North Congregational UCC New Harford CT
WORSHIP: 6th Sunday in Lent Palm/Passion
March 28, 2021
“Jesus was a borrower. He did not grasp or grab what did not belong to him, but shared what was given to him freely….So Jesus emptied himself. He gave himself completely away for the benefit of others.” William Cater “The Best Things Are Borrowed”
INVITATION TO WORSHIP:
We gather today to begin our journey into the holiest of weeks. It is not a journey for the faint of heart. We will journey through praise, and joy; we will travel through betrayal, hatred, and death. We’ve been through this many times. We love the excitement and promise of Jesus’ entry and try to block out all the events following so we can gather again in celebration of victory. That is not how the game of life is played. So we will face our own demons, our struggles, our desire to avoid so that we can truly appreciate the rarity and the power of a love that suffers and transforms. Let the journey begin!
HYMN OF GATHERING
Hosanna, loud Hosanna, the little children sang;
Through pillared court and temple the joyful anthem rang.
To Jesus, who had blessed them, close folded on his breast,
the children sang their praises, the simplest and the best.
From Olivet they followed mid an exultant crowd,
the victor palm branch waving, and chanting clear and loud;
the Lord of earth and heaven rode on in lowly state,
nor scorned that little children should on his bidding wait.
Holy God, we are profoundly thankful and deeply humbled by our remembrance of your triumphant entry into Jerusalem. On that day long ago people were exuberant in their praise of you, and so it will be again when God exalts your name above any other. But in between lay the way of the cross, when you emptied yourself, leaving glory behind, and embraced the cross for the sake of all humanity. We are awed by the depth of your love and sacrifice. We so want to identify with the cheering crowd yet we are afraid that we would be no less fickle than they, ending up denying you as though we never knew you. By the power of your Holy Spirit, draw us to you in renewed love and devotion this week, as we remember your lonely and painful journey to Calvary. Amen.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
May God bless this reading and add to our understanding what God is asking of us this day. Amen.
HYMN OF PREPARATION
“All glory ,laud and honor to thee Redeemer King,
to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring!
Thou art the King of Israel, thou David’s royal Son,
who in the Lord’s name comest the King and blessed one.
The company of angels are praising thee on High,
and we with all creation in chorus make reply.
The people of the Hebrews with palms before thee went;
our praise and prayers and anthems before thee we present.
To thee, before thy passion, they sang their hymns of praise;
to thee, now high exalted our melody we raise.
Thou didst accept their praises, accept the prayers we bring,
who in all good delighted, thou good and gracious King!”
“Bothered and Borrowed” Rev. Art Yost
I love a parade! My favorite part, and for most people I guess, are the bands. Depending upon the parade, the bands can be from neighborhood schools, community bands, military bands and specialized bands (Mummers and Bagpipers). When parades are local most of the crowd is made up of family and friends of those marching. I have had the pleasure of marching in a few parades. In elementary school I played the clarinet and marched with the band. In high school I marched with a service organization from the school. Back in the late 70’s I marched with the volunteer fire department dressed in uniform since I was the chaplain in the local firehouse. Marching is nice yet the disadvantage is-you miss the parade. One parade I always wanted to see was the Rose Parade. I was there in Pasadena but missed both the parade and the football game because of a very bad cold. I used to have a double vinyl record set of parade music. What made it unique is that it simulated a parade with stereo speakers because you’d hear one bad getting louder and softer as “they marched by” while another band could be heard coming into “view” via increasing sound in one speaker, then both speakers and passing on to the last speaker. I guess you can tell I like parades A LOT.
Today is Palm Sunday and the featured event in Scripture is the entrance of Jesus on a donkey into Jerusalem during the time of Passover. I guess it really wasn’t technically a parade-more of a procession. If you’re fortunate enough to see the video of the hymn “All Glory, Laud and Honor”, you will see a group of youth processing to the altar each with Palm branches. By now many of you have received a Palm Cross and prayer in the mail as symbols of this celebratory event. This was probably the singular defining moment of Jesus’ popularity. Matthew and Mark record this event and they particularly tie his entry into the Jewish psyche by connecting him to the “House of David”, a time of the golden age of their history. Such celebrations were not unusual for the people who were accustomed to heroes being celebrated with processions. We too add parades to our experience when we welcome sport team victories and political rallies in our community. Bedsides spreading palm branches or articles of clothing the people shout their “Hosannas.” Now if you look at the dictionary that word is defined as an exclamation of joy. In Hebrew, the word is best translated “Save us I pray”. In Aramaic it would be ‘Help!”
The meaning of the crowd is clear with the addition “blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” John (12:13) makes the intention even clearer when the Gospel writer adds-“the king of Israel”. The crowds therefore saw him as Messiah-the anointed one. Their desire is to have him use his popularity and power to pursue the Romans in battle and bring freedom to the people.
However, there was more than one procession that day. I am indebted to the work of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book The Last Week referenced in “Homiletics” 4/5/2009. There would be The Pilate Procession. As Jesus as entering Jerusalem from the east for the festival, the procession of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate and his accompanying military force would be entering from the west providing protection for Roman interests during the festival. Of course. Any large crowd, one that seemed to fuel the fire of Jewish nationalism, would be a threat to Rome and pax romana. We have seen this over and over again in our recent history. Whenever there is a mass protest, a large gathering of crowds, there is a need for a counter weight to keep control. While peaceful demonstrations are a part of who we are as a nation, these demonstrations can turn violent, as can those who are called to maintain peace. The forces of Pilate and the Romans would not have understood the nuanced, peaceful protest that Jesus was using by choosing a donkey and riding into Jerusalem. Jesus had been to Jerusalem before in his ministry but not in an orchestrated way as this. See the prophet Zechariah 9:9-10 for further comparisons.
Borg and Crossan believe that Jesus was intentionally setting up a comparison between the violent and powerful trend of the Roman Empire and the peaceful and grace-filled trend of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God Jesus envisioned throughout his ministry is brought to fruition, not by military might but through healing, messaging forgiveness and love and ultimately his sacrificial death on a cross. This would have BOTHERED the Romans and the Jewish leaders who had a very different view of who the Messiah would be and how the Messiah would act. Indeed, so bothered that those who shouted “save us” would be the very ones who, in their disappointment, would be shouting “crucify him” a few days later. The events of Holy Week reinforce this understanding. Jesus enters the temple and overturns the tables of the money changers who were ripping off the faithful coming to make sacrifice to the temple; He verbally spars with the religious elite who then seek ways to find someone within the inner circle of Jesus’ followers to betray him and have Jesus arrested under charges of sedition. But let us become so bothered by his that we become anti-Semitic. The Roman Empire’s view then and the small segment of Jewish Nationalists then are very much like a part of world culture today. The use of religion, my country first, military power, status, and increased wealth is what drives both elected leaders and self-appointed leaders. We may admire Jesus yet very few choose to truly pick up their crosses and follow him. This was initially true of those who closely followed Jesus. It is only after what we celebrate next Sunday, the realization that life is about giving, forgiving, showing compassion, loving unconditionally, sacrificing, and following Jesus example that we experience the abundant life promised by Jesus staying the course until from the cross he can exclaim, “It is finished.”
It sometimes seems like we are possessed by our possessions. I know it was over two thousand years ago that Jesus lived in human form upon the earth but if we look at his life, it is amazing that he lived so fully not desiring “things.” William Cater, quoted at the beginning of this bulletin notes, Jesus was born in a borrowed place and laid in a borrowed manger. As he traveled he had no place to call his own to spend the night. He rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey. He ate his final meal in a borrowed room. He was crucified on a borrowed cross, wearing a borrowed crown that cruelly was placed on is head and upon death, he was placed into a borrowed tomb. In the passage from Philippians today it says that he did not claim his royalty as divine but emptied himself and humbled himself. He never forced himself on anyone. I remember in the office of my last full time church in West Haven the image of Jesus standing at the door and knocking. The picture seems incomplete because there is no handle on the outside on the door. The only way to allow Jesus into our lives is for us to open the door of our hearts and let Jesus into our space.
Since none of us had anything to do with our birth, totally out of our hands, we have been given the greatest of all miracles-the gift of life. We have responsibility for it, to care for it as if it were a temple. We interact with others who share in this miraculous gift of life. The one thing we all have in common is that we don’t “own” our lives- we all live on borrowed time. This Holy Week is an opportunity for us to welcome Jesus-but which Jesus? Hosanna-save us-from what? Help us-to do what? The answer to these very personal questions will influence our Easter experience.
God of compassionate love and constant presence in our lives, after a year of weariness from the pandemic that has caused so much death, sickness, pain, anxiety, loss of income, jobs and difficulty in gathering as a community of faith, we find ourselves struggling each day. In the midst of our struggles in our country, we find it hard to imagine what life is like for more than two-thirds of humanity. The cries of nationalism are shouted from leaders of many nations and the desire to take care of our own fly in the face of your call to us to see everyone as a child of yours deserving of the best we can do to alleviate suffering. The strong desire of so many to experience “normalcy” has led to behaviors that divide those who see risky behaviors as foolishness endangering others or as God-given rights to live their lives. Help us not to divide your people into us and them. Give us courage to express our thoughts and feelings using words of grace and actions of patience and tolerance. When we consider the work and actions of those who have selflessly given of their time, abilities, at the risk of illness and death, we understand the phrase “our cup runneth over.” On a Sabbath Day when we remember crowds shouting Hosanna, Save Us, we find ourselves expressing that same need. Save us from thoughts and behaviors that shred community and separate us from your will. Despite what we are experiencing now, we know the power of the cross is to restore life, not take it, to give meaning to redemptive suffering rather than avoiding discomfort at all costs. Within our own congregation, we are grateful that we can still remember and reach out to those who are in need of food, to care for those with mental or emotional and to know when we need to turn to prayer and to professionals to help alleviate situations truly beyond our ability. Keep us mindful the difference between care and cure when it comes to our interactions. We pray for those who face new limitations because of health issues that they will find ways to see new opportunities while having to give up others. We keep in our prayers the caregivers in our families, for loving couples, for grown children and dependent children. We share in the joy of those preparing for continuing educational experiences and for the availability of resources provided to make it easier for them. And Lord, you know what has not been expressed in personal lives gathered in this time of pray- while we cannot hug each other, we can feel your loving arms around each of us-so we pray, “Our Father, Who art in heaven….”
HYMN OF JOURNEYING
“When I survey the wondrous cross on which the prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God;
all the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his blood.
Were the whole realm of nature mine, hat were a present far too small;
love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
We are people of the covenant, in touch with the Eternal in our midst. God has acted in Christ to show us the way to truly live faithfully as God’s children. Go forth as followers and servants, among all who are being drawn to Christ. Amen
On April 1st, on line, there will be a Last Supper Service followed by a Tenebrae (Descent Into Darkness) Ceremony. We encourage you to worship the evening of the first to more closely experience the impact of the service. Have seven candles (suggest votive battery if you have them)
Easter Sunday, April 4th we again will have a full service in person and on line available with Rev. Art Yost.