Sunday April 10, 2022 – Palm/Passion Sunday
Life and Work of our Church
Acknowledging the Territory
As we begin our worship, we acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is, by law, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and we commit ourselves to live with respect upon it.
Call to Worship
We gather here today to prepare for the holiest of all weeks in the christian church.
We gather to prepare ourselves for all that lies ahead of us.
This week we will journey through praise,
waving palm branches and shouting Hosanna!
This week we will travel through betrayal and death,
weeping as we watch love die and yet cradling hope deep in our hearts.
Jesus leads us through this week, and we will follow,
for he is the life we long for, he is the Word who sustains us.
And so today we gather in worship, as we say together,
Hosanna! Blessed is the One who come in the name of the Lord!
Six weeks ago, we began our Lenten journey with six purple candles burning brightly reminding us of the light of Christ. Today only one remains. As we have journeyed through this season, we have acknowledged all the things that diminish Christ’s light in the world. Today, as we mark Palm/Passion Sunday, we face perhaps the most difficult of these acknowledgments, the acknowledgement that we are part of all those things that diminish Christ’s light.
Service of Lenten Candles
Light of life beyond conceiving
Mighty Spirit of our Lord;
Give new strength to our believing,
Give us faith to live your word,
Give us faith to live your word
Voice 1: We love to shout Hosanna and greet Jesus with joy and praise. We love to imagine ourselves as part of that crowd.
Voice 2: But we think of those who cried “Crucify Him” as somehow belonging to a different crowd, one we would never be part of.
Voice 1: But we are part of both crowds.
Voice 2: During this last week of Lent we face the reality that we can just as easily get caught up in the crowd to Golgotha as to Jerusalem.
Voice 1: During this week we seek the strength and courage to sing our praises, even in the shadow of the cross.
Voice 2: We pray for God’s help to do so.
Sixth Candle is Extinguished
Sing Hosanna as you wave palms
Shout crucify him in the morn
Forgive our failure to remain strong
God of palms and God of thorn
God of palms and God of thorn
Opening Prayer (in unison)
God of the cross, we are happy to join the crowd, waving branches, and shouting ‘Hosanna’, but not so sure we want to follow you through this Holy Week: to that upper room, to the Garden of Gethsemane, to the high priest’s house, to Pilate, to the foot of the cross. We need you to go with us on this journey. Grant us courageous hearts, persistent steps, and the vision to see beyond the trials of this week, so that, even knowing all that this week will bring, we can still sing, ‘Hosanna. Blessed are you O God.” Amen.
Gift of Music All Glory, Laud and Honour VU#122
Today we hear two separate scripture readings. The first is the story of Jesus entering into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. We hear how people greeted him waving palm branches.
The second scripture is not so joyous. It is the story of what happened a week later when Jesus was tried, convicted and executed because those in power saw him as a threat to their position and authority.
Litany of Palms John12:12-19
The next day the large crowd that had come to the Passover Festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Praise God! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! God bless the King of Israel!”
Jesus found a donkey and rode on it, just as the scripture says, “Do not be afraid, city of Zion! Here comes your king, riding on a young donkey.”
His disciples did not understand this at the time; but when Jesus had been raised to glory, they remembered that the scripture said this about him and that they had done this for him. The people who had been with Jesus when he called Lazarus out of the grave and raised him from death had reported what had happened. That was why the crowd met him—because they heard that he had performed this miracle. The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, we are not succeeding at all! Look, the whole world is following him!”
Litany of Passion John 19:1-22
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him whipped. The soldiers made a crown out of thorny branches and put it on his head; then they put a purple robe on him and came to him and said, “Long live the King of the Jews!” And they went up and slapped him.
Pilate went back out once more and said to the crowd, “Look, I will bring him out here to you to let you see that I cannot find any reason to condemn him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Look! Here is the man!”
When the chief priests and the Temple guards saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Pilate said to them, “You take him, then, and crucify him. I find no reason to condemn him.”
The crowd answered back, “We have a law that says he ought to die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid. He went back into the palace and asked Jesus, “Where do you come from?”
But Jesus did not answer. Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Remember, I have the authority to set you free and also to have you crucified.”
Jesus answered, “You have authority over me only because it was given to you by God. So the man who handed me over to you is guilty of a worse sin.”
When Pilate heard this, he tried to find a way to set Jesus free. But the crowd shouted back, “If you set him free, that means that you are not the Emperor’s friend! Anyone who claims to be a king is a rebel against the Emperor!”
When Pilate heard these words, he took Jesus outside and sat down on the judge’s seat in the place called “The Stone Pavement.” (The Hebrew name is Gabbatha.)
It was then almost noon of the day before the Passover. Pilate said to the people, “Here is your king!”
They shouted back, “Kill him! Kill him! Crucify him!”
Pilate asked them, “Do you want me to crucify your king?”
The chief priests answered, “The only king we have is the Emperor!”
Then Pilate handed Jesus over to them to be crucified.
So they took charge of Jesus. He went out, carrying his cross, and came to “The Place of the Skull,” (In Hebrew it is called “Golgotha.”) There they crucified him; and they also crucified two other men, one on each side, with Jesus between them. Pilate wrote a notice and had it put on the cross. “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews,” is what he wrote. Many people read it, because the place where Jesus was crucified was not far from the city. The notice was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. The chief priests said to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am the King of the Jews.’”
Pilate answered, “What I have written stays written.”
For All People
Now I don’t know about you, but as a child, my strongest memories of this Sunday are paraded into the church waving Palm branches, usually made out of paper, and singing either the hymn we began with this morning or “Hosanna, loud Hosanna, the little children sang”. If you had asked me what it was all about, I would likely have told you that Jesus came riding into town riding on a donkey leading a great parade, and everyone was so happy to see him that they cut down palm branches and lined the parade route to welcome him. Exactly who was in the parade or why they were coming to Jerusalem were not things I could likely have told you.
In the Gospel according to John we are told that the crowd then went out to meet Jesus, not actually lining the streets but going out to meet him, were there because they had heard about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Since this story appears only in John, this gives a totally different perspective to what we usually call the “Triumphant Entry”. It is also interesting to note that it is only John who tells us that the branches the people cut down were Palm branches, which would have been understood at the time as a symbol of victory.
And although we didn’t read it, there is one more part of this story that is unique to John. It is at this point that some of those among the crowd approach Phillip asking to see Jesus, and we are told that they were Greeks. Now this may seem like an insignificant detail, but when viewed as part of the overall focus of the Gospel According to John, it seems to make a little bit more sense.
John focuses almost exclusively on Jesus’ divinity. For John, Jesus already knows everything that is going to happen to him before it happened. Therefore, most of what Jesus does throughout his life is simply intended to reveal this reality to others. The story of the raising of Lazarus is the ultimate demonstration of this divinity and is the reason that the crowds are drawn to him.
But Jesus message and Jesus himself, are not just for the Jewish people to whom he was born. They are for all people. By specifically mentioning that there were Greeks among the crowd who believed in Jesus, John is pointing out that what matters is not the who you are, where you come from or what your family or cultural history may be, but what you believe.
All too often we claim the message of Jesus as the exclusive property of the Christian Church. For most of our history, the Christian Church has insisted that unless you become a Christian and declare your faith in Jesus, as it is understood within the church, you will never go to heaven. Yet even the Gospel According to John, which is generally though of as having the highest Christology, the strongest focus on the divinity of Jesus, makes it very clear that Jesus message was and is for all people.
Ironically, the one group who, as a whole, did not respond to Jesus’ message was the religious authorities of the time. When we talk about the condemnation of Jesus, we tend to specify that it was the “Jewish” authorities. But Jesus himself was a Jew as were all of his closest followers. What is important to remember here is not that the authorities who condemned Jesus were Jewish, but that they were the religious authorities of the time. They were us!
That is something we don’t want to talk about. It’s something we don’t want to face. But the reality is that we need to hear this, perhaps more today than ever. We are the religious authorities of our time. We are the ones who decide what our church stands for and who belongs.
The religious authorities of Jesus time were trying to protect their faith system, the temple. The most important commandment in their entire tradition, a commandment that, by the way Jesus himself affirmed, was “I am the Lord your God … you shall have no other gods before me.” This was the one thing they simply could not compromise, and in their opinion, Jesus had compromised this.
There were 2 ways in which this commandment could be broken. One was through blasphemy, claiming that God was not what God was or claiming that someone or something else was equal to God. The second way of breaking this commandment was idolatry, worshiping something other than God.
The religious authorities accused Jesus of blasphemy, of trying to make himself equal to God. By claiming to be the “son of God” and according to John, equal to and one with God in every way, Jesus was threatening their entire faith system. If they allowed him to get away with this, then anyone could claim to be equal to God. They simply could not allow that.
But for John, those authorities simply didn’t understand the reality of who Jesus was. For John Jesus was not a human being trying to make himself God, Jesus was God, willing to humble himself and take on the form of a human being. This is what John spends his entire gospel trying to explain.
But in an effort to protect and maintain their religious structures, the temple authorities decided that Jesus must die. They had already tried everything else. They had tried to discredit him. They had tired to humiliate him. They had tried to trick him, to trap him and to force him into saying something he could not get out of. But they had failed, and according to John, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, The Pharisees … said to one another, “You see, we are not succeeding at all! Look, the whole world is following him!” Nothing they had done had worked. There was no option left. Jesus must die.
But the Roman authorities were the only one who could condemn a man to death. And so, the religious authorities, the chief priests, arrested Jesus and sent him to Pilate demanding that Pilate execute him.
Pilate, unconvinced that Jesus had done anything to deserve death, had him whipped, a typical punishment for the time. But that did not satisfy the authorities. They continued to demand his crucifixion. When Pilate told them he could find no grounds on which to condemn the man, they told Pilate that Jesus claimed to be “king of the Jews” and that this claim was a direct violation of Roman Law. By claiming to be a king Jesus was making himself equal to the Roman emperor who was worshiped as a god. They warned Pilate that if he did not have Jesus killed, he would be supporting Jesus against Rome, supporting a rebel and possibly even an insurrection. Pilate was left with little choice. In one last effort to avoid condemning an innocent man, Pilate appeals to the crowd. “Do you really want me to crucify your king?” But it is the chief priests who answered, and their answer has devastating implications. “We have no king but Cesar!”
Left with no other option, Pilate sanctions the crucifixion, and Jesus is taken from the judgement hall to the place called Golgotha, the place of the skull where he is nailed to a cross and crucified. Two other criminals are crucified with him.
But there was something that the religious authorities failed to recognize in all of this. They had condemned Jesus for blasphemy, for breaking their most important commandment of their entire faith tradition. “I am the Lord your God … you shall have no other gods before me.” What they had failed to recognize was that in condemning Jesus they too had broken this same commandment.
I said earlier there were two ways of breaking the commandment to worship one and only one god; blasphemy, the accusation they made against Jesus, and idolatry, worshiping another God. By claiming Cesar as their king, Cesar who claimed to be a god, they were worshiping another god and therefore were actually committing idolatry themselves.
They were completely obsessed with the idea that Jesus had to die. They were so focused on this obsession, on destroying Jesus, that they ended up compromising their own values and in essence, committing the very sin they were accusing Jesus of. That is the power of obsession, religious or otherwise and it is a danger that all religions must take seriously.
But there is one more thing that John tells us in his story of the crucifixion of Jesus that gives us hope. John tells us that Pilate wrote a notice and had it put on the cross … it said … “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” … The notice was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.
Hebrew … the language of the Jewish people. The language of Jesus own followers, but also the language of the very religious authorities who had condemned him and demanded his death. Latin … the language of Rome. The language of the Pilate and the Roman authorities who sanctioned and carried out the execution. And Greek … the language of the others, all those who were not Jewish or Roman. All those who were on the outside. All the strangers, all the marginalized, all those who simply didn’t fit into any other category.
Jesus’ crucifixion was not because of the Jews or because of the Romans. It was not for the Christians or for those who believed a certain thing or held certain ideas. It was for and because of all of us. We must all bear part of the responsibility for Jesus’ crucifixion … because of our sin, our lack of compassion, our lack of understanding, our obsessions, our religious exclusivity. But we also share the promise that Jesus’ death was for us, for our forgiveness and our acceptance, for the sake of God’s love for us.
It was for and because of the religious authorities, the political powers, the wealthy and powerful that Jesus died. But it was also for and because of the mainstream middle-class majority, the strangers, the refugees, the impoverished, the rejected and the marginalized. It was for and because of us.
As we prepare on Friday to remember that crucifixion let us not forget that it was not only for us and also because of us, and in remembering, may we truly appreciate the depth of a love that would do such a thing for us. Amen.
Gift of Music O Sacred Head VU#145
We Offer Our Gifts
Our journey continues, and not just the journey through Lent, but the journey through life. Along the way we believe that God calls each of us to share what we have with others. And so, part of our call within Christ’s church is to share our offering. Here at Beacon, we do that by placing our gifts on the offering plates at the back of the church, or by making arrangement to give through Par or through online donations. And so, let us bring forward those gifts.
Offertory Response Praise God from whom all blessing flow
Praise God, all creatures high and low;
Give thanks to God in love made known;
Creator; Word and Spirit, One.
God of Palms and God of Passion, we ask that you will bless these gifts as well as the gifts of our time, our talents and our commitment that we continue to give. May these and all our gifts help to bring your vision of all that our world could and should be, a bit closer to reality. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
And now let us take a moment now to offer our silent prayers for all those named in our prayer jar and all those named in our thoughts, our minds and our hearts … Amen.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People ~ Based on a prayer written by John W. Vest
Gracious and loving God, as we journey through life, you are our guide and our companion. From our beginning to our end, you are there, walking beside us. At times you encourage us, at times you comfort us, at times you tend to our wounds,
at time you carry us when our hope and our energy are spent and we feel like we cannot take even one more step. For six weeks you have journeyed with us through Lent. You have been right beside us – in our discipleship and devotion, in our weakness and failings, in our fear and loneliness, and in our hope. As we spend this final week with Jesus in Jerusalem, we are amazed once again by his gentle spirit and fierce determination. As he confronts those who challenge him, he confronts our own stubbornness and defiant wills. As he cares even for those who hate him, we are challenged to love as he loves. As he bears witness to the emergence of your kingdom, our eyes are opened to your presence all around us. As he moves with resolve toward his dark destiny, we find ourselves struggling to understand why it has to be this way. God, remind us that the journey is not just about the destination; it is about each step along the way. The journey itself is a blessing, with all of its joys and sorrows. As we continue to walk this journey, you are shaping us and remaking us into the people you call us to be. As we move with you, help us to be attentive to each step, in the darkness and in the light. Help us to fully experience all that we encounter, the good and the bad, for in it all of it, we discover you. Though the journey of life goes on, our Lenten journey is nearing its conclusion. Unite us ever closer to Christ, so that we may turn our hearts and minds to all that he experienced this holy week, a week both terrible and wonderful. And so it is in his name that we offer you this and all our prayers as we continue to pray, we say together … Our Father … Amen
Gift of Music The Love That Clothes Itself in Light VU#137
So go out now into this sacred, holy week ahead. Go out knowing the pain and sorrow that must be faced, but go with the confidence of knowing that you are not alone, God is with you, Christ Jesus leads the way and the Spirit walks with you each step of the journey. God with God.