Welcome to worship for this Palm/Passion Sunday, landing on April 2, 2023!
The bulletin for this service can be found here. It is a little longer than usual because of the combining of two different days and two somewhat lengthy gospel readings. But it will have all the usual stuff in there, with the order and words of worship, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon which is also on this page. The words that you need to know will be on your screen as well.
If you would like an enhanced online worship experience, you are invited to have a few things in your space. Because it’s also Palm Sunday this week, you may have some type of greenery to wave around during the procession. It doesn’t have to be a large branch or anything, but anything with some sort of leaves on it (or just a leaf if that is all you can find). You also may have a lit candle in your space but out of reach of the aforementioned leaves. The candle can be lit for most of the service and extinguished after the sending hymn along with the altar candles in the video. Also, if you wish to participate in communion, you may do so by having something small to eat and drink in your space, ready to consume at the appropriate time as signified during the service itself.
May God’s wondrous blessing of life and love be upon you this day and always!
Let your Word, O God, break open our hearts this day through the power of your Spirit, that we may enter into the coming Holy Week with the same mind that is in Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.
Ever notice how it’s sometimes frowned upon to talk about certain things in public? I mean it’s like we’re supposed to avoid various subjects for various reasons, but mostly because they can be uncomfortable, touchy, or maybe controversial for some. So it’s become seen as rude to talk about the “blacklisted” and taboo topics. Like, we aren’t supposed to talk about personal finances and how much we make, intricate details of our love lives or lack thereof, or even our honest opinions about someone lest we look judgemental or prejudiced. We shouldn’t talk about religion, politics, or the stock market lest we want to look super boring or be accused of insider trading. We aren’t to ask about someone’s weight, personal hygiene, or whether or not they’re pregnant unless we’re a medial professional. And a big thing that maybe can be iffy here and there that we don’t talk about, is death. Especially around the circumstances of death and especially if it were extra gruesome.
I mean, it happens to everyone and I’m sure everyone in this room has experience with losing a loved one, well, maybe not the gruesome part. But death comes to us all. We should expect it. It’s a part of our design as living creatures. So why is it so uncomfortable? Is it because no one can really be an expert in the subject matter or really have first hand knowledge on how it works? Is it because it’s the great unknown, that besides our beliefs and faith, we really don’t know what happens beyond it? Or, and perhaps this is the most likely, is it because death brings out a lot of emotions that make us feel uncomfortable? Emotions like sadness, grief, and maybe even anger.
So uncomfortable is this topic that I’ve noticed we don’t always even use the proper word for death or dying or dead. Instead, to soften the blow perhaps, we use substitute words and terms. Things like passed away, or left us, or gone and perhaps adding a “too soon” in there for good measure. Or sometimes we use more whimsical euphemisms like croaked or pushing up daises or kicked the bucket. But often we like to really pretty it up by saying things like laid to rest, or went to a better place, or gone to live with the angels. One term that is more recent and seems to have gained a lot of traction especially around the internet that I’ve heard of is “unalive”.
It doesn’t even seem grammatically correct.
And I guess as how these made-popular-by-the-internet words usually go, it isn’t. But from what I understand, the term was coined specifically for the social media sites that can be monetized like Youtube or TikTok, to be able to talk about death but without using the keywords that would get you banned, which apparently include death and suicide. Even social media sites, where you can find pretty much every deplorable thing imaginable, don’t want you to talk about death. Then you know it really is a touchy and uncomfortable subject.
So I think that’s why I sometimes wonder about this whole merging the Passion story with this day that was traditionally Palm Sunday. Actually, I wonder this a lot since it seems like it’s always the topic of my sermons every time Palm/Passion Sunday rolls around, which is like at least once a year. It’s like Palm Sunday was a perfectly good Sunday on its own, a wonderful reminder of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, a painted picture into the welcoming customs of the day, with images in our heads about people joyfully and expectantly waving their palm branches in hope and appreciation of Jesus’ ministry, while singing praises and shouting “hosanna”, which means “save us, we pray.”
I have fond memories of this as a child, when we’d get those really big expensive palms (that we don’t use here anymore because like I said they’re expensive), pass them around in the congregation and wave them around like there’s no tomorrow. The smells of the greenery filled us with thoughts of spring and nature and generally better times. The look on the people’s faces as they waved these branches around, acting silly and trying to recapture the joy of that day that Jesus finally entered triumphantly into Jerusalem and into our hearts. Palm Sunday is a good day.
But then the powers that be had to darken the perfectly good day with a death, the death of Jesus, no less. This very sorrowful, remorseful, guilt-inducing death of Jesus that we thought we could skip by just not showing up for the Good Friday service. And the day changed. The shouts of hosanna became demands to crucify him. The singing of praises turned into jeers and insults. The waving the palm branches morphed into the twisting of thorns into a crown and forcing it on the head of an innocent man in order to further humiliate and torment him.
This good day suddenly became ungood.
Yes, I know we still have the waving of the greenery. We still read the gospel story where Jesus rode a donkey or a colt or a donkey AND a colt at the same time into Jerusalem. We still have our Palm Sunday. That is, we have it for about 10 minutes until we get this passion story which really by itself ends up being almost as long. The day gets real sad real quick. It turns bleak. It’s becomes sort of uncomfortable, because instead of joy, hope, and life, we start to talk about death.
There isn’t any way to skirt this issue, there’s no denying what happened, there isn’t any sugar coating that can change this story. Jesus died.
Jesus died hated and humiliated. This Rabbi died a very ritualistically unclean death. An innocent man died because of a corrupt legal system that really only looked out for itself and keeping the power in the hands of the powerful. The Son of God, Prince of Peace, Lord of Lords died at the hands of the enemy, surrounded by violence, forsaken by his own God.
If it wasn’t uncomfortable before, it sure is now.
But maybe that is ok. Yes, death is uncomfortable but it’s a part of who we are as humans. Death might be the great unknown but we know for certain that it happens and will happen to us all. Death, even in it’s aura of finality and pain, is the prerequisite for healing and life.
See this has become how I understand the merging of these two days. This is why we mix up the dichotomies of these two seemingly opposite but actually complementary themes. This is why we must have the passion narrative before Easter. Because without death, we will not have life. We would not have healing. We could not have resurrection.
And so in the discomfort of death we can keep the faith and hope that life is blooming. In our attempts to side skirt the topic of death we can confidently embrace it knowing that death is not the final word in our story. In looking at and reflecting on Jesus being “unalived” we can look forward with joy at Jesus also being “undied” in the glorious resurrection that put death in its place.
We might still not want to talk about death. We might still find it uncomfortable. We might not still want to even say the word. But even then and still we are continually given the promise of new life, new hope, and new redemption by the saving work of the cross, forgiving us with a grace and mercy that washes over us, and showing us a love and peace that goes beyond anything we could have ever imagined.
In this Holy Week, may we feel all the feels that come with death and life, brokenness and healing, hate and love, that we might learn to lean into the discomfort and be comforted knowing that there was, is, and always will be resurrection. Thanks be to God. Amen.