might military victor. It was a populist welcome, they invested their emotions, their enthusiasm without any reservations into this one man. He was going to meet their dreams, their national aspirations and ambitions. He would bring about a new political renewal, Israel would be great again, it would stop losing wars and winning them, trade relations would be different and better. In that populist welcome that was given to Jesus were all these things. The crowds did not doubt for one moment this new world order was on the horizon and they never asked the question how it would be achieved, what was going to be the price and who would pay for it. Indeed many would have thought that it would be cost free handed to them on a plate.
As Jesus topped the last rise and got his first uninterrupted view of the city of Jerusalem he burst into tears. He spoke to those around him in the most uncompromising of terms about their future if they continued along the path that they had chosen.
Jesus knew the price of military warfare, he recognised the costs of populist nationalism and the dangers of emotional fundamentalist religion. Killings, crucifixions, slaughter of innocents, oppression. We must pause here to recognise that the term 'fundamentalist religion' as used today, and indeed in Jesus' day, is an oxymoron, those given that title or taking it for themselves always reject the foundations on which the faith they claim to follow is built, they reject their religions basic tenants and teachings, they reject the fundamentals and do not embrace them. They reject the cornerstone which holds everything in place. Jesus rejected militarism, populist nationalism, the perversion of faith, all of these he had rejected throughout his life and ministry. The Gospels are clear in this rejection, there is no ambivalence in the matter, from the Annunciation to the Resurrection Jesus stood for something different.
Yet today we see these things, these attitudes of mind, that Jesus rejected growing and gaining ground.
The price of war is the destruction of countries, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and South Sudan to mention but a few. We see vividly displayed on our televisions the destroying of peoples lives, their deaths and the deaths of the unborn. Cities utterly destroyed with no stone left standing on another. Aleppo and Mosul spring to mind as does Damascus.
The rise of populist nationalism setting one person against another is on the rise because people are being set against each other by power seekers. People exploiting fears of race, religion, ethnicity, even which side of a line drawn on a map generations ago you happened, by accident of birth, to have been born. Nations and peoples that have striven for decades, even generations, to live together in peace and harmony and develop systems for mutual development and improvement are now in danger of being torn asunder.
The dangers of religious perversion, populist nationalism and military adventurism are clear for all to see and they are dangerously infecting our world.
But let us move on in the story of the day and Jesus enters a city in turmoil and then goes into the Temple. Here he comes as close as he could to losing his temper, but he was unforgiving in what he saw and experienced going on that day. He set about driving out the money changers and those who sold sacrificial lambs.
The money changers, who exchanged coins from all over the known world into the Temple shekel charged extortionate rates of exchange thereby defrauding the pilgrims who had come to worship their God. Blatant daylight robbery, oppressing the poor.
The sellers of sacrificial lambs had a near monopoly. The price mark up was huge, again defrauding the devout pilgrim, oppressing those who may have saved up for years to make this once in a life-time journey to Jerusalem.
But the exploitation of the pilgrims was not the only reason that Jesus acted so violently it was where it happened, in the Temple. Not just in the Temple but in a particular place in the Temple. It was not in the most holy place, where the priests could worship, not the court where Jewish men could go. This market place was in the court of the Gentiles where the women, the children, and non-Jews could pray, worship and learn about the Jewish faith. It would have been in this court that Jesus, on the brink of manhood and adult responsibilities, would have been discovered by his anxious, and no doubt exasperated parents, on the occasion when he failed to begin his journey back home with them after attending another festival. It was here in the court of the Gentiles, after the mayhem of the festival and things had begun to quieten down, Jesus spoke with the teachers about God, faith and the meaning of life. That is how this place ought to have been at all times a place of learning, quiet reflection and prayer not business.
Fraud, corruption, extortion were all rife at the very place where God and his ways should have been taught and practiced, where his love, care and compassion should have been visible for all to see. I want to emphasise the all, Jew and Gentile, occupier and oppressed, rich and poor, male and female, slave and free, young and old, physically fit and cruelly disabled, the whole of humanity should have been represented in that place, each with equal respect from and for the other, each as welcomed as the next.
If Jesus rejected militarism, populist nationalism, emotional religious fundamentalism, extortion, exploitation and oppression what did he, on this day, embrace.
I have struggled hard to come up with a term that captures the spirit of what Jesus embraced that day that is sufficiently different to religious fundamentalism or back to basics, both of which imply imposing something upon others by force, so I have devised one for myself. Jesus embraced religious minimalism.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, he came in peace and with no armed bodyguard he was going to attempt to win the people over by what he said to them backed up by his actions. Jesus' teaching, and the actions that back it up, are often depicted as embracing love. Indeed they are summed up in the words from Matthew's Gospel.
Jesus said to the rich young man, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
These two brief sentences are a summary of the longer, but equally simple passage we know as the 10 Commandments.
The first commandment places God at the centre of all things, this is followed by two commandments about the dangers of raising other things , money, control over others, power to the status of Gods.