Here is our worship service for Palm/Passion Sunday, landing on March 28, 2021. The worship bulletin can be found here.
Because it’s Palm/Passion Sunday, we won’t have a Thanksgiving for Baptism so you won’t need a bowl of water. But you can have a plant of some kind nearby if you wish for the Processional Hymn, “All Glory, Laud, and Honour”. We will be having communion though, so you may have something small to eat and drink for consumption during the Lamb of God (during communion, not the Hymn of the Day). And as always, you can have a lit candle for the duration of the service and can be put out when the candles on the altar are put out during the video.
Thanks for worshipping here today!
Holy God, you are the source of all life. As your Word speaks to us this day, may the same mind be in us that was in Christ which humbles us for service, accepts us into your kingdom, and loves us into salvation, through his death and resurrection. Amen.
Poor Palm Sunday. I think you might know what I’m talking about. Back in the day, at least when I was a kid, Palm Sunday was a huge to do. It landed on the week before Easter and it was one of my favourite Sundays of the year, next to Christmas (if Christmas landed on a Sunday) and my birthday (if my birthday landed on a Sunday). I remember getting these giant palms to wave around on Palm Sunday. We’d march and dance around the sanctuary. And afterwards, my friends and I would have sword fights with whatever palms that weren’t already taken away from us.
But these days? These days, we don’t get huge palms anymore because honestly they’re kind of expensive. These days, we still go around the sanctuary (when we’re here in person that is), but it’s a lot less dance and a lot more slow, laboured stroll. These days the passion narrative takes over that week before Easter. I get it though, I mean the story of the crucifixion is fundamental to our faith and spiritual development, so it has to be told on a Sunday to ensure that those who didn’t bother coming to the Good Friday service would hear about the death before celebrating the resurrection. But, since we need the Palm Sunday story as well, it effectively became Palm/Passion Sunday.
Truth be told though, I actually prefer the story of the triumphal entry over the story of the shameful crucifixion. And I know, it’s the same old, uninteresting story about a guy on a donkey walking on some leaves and jackets. Nothing really exciting, unless the donkey could talk or turns out to be a transforming robot donkey, which it doesn’t. But I like it more because it’s joyful. It’s a story of welcome. And it shows how the people had faith and hope in the Messiah.
But as I was looking at the Palm Sunday reading this year, I noticed something, namely the last verse of the passage, which reads, “Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple, and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” Not a very interesting verse at first glance, but I assure you, it’s a good one. However not for reasons that you might think, but mostly because of this: **play vid
I always found this scene from The Simpsons to be hilarious because Homer just obviously pulls Matthew 21:17 randomly out of his head, not knowing at all what it says, but Reverend Lovejoy somehow knew what turned out to be a very obscure and mundane verse by heart. But that verse, although from the gospel according to Matthew, is talking about this same incident that we get today in Mark. And so it caught my attention because every time I heard “Bethany” in the past 30 years I would think of that scene from the Simpsons.
But as I ponder that verse (because I can’t get it out of my head), there are two things that I wonder about. First, why Bethany? Why there? What was so special about it? Bethany isn’t mentioned much in the bible, not like Jerusalem, Nazareth, or even Samaria. But you’ll find that every time it is mentioned, something big is going down and the writers make sure to call it by name.
Bethany is where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived and where Lazarus eventually was risen from the dead. Bethany is where Mary and/or an unnamed woman poured an inordinate amount of perfume on Jesus’ feet. Bethany is a place of welcome, accepting Jesus to lodge there without question, and where he found good friends. It’s where he went for a good home cooked meal, to be in community with loved ones, and be reminded that what he was doing was making a difference.
At least, that’s what I gather from the few stories we get of the place. It is, after all, where Jesus is finally lifted up into heaven, leaving his ministry in the hands of his disciples and us. Clearly it’s an important location to Jesus and so that’s why Bethany in this verse.
The second thing I’m wondering is, what did Jesus see when he looked around and decided to go back to Bethany? He just came from there, for crying out loud. He actually just left Bethany to get that non-talking, non-transforming robot donkey and rode that into the city. He got there, looked around, and went right back to Bethany. Why? Did he see that he arrived too late in the day and he really should have entered the city triumphantly in the morning instead, so he’ll be back tomorrow? Did he realise that he actually couldn’t see anything because he forgot his glasses back at Simon the leper’s house? Or did he see the state of the big city and second guess the value of his mission? Did he see the corruption, the greed, the power mongering in the temple, and felt like maybe these people aren’t worth saving? Did he come face to face with the evil that he would go up against, and just wanted one last reminder of why he was facing it in the first place?
The truth is, I don’t know. And probably no one ever would. But thinking about the contrast between Bethany and Jerusalem as we read about them today, does paint a picture of just how Jesus’ journey went, doesn’t it? On the one hand you have a place that is welcoming, accepting, and live-giving. And on the other, you have a place that is ready to turn their back on you, unwilling to see their own shortcomings, and eventually kills those whom they just doesn’t like.
Where would you rather be? On your journey to the cross, do you want to be surrounded and supported by loved ones or spat on and mocked by those who want you dead? What would you rather see? The joy and comradery of community or an angry mob calling for your blood? Who would you rather save? Those who appreciate you for all that you do or those who couldn’t wait for you to suffer and die?
Not a tough choice for us, really. We all have our Bethany vs. Jerusalem dichotomies, and we’d probably choose Bethany more often than not. But Jesus reminds us through his actions that he chose Bethany too. But also, he chose Jerusalem. He chose both. He chose all. He chose to love so much that he stretched his arms out and died.
But (spoiler alert) he doesn’t stay that way. In the face of the brokenness, pain, and death, Jesus is made alive. In spite of the corruption, the selfishness, and the inability to see one’s own wrongs, Jesus forgives. Even in the anger, hatred, and evil, Jesus continues to choose to love and bless all people with the unending salvation graciously given by God.
That isn’t to say that we wouldn’t prefer a Bethany over a Jerusalem, a Palm Sunday over a Passion Sunday, or… as it were… life over death. But it is to say that we shouldn’t forget that we are part of that Jerusalem mentality too, we sometimes gravitate to the Passion over the Palms, we are also the ones who shook our fists in anger and demanded someone to be crucified. Maybe not crucify Jesus per se, but we demand the crucifixion of certain ideals, certain ways of life, perhaps even certain people (*cough* politicians *cough* you know who I mean).
So let’s not look at Pilate as the one who is to blame for the state of Jerusalem. Let’s not point our fingers at the religious leaders and authorities keeping the people so misguided in their spirituality. Let’s not even call out the crowds for their jeers and insults. But let’s recognise that each one of us has it in us to have driven those nails in the hands and feet of Jesus.
And yet… we too are still forgiven.
Not so we can do it again and again, but so we can know the extent of God’s grace and mercy, so we can see how God’s salvation is bigger and stronger than any kind of evil, so we can feel the light of God shining on us all with steadfast love forever. See, we might very easily choose Bethany over Jerusalem, a Palm Sunday over a Passion Sunday, or life over death, but God chooses them all and reveals that we cannot have one without the other and brings us all together as one body, one kingdom, under one Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
As we move into this holiest of weeks that leads us into Easter, may we rely on the hope of the resurrection, that even in the face of death and evil, we might know God’s glory and steadfast love forever. Thanks be to God. Amen.