Our worship service is up and will be viewable starting Sunday, April 5, 2020 at 10am. The worship bulletin can be found here.
On a normal Palm Sunday service, we would gather in the Narthex and process into the sanctuary with palms and assorted leafy plant life (usually ferns). But as we clearly can’t do that this year, we’ve had picture submissions by our congregation members of them with plants or pictures of plants that they’ve taken, and they’re included in the video during the processional hymn as a type of virtual procession! The pictures can also be seen at the end of the service, but just without the hymn lyrics getting in the way.
As per our practice when we physically gather on Sundays, we will be celebrating communion for Palm/Passion Sunday. If you wish to participate, please have a small morsel and drink ready, and we’ll all eat together after we sing Lamb of God. All are welcome to join, but also none are obligated to. If you are not comfortable with this form of communion, then please feel free to refrain. We believe that God’s Spirit is not limited by physical distancing, nor stifled by our personal choices. Please do what is conducive to worship for you.
And here is our worship service, and below that, the manuscript for the sermon. If you wish to view it on YouTube, which has the live chat feature (only for the initial viewing at 10am), then click the title found at the top of the video and it will take you directly there.
Sermon for Palm/Passion Sunday
Let your word, O God, break open our hearts this day through the power of the Holy Spirit, that we may enter into the coming Holy Week with the same mind that was in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
You know, I was really hoping that I’d have something else to talk about at this week, but it’s like there is nothing else going on in the world but this coronavirus pandemic. And I guess that makes sense, as there’s nothing else that could happen with everyone stuck at home surfing the net and making TikTok videos. And so we are still stuck in this social distancing thing as we approach the most holy of weeks, aptly named Holy Week, which leads us into Easter.
And I was really wishing that this would be over for that. I mean, what an Easter it would be if suddenly everyone was cured, quarantine was lifted, and we’d all be allowed to go outside again, right? But unfortunately that doesn’t seem like it’ll be a possibility as the numbers of positive cases in BC just keep growing and growing. Last I heard, our health officials said that there is “no way” that the rules around our social distancing would change before month’s end, which means we really are in it for the long haul.
To make matters even worse, we have today to worry about still, this Palm/Passion Sunday, a day that I never really liked because of its weird hybrid nature of putting two major days, Palm Sunday and essentially Good Friday together. Don’t get me wrong, by themselves those days are all fine and good and essential for us to get the full spectrum of the story of our faith. But it’s just them together that I’m not exactly fond of. I mean these 2 days can’t really be any more different from each other, can they? One we have Jesus hailed as king, and the other we have Jesus with a crown of thorns mockingly forced onto his head. One we have people preparing the way for Jesus to come into their city and the other we have people dragging him out to die. One we have people showing adoration, and the other people insulting and abusing. One sings joy, the other pain. One shouts love, the other hate. One asks to save, the other demands death.
No, not at all the same.
But yet, they are still combined together. My understanding has always been that it was for practical reasons, less and less people were showing up for Good Friday service for an endless list of reasons, and so to ensure that the majority of the people get the whole narrative of Jesus going from his triumphal entry to the cross to resurrection. Otherwise the story going form triumphal entry to resurrection could lead us all into some sort of superiority complex. “We can never lose!” is what we might think. We needed to know the pain that Jesus went through in order for the resurrection to make sense, and we needed to know how celebrated his ministry was when he entered Jerusalem to see how painful his death was. So I was always under the impression that these two days, these two stories and themes were put together simply for convenience with little to no regard for us preachers to have to design a service around it and preach a sermon that makes sense of it all, which is no easy task, especially when it’s just me and a camera.
That is what I thought at least, until this year.
This year will always be known as a pretty awful year. No matter how the year ends, we’ll know this to be the year of the coronavirus pandemic, the year that the NBA and NHL seasons were cancelled, the year that the Olympics were postponed. 2020 will always be known as the year that the global economy crashed, Hollywood halted, Marvel’s Black Widow movie’s historical theatrical release pushed back indefinitely. This will always be known as the year that showed so much promise but ended up with so much disappointment. The year when so many of us have lost our jobs or more, disallowed from grieving and burying our dead, and just going crazy from distancing ourselves from physical human contact other than with those who live under the same roof as us. This is the year that the divide between the left and the right has become so apparent to me in the news and even in my own personal life, that our views on what should be done about this pandemic, how the practices that we hold in the church can or should or shouldn’t be adapted in our response, and even whether or not pre-recorded services versus live-streamed can be seen as sacrilegious, is seeming to dig this deep uncrossable chasm between the different opinions and schools of thought.
But… this is also the year that I finally see how this Palm/Passion Sunday dichotomy can actually work. As this year has ended up being so disappointing, so does the movement from the palms to the Passion. As this year teaches us to learn how to mix two things that totally don’t seem to mix, like being at home and working for many of us, so this year has taught me to see how these two seemingly opposing days can work together to form a single message. As we are strongly encouraged to do something we really don’t want to do, such as social distancing and self-isolating, so I can see Jesus being led from the cheers of joy to the condemnation of the cross as a calling. One that isn’t at all enjoyable, but one that needs to be done… out of love.
Because, that is the whole point of the cross, isn’t it? The point of the cross is to show us the great dichotomy of our faith. The point of the cross is to reveal to us how God turns everything we know about everything completely upside down that we might relearn God’s ways of grace and mercy. The point of the cross is to show us how there can be forgiveness in the midst of sin, love in the midst of hate, life in the midst of death. The point of the cross is to remind us how us doing something we cannot stand, like say, staying at home more than seems humanly possible, or curbing that survival instinct to hoard all we can, or giving up our power and privilege to protect those among us who are more vulnerable and less fortunate, can actually be an act of love and service, bringing us down a notch and humbling us that we might see how others can have the value and worth that we often attribute to ourselves as well.
And so I can see how this day, this Palm/Passion Sunday can remind us that we are called to be responsible by staying at home unless absolutely necessary, as we are called to be parents and caregivers to homeschool our kids even when it makes us uncomfortable, as we are called to be citizens of God’s kingdom and to work with others whom we might not see eye-to-eye to bring about God’s joy and hope in a dire situation such as ours. So as Jesus was led to the cross as an act of humble obedience, so we are led to follow the safety precautions brought out by this pandemic to humbly protect ourselves and those around us. So as Jesus was led into conflict with a heart full of grace and love, so we are led into uncharted territory with each other and to act with patience and forgiveness. So as we follow Jesus in the dichotomy of one single worship service from the joy of Palm Sunday to the disparity of Good Friday, so we are reminded that we are called to work together in spite of difference, we are called to be humble and listen for the leading of the Spirit in spite of inability to understand, we are called into a faith and trust that God is present with us through this even when we can feel so alone. God is with us, even in the pain, even in separation, even through my camera lens to your video screen.
God is with us.
In the changes, in the confusion, in the conflict. God is with us.
In the uncomfortable situations, in the social isolation, in the friction in disagreements. God is with us.
In the disappointment, in the deflation, in the dichotomy of things we may not understand. God is with us.
God is with us, blessing us even when we don’t see it, loving us even when we don’t feel it, and calling us, strengthening us, and supporting us even when we don’t want to go. God is with us.
As we enter into Holy Week, may we truly see God with us, giving us hope, granting us peace, and bringing us to the eventual joy of the resurrection. Thanks be to God. Amen.