Palm Sunday worship came from the vicarage as our churches remain closed due to the Coronavirus. It is starting to feel ‘normal’ to preside at communion at my dining room table. Although of course it still feels strange to not know how many people are there engaging with it from afar on ipads, phones and computers, nor how many will be watching later. I try to make it as inter-active as possible encouraging people to write in the comments people for prayer etc and to join in familiar responses. If the statistics are anything to go by, more people are engaging in worship than would be in the church on a typical Sunday. But those figures don’t say how many people saw what it was and stopped watching! I pray that people’s hearts and minds are either challenged and changed or comforted and affirmed in thier faith.
We used the usual communion service for Palm Sunday with the following readings:
Matthew 21.1-11, Isaiah 50.4-9a, Philippians 2.5-11 and a shortened (abridged) version of Matthew 26.14 – 27.66.
I don’t normally preach but let the story speak for itself, but this year I did say a few words.
What a week – from Hosanna on Sunday to Crucify on Friday.
Hosanna! Cried the crowds. It’s a Hebrew word, originally meaning ‘save now’. But over time it came to be more a statement of confidence that God will save. And nowadays it is used in the same way as Hallelujah! We have confidence in God – we have confidence that God will save us.
The crowd hailed Jesus as King – they recognised him as the long awaited Messiah who was going to get rid of the Romans and restore Israel’s fortunes. That was the Sunday – by the Friday the crowds were baying for Jesus’ blood. Very fickle – if indeed they were the same people. The people who had shouted for joy as Jesus entered Jerusalem soon got on with the very necessary immediate needs of shelter and food. The place would be teeming with people gathering for the annual Passover festival.
No wonder they soon forgot Jesus – went on to the next thing perhaps. In the turbulent days we live in, we need to remember Jesus – to keep on recognising him as the one who saves us. Jesus is the one who died in our place, for our sins to be forgiven and for us to receive eternal life.
We need to remember who we are – as Christians we are those whose lives have been bought by Jesus’ blood on the cross. We are people who have him as our King – the one we are answerable to – and the one we look to lead and guide us.
But it is easy to forget – or at least to let it go on the back burner. If our faith blows hot and cold, but we are in good company. Peter famously denied knowing Jesus. And note, that the other men soon melted into the background too. We are forgiven if we fail to keep faith, if we fail to let others know we know Jesus.
Like the crowds then, it is easier to fit in, to conform with the crowd than to stand out – to stand up for what we believe in.
When Peter denied Jesus he was, in a way, denying who he was. He was denying the past encounters with Jesus. He was denying his earlier recognitions of Jesus as being special and different and worth leaving the fishing nets behind to follow, incurring the disapproval, no doubt, of his family on abandoning the business. He let himself be driven by fear.
Fear is a terrible thing. It can make you do the things you wouldn’t normally give a passing thought to. Fear of failure, fear of others’ disapproval, fear of looking different or a fool. Not to mention, fear of catching a virus. Peter, true to his character of speaking before engaging brain, let his fear take control of his words as he was tried and tested….. you were with him….. you’re one of them
Whereas Jesus, when he was on trial and tested, remained virtually silent. He agreed, Yes I am the Messiah, and he said something about being in heaven (which was even worse). And as he hung on the cross he cried out to God not to forsake him – quoting from psalm 22.
And of course, his actions – his going to the cross – spoke much louder than any words.
I remember early on in my adult life as a Christian, back in Burton at St Pauls church we used to have Palm Sunday processions – not just around the church with a palms at the beginning of the service, but afterwards we would process, with a donkey (and the children taking it in turns to ride) and through the streets – a lot of which were Muslim occupants – past the mosque to Derby Street Baptist church to join with their worship.
And I remember at first feeling very self conscious. People would see me. People would know that I am a Christian.
This year, we are being encouraged to make it public that we are followers of Jesus by placing pictures of palms or palm crosses where people can see them as they pass by our houses. On the doors or in the windows. It is only a small action but one that may risk a bit of ridicule. However, at a spiritual level I believe it is powerful. It is saying that you hail Jesus as the one who saves, the one you put your trust in, the one you call your king, whatever trials and testing you are facing at the moment.
I ended with a reflection from Paula Gooder’s book “Journey to the Empty Tomb” (page 99)
‘Do not bring us to the time of trial….’
But if being tested is unavoidable,
Give us the courage to face it full on
and not to shy away from what we fear might happen
Give us the integrity to stay true to who you are
and who we are
Give us the wisdom to know when to speak
and when to stay silent
Give us the stillness to avoid
being drawn into the maelstrom of other people’s emotions
‘Do not bring us to the time of trial …’
But if being tested is unavoidable,
Be with us and help us to face our trials
with your courage integrity wisdom and stillness.
I did the picture above in my prayer journal plus another small one where I tried out the technique for doing palms and was also pleased with it and so wrote the words Palm Sunday on it. The chalice and plate come from Holy Island, which is a nice connection to the prayers we have been having online with a Celtic feel to them.
The service and sermon plus other resources can be found on my benefice website at: https://www.rdch.org.uk/welcome.htm
I enjoyed an afternoon walk in the sunshine around the lake in our village with Terry and ended the ‘working’ day with Compline (night prayer) at 6pm followed by a meal cooked by Terry.