Palm Sunday Worship for Third Presbyterian Church April 5, 2020
Welcome & Invitation
Covid-19 is not God’s vengeance on this world. God is love. Making people sick is not loving. When Psalm 94 speaks of God’s vengeance, it doesn’t mean God has had it and in an angry fit decided to destroy everything. I know it can sometimes feel that way and it’s ok to talk to God about how you’re feeling (even when what you are feeling is mad at God).
When “the wrong” feels stronger than us, God knows what that feels like too. As Christians, we believe in an incarnate God; a God who decided to be born in this world, to live among us, to love us, to teach us how to pray, to suffer as we do, and to die. God became flesh and dwelt among us in this messy, beautiful, terrifying, wonderful experience we understand as humanity. And we believe that God is still with us, even now. We believe that there is nothing that God can not redeem.
When the Psalmist is crying out for God to have vengeance what he/she is really asking for is for God to bring about justice. And because God is with us, we have the opportunity to participate in bringing justice. In this strange time, justice might look like taking care of our neighbor by giving them a few rolls of toilet paper and asking if they need anything else from the store. Justice might look like making phone calls, setting up zoom meetings, and otherwise reminding neighbors that we are not alone. Justice might look like paying neighbors that can not work because the buildings they work in are closed. Justice means everyone has what they need to be well: financially, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Love motivates us to work for justice. Love reminds us of our common humanity and allows us to see our neighbor as just like us. Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8a).
As we listen to the prelude, take a moment to breathe deeply and to pray. Remember when you pray: It is ok to grieve. It is ok to feel sad. It is ok to feel angry and upset. Certainly, being sick feels like a punishment, and being socially isolated feels like being in ‘time out’. And it is good to lift these feelings up to God or place them at the foot of the cross or cry them into the divine mother’s arms. Choose your own favorite prayer metaphor. Once you have in mind where your prayers are going, start your prayers by telling God exactly how you feel in your most honest and authentic voice. Be still for a moment. Take a few deep breaths. Remind yourself about other times you have felt this way. Think about how you got through those times. Talk to God about those experiences. Find strength in those memories. Ask God for what you need in this moment to get through. And end your time in the divine presence with gratitude.
Time of Reflection (Prelude)
Call to Confession
To you, O God, we give up the burdens of this week, trusting your love and mercy. To you, O God, we surrender ourselves, trusting our risen Lord to lead us always in the way of peace, today, tomorrow and forever. Please join me in reading the prayer of confession printed in your bulletin. Let us pray together.
Prayer of Confession (unison)
Mighty and merciful God, lover of justice and equity, you call us to support the weak, to help those who suffer, and to honor all people. By the power of your Holy Spirit, make us advocates for your justice and instruments of your peace, so that all may be reconciled in your beloved community; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen. (BCW p.599)
Assurance of Pardon
Friends, the good news of the gospel is this, in Jesus Christ we are forgiven.
Moment of Dedication
We are so touched that many of you reached out about continued giving. Checks can still be mailed to the church address. Our mail is being forwarded to our business manager Deb once a week so you may notice that your checks are not being cashed as soon as usual. You can also use the Third Church website for on line giving. The PayPal system works but there is a delay due to the extra step in processing. We thank you for your continued support and grace.
Let us pray: God of grace, no one is beyond the reach of your love, or outside your limitless mercy. Stand with those who are outcast, despised, and rejected; strengthen them in peace; encourage them by your presence; and use them to build on the cornerstone of Christ, until differences are honored and respected, and all people together give you glory. And may our offering today help us to participate in your work in this world. Amen. (BCW p. 631-632)
Scripture Reading Psalm 35
“Shalom is the comprehensive term for the theological, social, and personal well-being given by creation and blessing and restored by salvation. It is the wholeness, goodness, and integrity of relational existence to God, self, and others.” (James L. Mays, Psalms Interpretation Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching p.34)
Has Shalom has been destroyed? Maybe, or at least what we thought of as Shalom.
I imagine we are feeling something different this holy week; maybe, something more… biblical. You see, on Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem in what I used to imagine as a parade. Now I see it as a set up to a cruel joke. The shouts of, “Hosanna” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” seemed to be coming from every person, creature, and rock along the path. And at the same time, those who saw that he was changing the world, sought to take his life. They didn’t want their version of shalom to be disrupted. This man who overturned the money changers tables at the temple could certainly over through their comfortable way of life with his radical love for the poor, the weak, the oppressed. We are comfortable in a world in which everyone knows their place, their pecking order, the value of their life in relation to those around them, but this is not the kind of world God had in mind for us. Our system is sick. It is the same system that killed Jesus, love incarnate. Jesus died for our corporate sins a long time ago, and if he came back today our sin sick world would still crucify him.
This procession of Palms is the turning point. Something has to give way. And the “wrong” the “status quo” and “the way things are supposed to be” were upset by Jesus, and they are powerful. And the powerful do not go down without a fight. The disciples didn’t realize that until Thursday evening, when Jesus was arrested. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. They watched as Judas, surrounded by soldiers, was the last to kiss Jesus goodbye. And they scattered. I image some were afraid to be too close to Jesus, keeping their distance but watching to see what happened. Others went home to hide and cry. And I wonder if one of them went back to the road to look at the palms scattered on the ground; dusty and torn. The scene has lost its splendor, but the remnants remind us that it did happen. He picks up a tattered piece of palm, pats the top of a rock that isn’t singing anymore, and looks at the city. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the place that kills prophets. He puts a small piece of palm into his pocket, so he doesn’t forget Sunday’s parade, the way the wine tasted tonight, and this moment when the rocks and stones forgot to sing.
The rest of Holy week is filled with unspeakable horrors. It seems as though suffering and death has won this time. The women witness it all. And when they see where Jesus’ body is laid, they go back home for sabbath rest. We don’t have a record of what happened Friday evening and Saturday. What we do know is that this was supposed to be a time of rest and prayer; a time to be together with family, friends, and the all of the faithful. This weekend, perhaps there are more tears than prayers. A disciple reaches to find something to wipe the snot from his nose, and discovers a dirty, tattered bit of palm. Something stirs inside him, his bones know something that his mouth can hardly utter, “No one is like the LORD.” (Psalm 35:10).
Resurrection doesn’t happen when things are looking good. Resurrection happens when hope is all but lost.
God doesn’t fight the same way the powerful forces of evil do.
Philippians 2:1–12 “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
Prayer Before Communion:
Let us pray to the Holy Spirit to make us aware of her presence today as we prepare to celebrate Holy Communion:
O Holy Spirit
yours is the feminine face of the Holy,
the luminous moon who lights up the night
as we travel from captivity to liberation,
the pillar of fire who guides our way home,
the cloud hovering over the mountain peaks,
living sign that the drought is over.
You are the indwelling presence of the Divine.
Whenever we gather to praise the One
you are here in our midst.
When we cry out for justice
you make our hearts tender.
When we stand with those on the margins
you make our legs strong.
When we create works of art
and parent or children
and harvest our gardens
you guide and sustain us.
You are the Sabbath Bride, the Beloved,
returned from exile.
You restore balance in our relationships
and wholeness to our fragmented souls.
You infuse our lovemaking with honey.
You fill the cup of our hearts,
which tremble with longing,
with the wine of your answering love.
You are the song of our homecoming.
You are the Sabbath Queen, the Great Mother,
who sits at the heart of the table
tearing off hunks of the secret bread
that contains the exact flavor each of us loves best.
You feed us all,
the proud and the repentant,
the believer and the skeptic,
from your hands.
Your unconditional forgiveness dissolves otherness.
You are blessed, O God, and Jesus is blessed, and the Holy Spirit is blessed. We ask now that you send us your Spirit, that by your power, this ordinary table will become a sacred banquet, and this bread and cup will become holy things that we can share.
As I break bread today, I invite everyone to break their bread together, and as I pour my beverage, I invite you to do the same if you have not already done so. As eat bread and I drink from the cup, please do the same. Remembering that we are united us as a people who are grateful for all we have and share in that abundance, let us not be afraid of the future, but instead be aware of the divine indwelling, inviting us to be at ease about what is to come as we joyfully step into the unknown.
On the night Jesus was betrayed he took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his friends, and said, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.”
After supper, he took the cup of wine, gave thanks, and said, “Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me.”
Remembering now his work of redemption, we pray as Jesus taught us saying… Our father…
These are the Gifts of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
(partake of the elements)
Prayer After Communion:
O Holy Spirit
we are the vessel for your inflowing.
Your radiance requires the clay of our embodiment.
Your flame burns at the core of the earth.
Your warmth penetrates the seedbed and animates the seedlings.
You bless the head of every animal
and kiss the tear-streaked face of humanity.
You are the vision that builds community,
and you are our refuge
when the fabric of community unravels.
Be with us now
as we navigate this landscape of mystery
where your most cherished attributes –
wild mercy and boundless compassion,
righteousness and wisdom –
seem to be cast aside and trampled
by imperious world powers
and we are paralyzed by helplessness.
May we remember you and lift you up.
May we recognize your face and celebrate your beauty
in everything and everyone,
everywhere, always. 
 These prayers are taken from and adapted only slightly from the closing worship of the 2020 Gladdening Light Conference at Rollins College.
 Mirabai Starr’s prayer to Shekinah from her book “Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics” I substituted “Holy Spirit” for “Shekinah” to avoid having to over explain to the Presbyterian congregation (that I love) already being pushed out of their comfort zone.