Worship Service for Palm/Passion Sunday

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship on this Palm/Passion Sunday, landing on March 24, 2024!

The bulletin for this service can be found here. In it, you’ll find the order and words of worship, as well as the full sermon manuscript, which you can use to follow along in the service. The words that you need to know will also be on your screen, and the sermon is also included on this page below the worship video.

If you would like a fuller online worship experience, you are invited to have a candle in your space, lit at the beginning of the service and extinguished near the end when the altar candles are extinguished after the sending hymn. And if you would like to participate in communion, you may have something small to eat and drink ready to be consumed at the appropriate time of the service. Further instruction will be given then.

May God’s unending patience and steadfast love remind you of who you are as a child of God, this day and always!

Holy God, source of all life, send to us your Spirit that we might have in us the same mind as Christ, full of humility and servanthood.  Awaken our ears and open our hearts and strengthen us with the power of your Word: Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord.  Amen.

So last week I mentioned briefly that one of my uncles wasn’t doing so well in the hospital, and that he could go at any moment.  And while that wasn’t really the point of my sermon, I appreciated the show of support and sympathy from many of you afterwards.  So I thought I should just update you all that my uncle did in fact pass away about 2 days later.  This was my dad’s oldest brother, and he has grandkids around the same age that my kids were when my dad passed away.  So I can imagine what difficulties my cousin might be having while trying to deal with this whole situation with her little ones.

Because death is a tough one, isn’t it.  I mean, we try to shield our kids from being exposed to it to a certain extent, we protect ourselves from it happening to us, and it just in general makes us feel uncomfortable.  We don’t really understand it, but we know for sure that it hurts and we don’t like it.  We don’t like it when it happens.  We don’t like thinking about it.  We don’t even like to say the words so we clean it up by using softer terms like “left” or “passed away” (both of which I’ve already used in this sermon alone, by the way).  So death is just tough because on the most part, we don’t really know what to do with it, because in most of our minds, dying is bad and living is way better.

So we might avoid death and anything that might resemble it.  We might dodge its realities and having to deal with it.  We might just pretend that it doesn’t exist or won’t happen to us.  We wish people to live long and happy lives. 

Well, maybe not as much anymore, at least.  I know I haven’t spent a great deal of time on this planet, but I know that even in my short years that the quality of life here on earth has gone downhill a great deal.  With the climate change, the political landscape the way it is in this country and globally, and how people even after all these years can’t seem to put aside their differences and get along, it’s getting more and more scary just to imagine what a long life would even bring. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not wishing death on anyone, nor am I saying that I’d rather be gone than here.  I’m just saying that life is pretty hard as it is right now and it only seems to be getting worse.  So I worry about the future for our kids.  I worry about the lives they will have to lead.  I worry about where this world is heading and how for a lot of people death actually is the only way to escape the horrors and atrocities that come with life.

Well, this is a pretty dark way to commemorate Palm/Passion Sunday, I guess. 

But it makes sense, I suppose.  I mean the Passion part of today is about the death of Jesus, I’m sure you all got that after that super long reading.  But also today, much to my chagrin that I talk about almost every year, is about the Palm part, the Triumphal Entry, the moment when Jesus is recognised for all that he is and all that he came to do.  Let’s not forget about that and let it be marred by the jeers and insults of the crowds so shortly after, calling for the crucifixion of him to whom they were just pleading to save them.

While normally I talk about this strange plot twist in the story, this time around I want to focus on something different.  This is something that I didn’t quite notice before, like ever from what I remember, but I think it adds quite a bit to the story.  See in our processional gospel that we got for today, we all know that Jesus comes in triumphantly into Jerusalem on a donkey or colt or whatever, and the people are elated and give him a royal welcome.  That is great and all, but what caught me is what happened at the end of this passage. 

In verse 11 it says that Jesus looked around and left.  Jesus saw what was going on in the temple and removed himself from it.  Jesus, this man who was just honoured as a prophet and Messiah in this great holy city, took in the sights and sounds and decided that he wasn’t going to stay there. 

He probably could have if he wanted to.  I’m sure someone would be happy to put him up for a couple of days, what, with the fanfare that he received just moments earlier.  But the text is clear that he didn’t.  Instead he returned to Bethany for the night.  Maybe it’s because he just wanted to stay with his friends Mary and Martha who lived in Bethany.  Maybe he had to go return that donkey they borrowed before a certain time to avoid the late fees.  Or maybe he saw the state of the city that he loves, maybe he saw how the people treated each other, maybe he saw the world for what it became… that is, full of corruption, greed, hate, and reasons to not want to be here any longer.

Again, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Jesus wanted to die or planned to get killed.  But what I’m saying is that even the few chapters that we have between the Palm and Passion texts are full of the people trying to trap Jesus, trying to discredit him and make him look like the traitor and the antagonist, trying to prove that he is worthy of the cross.  So I imagine the frustration of Jesus going through this.  I imagine how fed up he must have been.  I imagine the humble obedience and servitude to God that it took for him to willingly walk to the death they wanted for him.

Because as difficult as it was for Jesus to see just how things were, as hard as it must have been for Jesus to accept that society had been so shot to heck in spite of the best intentions of prophets and people of faith, as darned near impossible as it was for Jesus to show these people their value and worth, Jesus decided to love them anyway. 

He still loves them all anyway.

And he showed that love not by setting everyone straight through brute force or disciplinary punishment.  He revealed that love not through guilting and sin shaming the people.  He proved his love for all, including those who were actively setting him up to die, by being a part of this world, by being susceptible to the suffering caused by the corruption, by being a victim of the evil that ran rampant throughout all of our hearts, and with God’s help, showed us how it all can be forgiven.

See while the world wanted him dead, Jesus didn’t stay that way.

So in this dichotomy of the Palm and Passion narratives, both remembered on the same day, we can see the movement from the entry to the exit, the praising to the punishing, the celebration to the crucifixion.  And in it, we can see Jesus gently teaching us all that even when the world can be difficult, even when the anger all around is too much, even when death seems to lurk around every corner and might even seem enticing, that life continues to be worth living.

Because life is not just what happens in our time here on earth, but it is what happens eternally through us, through our community to which we belong and contribute to, through the difference that we make even in the time that we’re given, allowing us to be part of a greater story of the human race that includes us all.  This is the promise of the cross, this is the hope in our redemption, this is the message of the gospel.  That while the world was seeped in sin, God has decided to love and save it anyway. 

So as we embark on this holiest of weeks, may we see the love that is greater than any hatred, the light that is greater than any darkness, the good that is greater than any evil, and embrace it knowing that we are welcomed, accepted, and saved by the God full of grace, mercy, and compassion, forgiving us all.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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