March 28, 2021, Palm/Passion Sunday
Rend Your Hearts, Claim the Blessing!
Greeting Psalm 118:1(NRSV)
“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!”
whose word silences the shouts of the mighty:
Quiet within us every voice but your own.
Speak to us through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ
that, by the power of your Holy Spirit,
we may receive grace to show Christ’s love
in lives given to your service. Amen.
—Book of Worship, United Church of Christ, © 1986 by United Church of Christ Office for Church Life and Leadership and reprinted © 2002 by United Church of Christ, Local Church Ministries, Worship and Education Ministry Team, Cleveland, Ohio. All rights reserved.
Moment of Silence welcoming Christ into our midst
A Call to Worship for Palm/Passion Sunday Let Us Worship the Lord
Leader: Let us worship the Lord—not just with our voices, but also with our entire being.
People: We gather to worship the One who is highly exalted and whose name is above every name, Jesus the Christ.
Leader: Your presence demands our participation. Our worship is never wasteful.
People: Be gracious to us, O Lord. We are your servants; empty us for your use.
Leader: We are Christ’s servants and may we be of the same mind.
All: We declare that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Praise be unto God!
Alexis Carter, Lenten Liturgical Resources from Africana Writers, edited by Safiya Fosua, 2020.
Gracious God, we come before you today and proclaim Jesus as Lord and King of our lives, as Creator and King of all Creation. The heavens and earth are full of your glory. It is springtime and we are surrounded by growth, change, and beauty that can only come from you. And we praise your name!
Like the crowd on that first Palm Sunday, we want you as King, we want you to make changes in our lives. But also like that crowd, we confess, when your idea of change is different than our own, we become disillusioned and frustrated. Strengthen us to follow you courageously, to show up, as you show up. To serve the poor, the marginalized, those who are people we deem as being different. Remind us that all are created in Your image, and all are valuable in your sight.
Creator, we lift up to you all who are sick or hurting today, all who mourn, all who suffer in anyway, and for those we have mentioned by name. We ask that you touch them with you healing hand of love.
We pray, too that you be with us through our time together. May we listen, and hear, and receive your message. Then may we live it out in our own lives this week.
We pray this in the name of the Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit. Amen.
Scripture Matthew 21:1-11 (NRSV)
This is the Word of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Morning Message The One Who Comes
Key Point: Our God is a God who comes to us. He shows up regardless of the situation. He is the God of the covenant, and like the marriage covenant says, He will be with you “for better or for worse.” Perhaps we see this most clearly in the New Covenant we have in Jesus Christ.
Matthew 21:1-11: Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem during the feast of the Passover. At this point in Jesus’ ministry, he has gained great popularity. He has healed the sick, fed the thousands, and socialized with the marginalized.
But this chapter, Matthew 21, and this day, would be a turning point in his ministry, a door would swing, and things would change dramatically within the course of a few days, including the opinion of the crowd.
If you read what follows in Matthew 22-26, you will see that Jesus goes on to:
Clean out the temple because it had been turned into a place of corrupt business practices by a “den of thieves.”
He would teach in parables that frightened and angered the religious leaders.
He would teach about obligations to the government and the national law, and to “render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar.”
He would warn against hypocrisy and misuse of God’s Law, teachings that were specifically aimed at the religious authority of the day.
He would prophesy about the destruction of the temple and end times.
In other words, Jesus spoke hard and controversial truth that angered people, and he challenged the status quo of the religious and political systems of the day. He became a threat and his popularity waned. As the tide quickly turns, Jesus is then betrayed by his disciple Judas, he is arrested, he is abandoned by the rest of his disciples who are running scared, and even Peter publicly denied Jesus three times.
And soon, Jesus would find himself in the middle of another crowd, only unlike the Palm Sunday crowd, this crowd wasn’t planning to crown him King.
I’m going to read Matthew 27:11-26.
11 Now Jesus was standing before Pilate, the Roman governor. “Are you the king of the Jews?” the governor asked him.
Jesus replied, “You have said it.”
12 But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. 13 “Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?” Pilate demanded. 14 But Jesus made no response to any of the charges, much to the governor’s surprise.
15 Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner to the crowd—anyone they wanted. 16 This year there was a notorious prisoner, a man named Barabbas. 17 As the crowds gathered before Pilate’s house that morning, he asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 (He knew very well that the religious leaders had arrested Jesus out of envy.)
19 Just then, as Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him this message: “Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night.”
20 Meanwhile, the leading priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death. 21 So the governor asked again, “Which of these two do you want me to release to you?”
The crowd shouted back, “Barabbas!”
22 Pilate responded, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”
They shouted back, “Crucify him!”
23 “Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?”
But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!”
24 Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So, he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!”
25 And all the people yelled back, “We will take responsibility for his death—we and our children!”
26 So Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.
As Lent comes to a close this week, it’s good to remember that Lent was not invented as a 40-day build-up to Good Friday, but rather it was created to be a season of preparation to follow Christ as a disciple.
While Palm Sunday certainly invites us to shout our Hosannas to Jesus the King, it also turns us toward Holy Week, and reminds us that as we move closer to the cross at Calvary on Good Friday, we have decisions to make ourselves.
Will we gladly celebrate Jesus entry into our own life?
Only to avoid the journey to the cross with him?
Will we, like the early disciples, abandon Christ when things become difficult, or if we are asked to make a sacrifice? Will we, too, deny we know him?
Or, will we take up our cross and follow Jesus as a true disciple?
Jesus showed up in both crowds: the one in which he was celebrated as King. And in the second crowd: an angry mob who wanted him dead. For better or for worse, he was there, and he didn’t have to be.
Where will we show up?
After all, Jesus’ kingly entry into Jerusalem during Passover wasn’t a first-century version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Jesus meant it as a statement. Matthew is clear in his Gospel: Jesus rode into town as a returning king, and the crowds greeted him as such. And the hosannas the people cried that day had both religious and political overtones. They greeted him as the Messiah AND they expected him to overthrow the Romans.
And the Romans take note. This helps to explain why, in fact, he was crucified. It wasn’t just an accident. It wasn’t because he simply offended the religious authorities of the day. It was because Jesus proclaimed another kingdom – the kingdom of God – and he called people to give their allegiance to this kingdom first, not to Caesar and Rome.
Will we as his followers proclaim God’s Kingdom above any other kingdom? What will the evidence of that be? As individuals or as a church?
Jesus was a threat to the establishment and he would suffer the consequences of being such a threat, and remember that he suffered them on our behalf, too.
One tragedy of that first Palm Sunday is that the people were half right. He did come as God’s Messiah. But they misunderstood what that meant. It was not to be a “regime change” by violence, but rather the love of God poured out upon the world in a way that dissolved all the things we use to differentiate ourselves from others, and the formation of a single humanity that knows itself – and all those around them! – as God’s beloved people.
The other tragedy of the day is that the religious and political authorities were also half right because Jesus was a threat, and for that matter, he still is.
He threatens our penchant to define ourselves over and against others.
He threatens the way in which we seek to establish our future by hoarding wealth and power.
He threatens our habit of drawing lines and making rules about who is acceptable and who is not.
He threatens all of these things and more.
But the authorities were wrong in thinking that they could eliminate this threat named Jesus Christ by violence. Because Jesus would overcome the violence. Because three days later, Jesus, the One who comes, shows up again, at an open and empty tomb.
Jesus’ resurrection – which in Matthew is accompanied by the shaking of the very foundations of the earth – affirms that God’s love is stronger than hate, and God’s life is stronger than death.
I’ll wrap it up by asking this question: Will you walk as a true disciple of Christ, even when you are fearful, and even if it means a sacrifice on your behalf? If you choose to follow Jesus, he will continue to be a threat.
Because he will threaten your reliance on anything – your wealth, position, political identity, good works, relationships or, for that matter, your limitations or life tragedies. He will in fact challenge anything other than God’s grace, and mercy, and love.
Now what’s hard about this message is that we have all at times sought for our identity and security in things other than God.
But the blessing of this message is that none of these other things are up to the task. Because no matter what we trust in, we will be disappointed, as only salvation through Jesus can declare us as not just acceptable, but as blessed and beloved children of God. Jesus’ journey to the cross shows us just how far he was willing to go to demonstrate to us God’s unconditional love and acceptance.
And once you hear that message of grace, mercy, and love, there is no doubt we have good reason to shout our hosannas on Palm Sunday with all the joy and hope we can muster.
Palm Sunday is a day to celebrate Christ as King.
But we must always remember that a lot happens between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.
Christ’s death on the cross is the sacrifice for each of our sins.
No other sacrifice could bear the weight of the sins of the world.
We are redeemed by his shed blood.
And yes, our salvation in him by God’s grace is a reason to celebrate, too.
But we must never forget his loving sacrifice that day.
If we learn anything from Palm/Passion Sunday may it be that Jesus shows up for both crowds: the one where he is declared king AND the one where he ends up crucified…for us.
For better or for worse, Jesus shows up. The question is, will you?
For better or for worse, as a church, as people of God, where will we show up in this world?
Prayer of Confession for Palm Sunday
Like the people who greeted Jesus as he entered Jerusalem and later pronounced, “Crucify him,” we are fickle people who often deny Christ in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Remembering the events of Jesus’ last week helps us see ourselves for what we are: sinners in need of a savior, a savior—praise God—we have in Christ.
In honesty and hope, we confess now our sins to God.
—from The Worship Sourcebook
Words of Assurance from Psalm 118:4-5, 14, 17, NRSV
Hear the Word of the Lord from Psalm 118:
Let those who fear the Lord say,
His steadfast love endures for ever.
Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
the Lord answered me and set me free.
The Lord is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the Lord.
In Christ, God answers us and sets us free!
In Christ, we are forgiven! Thanks be to God.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Sending for Palm Sunday
Now you have celebrated Jesus as King.
Now you have followed him on the through the crowds. You have seen Jesus for yourself.
You know that he is real.
Go forth and continue to see him in the world!
Go where he goes and do what he commands.
And may the peace of God rule and abide with you now and forever! Amen.
B. Kevin Smalls, The Africana Worship Book for Year B, Discipleship Resources, 2007, p. 215.