Year C/ PALM/PASSION SUNDAY

 

 

Luke 19: 28-40                        (Sermon 1: “Joy and Tears”)

                                                            (Sermon 2: “An Autumn Meditation”)

Philippians 2: 5-11

Isaiah 50: 4-9a

Psalm  118: 1-2, 19-29,   or Psalm 31: 9-16

 

PREPARATION

 

In sunshine and shadow, joy or grief,

this is the day which the Lord has made,

We will rejoice and be glad in it.

 

Look ! Your Messiah  comes to you;

Humble and seated on an ass, he arrives.

 

Hosanna! Wonderful is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!

 

If we should keep quiet the very stone would cry aloud!

Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!

 

 

OR ¾

 

 

Christ Jesus humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

Therefore God has highly exalted him, and bestowed on him a name

that is above every other name.

That at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow

and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

 

The amazing grace of Christ Jesus be with you all.

And also with you!

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

Holy God, your love goes beyond all limits. In the passion of your true Son, you take us beyond our highest ideals and beneath our deepest fears. We thank you for the sweet-sour celebration of Palm Sunday; for both the joy and the tears. Foster in us the desire and the will to follow Jesus without reserve, that we may be led into a peace that holds in time of trouble, and into a love that persists far beyond the outer rim of our present understanding.  In the name of Christ Jesus our Saviour.

Amen!

 

PALM SUNDAY

 

Along the pilgrim way they went

            where seers and saints had trod,

he sensed the blessing of pure hearts

            that look upon their God.

 

They cheered and laughed along the road,

            Hosannas thick and fast,

but he wasn’t fooled by human praise

            he knew the first was last.

 

He did not watch how Judas scowled

            or dote on Peter’s smile,

he simply did what he was asked

            and went the second mile.

 

The pilgrim crowd were on a high,

            their palms a waving mass,

he went in trust all of the way

            though he was just an ass.

 

                                    ©  B.D. Prewer 1991

 

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Seek the grace of Christ Jesus while it may be found, call upon him while he is near. Let us pray.

 

Because your words and deeds are perfection but our goodness is like soiled and torn clothing; Lord have mercy.

Lord have mercy.

 

Because we become locked into mediocrity, having lost enthusiasm for reaching high because of bruising knock backs; Lord have mercy.

Lord have mercy.

 

 

Because from personal experience you, merciful Friend, know how hard it is to keep the faith when the future appears to be threat and pain; Lord have mercy.

Lord have mercy.

 

Loving God, Friend and Saviour, please continue to forgive our sins and heal

our fractured faith and love.

Restore among us the joy of salvation and the simplicity of uncluttered goals.

We pray for hands eager to serve you ,wills keen to follow you, and for minds

that are wild about exploring the height, depth, length and breadth of your

redeeming love in Christ Jesus.

Let this be, dear Lord, let this be.. Amen!

 

FORGIVENESS

 

My Friends, if your pastor should keep quiet about the Gospel, the very stones would cry out and declare salvation through Christ Jesus! In him we are a forgiven family of God. Live as those who are liberated, not looking back with remnants of guilt but looking forward to the fulfilment of the promises of God.

Amen!

 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            Jesus, You Deserve It

 

Dear Jesus, king of love,

you deserve every bit of praise your get.

 

It’s so ‘cool’ that on Palm Sunday

oodles of people became excited

and waved their palm branches

and shouted Hosanna!

 

We join in today

because we love you

a lot.

And we love you

because you first

loved us.

 

Amen!

 

PSALM 118: 1-2 & 19-29

 

O give thanks to God who is all goodness,

whose love prevails for ever!

Let all of Christ’s people shout it:

God’s love prevails forever.

 

Open for me the gates of grace and truth,

that I may enter and give thanks to God.

Here really are the gates of God,

where the true can believers go inside.

I thank you, Lord, for listening to me,

and becoming my Friend and Saviour.

 

The stone which the builders threw aside

has now become the true foundation stone.

We owe all this to our God’s saving deed,

and it looks absolutely wonderful to us.

This new day has been made by God,

let us celebrate and be delighted with it!

 

We have prayed: “Save us, please God,

we beg you, give us the triumph.”

Wonderful is he who comes in God’s name;

in the house of prayer we praise you!

God, our God, has shown us the true light;

join this peace march and wave the branches!

 

You truly are my God, and I thank you;

you are my God, I will celebrate you!

O give thanks to God who is all goodness,

whose love prevails for ever!

                                                                                                Ó B D Prewer

 

 

SERMON 1: JOY AND TEARS

 

Luke 19: 28-40

 

There is profound tension in Palm Sunday.

 

We have a brief but haunting burst of sunshine as Jesus is surrounded by the crowds, waving palm branches and songs of praise to God. Yet the storm clouds are quickly gathering. There’s a brooding sense of impending tragedy as Jesus stops his descent from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem and weeps like a broken hearted lover.

 

The different churches are not of one mind as to how best observe this final Sunday before Easter. Some go for an uninhibited Palm Sunday celebration : Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Some keep close to the Passion Sunday theme of Christ suffering. Other churches focus on the hosannas in the morning and the tears at evening. At least in this way a little of the true tension of the event is retained.

 

ONE POET’S ATTEMPT

 

Many poets have tried to capture the profound tension. One attempt which speaks to me is in Clive Sansom’s poem, ‘The Donkey’s Owner’, in which he compares the pompous entry of Pilate to Jerusalem one day followed by the arrival of Jesus the next morning. (It is best read it with a working man’s accent like you might hear in the pub at outback Menindee or at ‘Young and Jackson’s’ in Melbourne)

 

                                       THE DONKEY’S OWNER

.

            Snaffled my donkey, he did --- good luck to him!

            Rode him astride, feet dangling, near scraping the ground

            Gave me the laugh of my life when I first saw him,

            Remembering yesterday --- you know, how Pilate come

            Bouncing the same road, on that horse of his

            Big as a house and the armour shining

            And half of Rome trotting behind him. Tight mouthed he was

            Looking as if he owned the world.

 

            Then today,

            Him and my little donkey! Ha! Laugh ---?

            I thought I’d kill myself when he first started.

            So did the rest of them. Gave him a cheer

            Like he was Caesar himself, only more hearty:

            Tore off some palm twigs and followed shouting,

            Whacking the donkey’s behind ........Then suddenly

            We see his face.

            The smile had gone, and somehow the way he sat

            Was different --- like he was much older --- you know ---

            Didn’t want to laugh no more.

 

Powerful stuff. At first the donkey’s owner thinks it’s a just a laugh, but when he sees the face of Jesus, something profound spears at his heart: “Didn’t want to laugh no more.”

 

LIVE WITH THE TENSION

 

Indeed there is something both gloriously joyful and awesomely bitter about this day. Are we looking into the mystery of the heart of God? How does God hold infinite sorrow and infinite joy together?

 

The lectionary readings for today helps us live with the tension.

 

We started with the passage from Isaiah ( 50:4-9a) which is the third of the so-called ‘servant songs’- the poems about the true servant of God whose willing suffering will become deeply redemptive. Here is a brief glimpse of a noble person whose back is bared for a flogging, and whose beard in ripped out by the handful, and

            I did not hide my face

            from shame and spitting.

 

Then comes the Psalm (31:9-16), where there is a similar mood of impending suffering, although without Isaiah’s remarkable concept of redemption.

            For I have heard the whispering of the mob.

            Fears are all around me.

            They put their heads together against me,

            they conspire to take my life.

 

This grim scene is followed by the Epistle (Philippians 2: 5-11). These sentences are most likely a section from an early Christian hymn, sung in honour of their Christ. It sings of a Jesus who does not make a grab for power, but bends low like Isaiah’s suffering servant, accepting mutilation and a cruel death.

 

You may think this is all very gloomy stuff.  But that is not how it reads in the Scriptures. There is no despair here. Hope rules. We are taken close to the pulsing, passionate Centre of existence, to the heart of God, where we find redemption at work through willing self sacrifice  It is a thing of unsurpassed beauty that such a sublime Love should give itself for healing a diseased world.

 

This is the path to the only genuine new age; to the only sustainable new heaven and new earth. This is true love, not that we loved God but that he loved us, and gave his son to be the remedy for our degrading sins.

 

Of course, the teeming world around us does not admit this. It wants to save itself by clutching at life, hoarding it, grabbing all that one can, treading on other heads to get more than our share. Looking after number one, feverishly possessing, mastering, exploiting. Yet with every fierce grab they lose more than they gain.

 

There are frenetic people everywhere chasing the big lie. Sadly, in what they think will be gaining richert life, is found much less; spiritual poverty, futility; despair; darkness.

 

LOVE AND TEARS

 

Yet here in the Gospel we have the Man from Nazareth (secretly, many of our secular contemporaries see him as an impractical fool) riding on a donkey with his long legs almost touching the ground. “Lose your life and you will find it,” he is acting out, ready to go to the bitter end.

 

Palm Sunday begins the last Act in the drama of purest Love, love in the jaws of humiliation. Like most of the profound moments of life, it is joy mixed with tears.

 

Luke is alone among the Gospels in highlighting the tears. In a few lines that other writers do not include, Luke tells how, when Jesus rounded the Mount Olives and saw Jerusalem ahead of him with the golden temple brilliant in the morning light, he broke down and wept for the doomed city.

 

Recall the other occasion where is said that Jesus wept? At the grave of his friend Lazarus? In that case the Greek word  for “wept” used by John is dakruo, meaning “shed a tear”.

 

Later in Luke’s story of the crucifixion, as Jesus stumbled his way to the up the hill to Golgotha, broken-hearted women wept and wailed as he went by. It is the weeping of women who are utterly distraught with grief. Here the Greek word is kalaio.

 

This same word (kalaio) is also used when Jesus weeps on Palm Sunday.  It’s not just the gentle shedding of a tear or two as in dakruo. It is the shaking shoulders and heaving chest of a very strong, brave man caught in a flood of grief for the city he loved. It is kalaio.

 

Here is the irony of Palm Sunday: Christ’s racking grief takes place in a celebration that, on the surface, looks like the most triumphant day of his life. We are delighted that for once in Jesus’ experience, this adorable man is given the treatment he deserved. We want to join the cheering and the waving of palms. And we do.

 

But always there is the tension. Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday. Happiness allied with profound grief; our joy in the Saviour, his sorrow over that which is lost and doomed.

 

A BROKEN-HEARTED LOVER

 

I said earlier that Jesus broke down and wept like a broken hearted lover. That is in fact the literal truth. Yet never was a lover equal to this. Never was the beloved pursued with such an costly love.

 

Today we are close to the final frontier; to that Divine Mystery who brought us into being and follows us through all the hours of life. Close to that Lover who cannot bear that even the least person should perish. The Christ who wept over Jerusalem weeps over us, and him is the weeping of God.

 

Tension.

            Laughter and weeping.

                        Trumpet and then plaintive oboe..

                                    God’s redemptive suffering.

                                                Hosanna! Followed by a solemn prelude to “Father forgive them, for they                                                     know not what they do.”

 

As the owner of the donkey in Clive Samsom’s poem concludes:

 

Then suddenly

            We see his face.

            The smile had gone, and somehow the way he sat

            Was different --- like he was much older --- you know ---

            Didn’t want to laugh no more.

 

 

SERMON 2: PASSION SUNDAY: AN AUTUMN MEDITATION

 

Hosanna! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of God! Peace in heaven and glory the highest!”

 

Easter season and springtime coincide in the Northern hemisphere.

At times I have envied that wonderful congruence of dynamic new life: snowdrops, daffodils, hyacinths and the green budding on trees after the long, cruel winter, and the joyful greetings: “Christ is risen”.

 

Here in Australia, we miss that happy congruence at Easter.

 

But on Passion or Palm Sunday, our Southern Hemisphere season of autumn is most appropriate. Especially in the southern states of our continent, and whenever Palm Sunday occurs later in April.

 

There is a glorious yet melancholy feeling about Autumn.

Around us is ravishing beauty, yet we know it is to be followed by grey winter. In the solarium of my home, where I spend my morning devotions, I look out on the garden, and beyond it to the small lake. All seasons are fine, but autumn is special.

 

In Autumn the gentler sun highlights the colours.

In our garden, the grapevines, peach, plum, nectarine and  the apple trees ( a little later) wear their golden and russet robes.  I revel in it. Such beauty is a joy. Yet the feeling of joy is suffused with sadness. This beauty will quickly be gone. The warm sunshine will soon be diluted and often hidden behind clouds. Inexorably winter will arrive and much of the garden will seem bleak and bare..

 

Passion Sunday is like that.

There is much to celebrate. We glory in the beauty of Christ arriving at Jerusalem on that little donkey. In our mind’s eye we watch the crowds and see the waving tree branches, and we are moved by the sight of some followers throwing their cloaks down on the road in front of his donkey.

 

We hear the excitement of the crowd of pilgrims

 and listen to them shouting: Hosanna! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of God! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  We are delighted and grateful that for once he is getting a smidgen of the praise his loving name warrants.

 

Yet like autumn, the sadness is here also.

Winter is near for Jesus. We know that this sunlit scene is followed soon by the dark chill of Gethsemene, the ill wind of arrest and trials, the hail of abuse and whipping, and the final storm of his sufferings and cruel death.

 

We need to embrace both with open arms.

Joy and sadness are entwined in life.  If we try just to milk the happiness and avoid the bitterness, we will be stunted in our growth. In a peculiar way, that I cannot adequately explain, the glory and the melancholy of the autumn season are inseparable partners, and the experience is the richer for it. Palm Sunday is a profound joy because it is inseparable from Good Friday.

 

Throughout life, we should not try to dodge the bitter in our lust for the sweet.

Rank hedonism does not ennoble the soul but makes it shallow and trivial.  Religious hedonism, customer-geared religion, suffers the same fatal flaw. Faith is not all  happy clappy.”

 

Journeying through of Holy Week, and especially Good Friday, is important.

I have no time for those Christians who want to skip over Good Friday and leap to forward to Easter. “Why be gloomy they declare. Christ is not dead but risen. Put away those dismal thoughts and hymns.” In my gut I know that is shallow. I need, profoundly need, to enter into the sufferings  and death of Christ if I am to really appreciate the astounding Easter event.

 

Grief and suffering, Christ’s and ours,  should not be dodged.

As with Holy Week, I have similar doubts about Christian groups who claim that funerals should cut out the solemnity and grief and be purely celebration of resurrection.. I believe we need to experience our grief, and to experience it together in Christian community. Loss should be faced, the reality of death acknowledged before the wonderful Christian hope can adequately be affirmed and celebrated.

 

I remember one extremely distressing funeral

I conducted of a wonderful young woman who died trying to rescue children from drowning. After the funeral a good friend commented to me: “Thank you for you sensitivity and care, and for celebrating Robyn’s life so wonderfully, but for my part I needed to do a little more grieving than you allowed time for.”

 

I really heard his words and reflected.

I had done much of my own grieving with the mother, but for some who had not fully faced the hard reality of death until they entered the church and looked upon the coffin, it was different. Maybe I had not given them sufficient time to grieve. I was grateful to my friend’s honest comment.

 

Happiness and melancholy belong together this Palm Sunday.

In Christ both can be embraced without fear, for he enters into the fullness of both and from them “works an exceeding great glory.”

 

If we should keep silent, the very stones would cry out their joy and pain and praise,

 

 

THANKSGIVING

 

Loving God, we give thanks for the joy of simple people and devout pilgrims as they followed our Lord Jesus into Jerusalem.

We give thanks that at least for one hour in his mortal life, Jesus was given a little of the praise he deserved.

We are thankful for those who cheered him, even if they did not understand the heartache that he was already beginning to suffer.

We are grateful for each of those waving tree branches and for every excited and joyful shout of “Hosanna!”.

We thank you for the awesome love of Christ, which resolutely took him from Palm Sunday into the growing dangers of Holy Week.

Loving God, we cannot plumb the depths that lay ahead of Jesus, but we do know it was for us, and for that we are eternally thankful.

Amen.

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

Please give us the grace, loving God, to pray with our hearts as well as our lips, and to serve with our deeds as well as our prayers.

 

In places where the church celebrates with joy today, where it laughs with little children and praises with elderly saints, till hosannas overflow from every loving heart; may your kingdom come,

And your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

 

In places where the church gathers in sorrow or fear today, weeping with Christ Jesus for the cross that must be carried in the face of misunderstanding and abuse; may your kingdom come.

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

 

In places where ordinary people are disillusioned with that greed and injustice that wants the poor and the weak blamed for the deprivations that afflict them; your kingdom come.

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

 

In places where people are at their wits end, angry or frightened, ready to hit out violently at those around them, or falling into despair and planning to take their own lives; Your kingdom come.

Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

 

In places where there are small hopes begging to be kept alive,  programmes of compassion needing to be supported, and the beginnings of faith requiring recognition and encouragement; your kingdom come.

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

 

God of Christ Jesus and our God, enable each of us to enter into fellowship with the Spirit of Christ, that our personal happiness and suffering may not be wasted, but dedicated to your infinite purposes which are often baffling but always loving. In Your name we pray.

Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

In sunshine and shadow, joy or grief,

this is the day which the Lord has made,

We will rejoice and be glad in it.

 

Step gratefully into this holy weak;

tread softly for many things are already bruised;

go reverently for holiness is found in unlikely places;

walk lovingly for the love of the Crucified One

is the key to all things on earth and in heaven.

 

Amen!

Even with our small faith, may Christ live and rule in our hearts.

 

The blessings of this Lord’s Day, through our Saviour Christ, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, from the God who gathers all our joys and sorrows into one mighty consummation, be with you now and always.

Amen!