This Sunday brings the palms.
Call it a parade.
Call it a procession.
Call it a protest.
Our church people expect to wave palms happily in the air before the resurrection is proclaimed next week. Pastors struggle with this. This is the week that they are busy cranking out bulletins for Holy Week. They are trying to figure out an interesting way to tell this story — the whole story — so that we can rise with Christ the following week. Pastors (like myself) tend to want more of the Passion than the Palms. They want to be sure that the whole story is told before Easter morning. Today, I got tapped by a colleague in my denomination to provide some tweaking to a liturgy that I wrote for the United Church of Christ’s Worship Ways three years ago. (Click on March 29-Palm-Passion Sunday and the file will automatically download.)
So, after starting these Liturgical Lights a few weeks ago, I’m going to continue to play with that worship service that features a series of adapted Scripture Readings through the Gospel of Mark’s version of the Palm and Passion. Each reading is followed by an extended silence or a congregational hymn. It is not a joyful service. It is a worship experience that searches the heart and mind of God. It begs for answers and never really gets them. The Narrative Lectionary on March 29, 2015 is Matthew’s version of the Palm Parade. In Matthew 21:1-17, we move from Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem into the Temple where Jesus has a little fit before going to Bethany to rest. There are so many unanswered questions in this text that only intensify our concern for the world. So, I offer these adapted prayers searching for answers.
Call to Worship (Responsive)
Come. Come seeking words.
Come to let your tongue give praise.
Come. Come to find your voice.
Come to hear the response.
Come. Come to open your ears.
Come to listen.
Come. Come to be healed by the silence.
Come to stand together.
Come. Come to approach what words cannot describe.
Come to find God.
Let us pray:
Come. Come O Holy One.
Come through the streets.
Come into the house.
Come to find a space beside us at the table.
Come to challenge our answers about
Why tragedy comes
Why poverty increases
Why we are afraid.
Come O Holy One.
Speak to us in the silence
With wisdom greater than ours
With love deeper than ours
With change wider than ours.
Come O Holy One.
Fill in these stories
with your wisdom
with your love
with your change
so that we might rely on your answers.
Here and now. Amen.
Prayer of Confession (Responsive)
O Holy One, your house shall be called a house of prayer.
Your house shall be a place for healing.
Your house is where we praise Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee,
but our lips have no praise. We have made your house a den of robbers
so we can’t see you in the parade. We are too busy talking.
We think we know why bad things happen,
about why the rich get richer, about why the world feels so broken.
But, this is your house where the blind can see and the lame can walk.
This is your house where we come to pray.
O Holy One, speak to us.
Fill our silences.
Comfort us with your love
so that we may find your understanding.
Trust us to find your answers
when we finally tire from our own.
Save us, O Holy One, with your steadfast love. Amen.
Assurance of God’s Grace
God opens your ears.
God speaks when you are silent.
God approaches you
in the parade and at table
in your denial and your praise
to be your help.
Now and always. Amen.
Telling the Story
As I shared with my colleague in ministry on Facebook today, what I have found to be most powerful about this worship experience both times I’ve led it is the silences. In the original liturgy, the congregation hears a huge chunk of Scripture from the Gospel of Mark. In the Narrative Lectionary, it is only 17 verses. Still, I would break up this reading and intersperse the readings with silence and congregational singing. If I were so lucky to lead this service, here’s how I would break up and tweak the readings.
Entering Into Jerusalem
They were looking for answers. So, they went to Jerusalem. They gathered in the streets to make a way for peace. On the other side of the city, there was another procession. Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, rode into Jerusalem with an army of horses, armored soldiers and waving banners.
On the other side of the city, when they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.”
They wanted to understand why this must happen in this way. But, it was only said: this took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
“Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Come. Join in the parade, you who need answers, you who came looking for peace.
Hymn: Mantos y Ramos
The Palm Parade
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Come. Lose your voice in the shouting crowd, you who are weary, you who don’t have any answers.
Who Is This?
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil. No one understood what was happening. No one knew what would happen next. They had thought they knew how the world worked. They had thought they knew. But, they didn’t understand. So they could only ask: “Who is this?”
The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Come. Listen to what God might be saying. Listen to what God might be doing that doesn’t fit with everything that you have been taught about this world. Listen for God to speak.
The Cleansing of the Temple
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written,
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’;
but you are making it a den of robbers.”
Come. Join those who wander through temples, churches, ashrams and mosques. Join the crowds who have come looking for answers, looking for peace.
What Is He Saying?
The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and Jesus cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry. The chief priests, the elders and the scribes knew their answer. They thought they knew the ways of God. They thought they knew all that God could do. There was nothing that could convince them otherwise. So, they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?”
Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,
‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise for yourself’?”
They had come looking for answers. They had come looking for peace, but they didn’t understand his way. So, he left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
Come. Follow outside the bounds of your understanding, you who need answers, you who came looking for peace.
Go into the world to find your voice.
Listening to what God will do.
Go into the world to find each other.
Reaching out when we need support.
Go into the world be amazed.
Knowing that God is always with us.
If you use the prayers I’ve written in your worship, and I hope you will, please do offer me credit with as follows:
The prayers in our worship this morning were written by/adapted from Liturgical Lights for Sunday March 29, 2015 by the Rev. Elsa Anders Peters. Elsa is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ who blogs at https://elsaacook.wordpress.com.