GATHERING MUSIC When Peace Like a River trad. African-American
WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS
LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE Kay Rencken, Liturgist
Violence is often necessary but in my view there is greatness only in gentle behavior.
Simone Weil, 1909-1943
PRELUDE How Can I Keep from Singing trad./HKJ
CALL TO WORSHIP Iona Community, adapted
Humble and riding on a donkey,
We greet you.
Acclaimed by crowds and caroled by children,
We cheer you.
Moving from the peace of the countryside to the corridors of power,
We salute you.
You are giving the beasts of burden a new dignity;
you are giving majesty a new face;
you are giving those who long for redemption a new song to sing.
With them, with heart and voice, we shout, “Hosanna!”
MUSIC The Palms Faure
Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.
Zechariah 9:9-10 and Mark 11:1-11
Leader 1: As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent off two of the disciples with this instruction:
Leader 2: “Go to the village straight ahead of you, and as soon as you enter it you will find tethered there a colt on which no one has ridden. Untie it and bring it back. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing that?’ say, ‘The Rabbi needs it, but will send it back very soon.’”
Leader 1: So they went off, and finding a colt tethered out on the street near a gate, they untied it. Some of the bystanders said to them, “What do you mean by untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them take it.
They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks across its back, and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields. And everyone around Jesus, in front or in back of him, cried out,
Blessed is the One who comes in the name of our God!
Blessed is the coming reign of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest!”
Leader 1: Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple precincts. He inspected everything there, but since it was already late in the afternoon, he went out to Bethany accompanied by the Twelve.
For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.
CONTEMPORARY READING- Palm Sunday Joy Crowley
SERMON Hosanna? Rev. Kim P. Wells
The last parade that I was part of was the Martin Luther King Parade last year. 2020. It was just weeks before everything closed up due to covid. Covid was probably already emerging and it was very likely dangerous to go to such an event, but we didn’t know yet.
Can you think of the last parade that you went to? Any memories come to mind? Anyone want to share?
Well, the Martin Luther King Parade was memorable for me not just because of the bands and the floats and more bands. It was also memorable because of the people I was with and the people who were there. I went with our son, Malcolm, who’s 25. Going to a parade with your mother is not a thing for a twenty something to do. But he was in the marching band in high school so it was about the bands. And we were joined by Randy Wilson, a friend of the church, an older white man, who was in town from Kentucky that weekend, and had never been to an MLK Day Parade. Then there were the people in the crowd. It was an eclectic assortment – young and old, many hued, all enjoying the festivities and interacting with friendliness and camaraderie. Neighborliness. We were part of this event together sharing the spirit of the one who was being honored.
Now I am thinking about the parade that we remember on Palm Sunday that is based on the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. What might that parade have been like? Well, it is presented as a prophetic enactment of the scene from Zechariah that we heard. It was a common practice to portray scenes described by the prophets as a witness. And like the image from Zechariah, the procession was an intentional contrast to the well-known military processional complete with a victorious general riding on a majestic steed followed by ranks of well-turned out soldiers presenting themselves to receive the acclaim of the appreciative public. The Jesus processional is really a counter parade. It is like a parody. A spoof. Someone who intentionally isn’t a military leader, or a civic official, riding on what is very clearly not a majestic steed, but a humble beast of burden. It’s a demonstration of anti militarism. Anti nationalism. Anti domination. Anti imperialism. As the people of Soulentiname, a base Christian community in Nicaragua put it: “On a donkey ought to be a campesino.” [Soulentiname, p. 48] Exactly.
In the Palm Sunday story, the spectacle is very much a counter processional. Counter to the culture of the Roman Empire. Counter to the use of force to dominate people. Counter to the tactics of imperialism. Counter to a culture of violence. The story of the processional with Jesus on a donkey is about the triumph of love and dignity, not the triumph of violence and domination. It was about the triumph of good not the triumph of greed. Because war and imperialism and domination are always driven by an economic agenda. This is another public display of love that will not be hidden under a bushel.
So what about this ragtag processional? And what of the crowd? The Jewish historian Josephus says that up to 3 million, yes, million, people would come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover in the first century. They came from all over the Roman Empire. If there had been a pandemic, this was the ultimate superspreader event! Even if Josephus’ figure is high, it was still a very crowded situation in Jerusalem leading up to the Festival of Passover. Many people had to stay in adjacent communities. And what is there to do while you wait for the Temple activities and the dinners? Oh, here’s a parade. So some people are there for something to do. Some may have heard of Jesus and are there to cheer him on. Some may have been trying to go somewhere on that road and been stopped by the procession so just joined in the cheering and spirit of festivity. Some may have come because this is what their friends wanted to do. There could be all kinds of reasons that people gathered to be part of the spectacle just like today when people attend a parade. And we are told that the crowd shouted, “Hosanna. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God. Hosanna.”
Hosanna. This ancient Hebrew word means, ‘he saves.’ Or ‘please save us.’ ‘Save us now.’ So all of these people, from different backgrounds, from different situations and conditions, they all shout, he saves. Save us.
Now doubtless Jesus’ reputation precedes him. Word had gotten around that he gave food to the hungry. That he had healed people of their infirmities. That he had made the blind see and the lame walk. People knew that he also bestowed forgiveness and consolation. He was known for defending the poor and confronting the rich. He was known for challenging the religious authorities for their compromises and their abuses. Some people understood that Jesus was talking about manifesting a new reality. So, Jesus definitely had a reputation. And based on what they knew, what they had heard, what they had experienced, we are told that the crowd shouted, Hosanna. Save us. They have reason to believe that Jesus has the power and authority and inclination to save them. To rescue them from the clutches of life under Roman occupation with its heavy taxation, grinding poverty, and dehumanizing degradation. So the crowd shouts, perhaps in desperation, He saves. Save us!
Just as an aside, given the way that the term save and salvation are often used in some expressions of Christianity today, this shout, Hosanna/he saves was not about going to heaven in the next life. That is not how Jewish people of the first half of the first century in Palestine would have been thinking about “Jesus saves.” For them, it was about being saved from the immediate peril they were experiencing under Roman rule. The crowd shouting, he saves, knew that according to sacred Jewish tradition, God had saved the Jewish people in the past, from the Egyptians, from exile, from bondage, from extinction, really. So they were turning to God in hope and expectation. They were ready for God to save them once again and there were people who thought that Jesus was to be God’s servant undertaking this mission. There were also others in the years before and after Jesus who were thought to be agents of God’s salvation.
But in this story, the crowd cheers to Jesus: Save us.
They are shouting this to a poor man from Galilee, from a rural village, with no home, no clothes, no money, no crown. Riding on a borrowed donkey. Not even a horse. Save us? Later in the week, our stories tell us, a crowd will cry, “Crucify!” “Crucify him!” Kill him. In that public, humiliating spectacle of torture.
Evidently after the procession with the donkey and the palms, the people do not get the saving they expect. Maybe they feel betrayed or cheated. Theologian Megan McKenna observes, “They are not faithful to God’s hopes for them but only to their hopes for God.” [Lent: The Sunday Readings, Megan McKenna, p. 116.] Very wise.
But we are told these stories by gospel writers who want us to know that Jesus DOES actually save. Jesus does bring new life and hope. Jesus does embody a different reality, the realm of God, here and now, in our midst. Jesus does bring salvation, healing, and restoration to right relationship. He brings harmony and balance. He brings dignity and respect. But it is not the way some people expect because Jesus follows the way he is shown by God. He does not let his ministry and his message be shaped by the people, by what is popular, by what is expected. There is no manipulation. No effort at deceptive tactics. He embodies his prayer: Not my will, but thy will be done. Into your hands I commit my spirit. Jesus follows the path of Divine Love, relentlessly, without departure or detour. And that is how he saves.
Jesus saves by showing us the path of surrender and submission into the love, goodness, and grace of God. He shows us how God saves us not through pride or prestige, but through humility. The word for humility comes from the same root as the word for humus, soil, dirt. Humility is grounding. You don’t need to fear the fall when you are not on a pedestal. Jesus offers salvation and healing through anti violence and peace, not through domination or military might. He saves through justice, community, and solidarity, not oppression, subjugation, and abuse. Yes, Jesus saves. Oh how he saves. All we could ever ask for or imagine and more.
But this is not the saving that many people were looking for in Jesus’ day. They wanted a military leader, a king, a ruler, who would kick out the Romans. They wanted to be saved by someone who would play the leader role in a structure of hierarchical domination. But that kind of saving would be playing the same game. Playing by the rules of imperialism and nationalism and ideology. And Jesus doesn’t play by those rules. He is a game changer. Jesus is witnessing to a different paradigm, the commonwealth of God, the true way of salvation, which involves complete trust and submission to the way of Divine Love. He rides a donkey, not a horse.
Yes, Jesus saves. But it will take his death. The seed that falls into the ground and dies to bring forth new life. To bear fruit. He will take up his cross, just as he admonishes his disciples, take up your cross and follow me for to save your life you must lose it. That is the kind of saving Jesus is offering. He is offering a new way of being and relating that is not just another version of nationalistic imperialism.
The saving that Jesus does is completely dependent on God. And it involves complete self-giving. Complete submission and trust. There is no self interest involved. No concern for reputation or even material security. So no one can manipulate Jesus trying to damage his reputation, or take away his wealth, or threaten his power. Because Jesus has submitted to God. He is completely free. We see this in the desert, in the story of the temptation. The devil tries to offer Jesus things, things that even seem consistent with his values, but he refuses. He will be complicit with God alone. So when faced by the crowds, crying out hosanna or crucify, he is still focussed on God and only God. This is salvation from self interest, from self preservation, from concern for reputation, from worry about financial security, from social pressure, from fear. Oh yes, Jesus saves.
As we enter this Holy Week, we are mindful of our need for saving. We, too, need to cry out, Hosanna! Save us! So many concerns. Atlanta, Boulder, Virginia Beach. Three mass shootings in recent days. Hosanna! Growing awareness of racism and racially motivated violence. Hosanna! Our skewed economic system that continues to perpetuate poverty and extreme wealth at the expense of the common good. Hosanna! The lack of access to healthcare for so many. Hosanna! The domestic abuse, which wracks homes. Hosanna! The crumbling ecological infrastructure. Hosanna! The shallow preoccupation with image and money that infuses our culture. Hosanna! The lack of concern and compassion for others. Hosanna! Our hearts are being broken day after day. Or they should be given the situations and conditions around us. Hosanna!
So this holy week we ask, will we let Jesus save us? We know the stories of this week. How Jesus will have his last supper with this friends. How Judas will betray Jesus. How the cock will crow and Peter will have denied Jesus 3 times. How Jesus will go before Pilate. How he will be crucified and die on the cross. And how three days later, there are women who will experience his presence with them. We know these stories. But will we let Jesus save us?
Will we let him pry us free from our desire for control, for having our way, for thinking we know better? Will we let him save us and free our imaginations to create new ways of living in community and solidarity with all people and with Earth? Will we let him save us by opening our hearts and our minds to an alternative reality of justice and goodness and flourishing life for all? Will we let Jesus save us by giving us the strength to turn our backs on all that causes harm to ourselves, to others, and to the Earth? Will we let him save us from our obsession with violence and might? Will we let him save us from the fear that holds us captive and prevents our living full and free? Will we let Jesus free us from the trappings of power and supposed well-being, from collusion and greed? Will we let him instill in us the glory and the freedom of complete submission to the will and way of Divine Love? Will we let Jesus save us? We know the Jesus story. But what will be our story?
I want to share with you a story from Megan McKenna:
“Once upon a time two thieves repented. They had been partners in thieving and in injustice, and they now sought to make restitution and do penance together. They were both given the same penance by the monk. Each was to carry a cross across the desert and arrive at the city to celebrate his conversion/absolution.
“Both started out enthusiastically, shouldering their fifty-pound crosses. The first day they struggled, sweating. The second and third days were torture; their water supply was getting low, the desert hotter, and their crosses seemed heavier. The desert stretched endlessly, its horizon blurry, but they plodded on.
“Later on the third day, while they rested, one decided to shorten his cross. It was still his cross, just substantially shorter. The other decided to thin his cross, and he cut it lengthwise. It was still his cross but much thinner. Both were more manageable, and the next two or three days went much easier. But the men were almost out of water. Finally, they came to water, but it was a rather wide canal that stretched for miles. They had been warned that this canal was filled with flesh-eating fish. They looked at their crosses. They could use them as bridges! The first laid his across the canal, but it was too short. He died in the desert. The other’s cross was long enough, but when he put his weight on it, it broke and he fell into the water. . . .
“The holy man who tells this story eyes his listeners and asks them, ‘And your cross? Are you changing it, shortening it, thinning it, making your life easier? What will happen when you need your cross to bridge the gulf, to save you from evil and harm?’” [McKenna pp. 185-186]
Jesus takes up his cross and he is saved. He shows us the way. We know his story. This week we ask, Will we take up our cross? Will we let Jesus save us? Or will we flee, desert, betray, or join the crowd shouting, “Crucify him”? Amen.
UNISON READING Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., adapted
The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of convenience but where they stand in moments of challenge, moments of great crisis and controversy. And this is where I choose to cast my lot today. There may be others who want to go another way, but when I took up the cross I recognized its meaning. It is not something that you merely put your hands on. It is not something that you wear. The cross is something that you bear and ultimately that you die on.
MUSIC There is a Balm in Gilead, Deep River
trad. African-American (arr. HKJ)
The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:
- Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world.
- Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
- Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.
Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.
Offertory Still My Soul (Finlandia) Sibelius
Prayer of Dedication Beth Richardson, adapted
Jesus, our mentor of wholeness, guide us through the streets of our journey. Open our eyes and our ears to the leading of God’s spirit calling us to costly faithfulness and to joyous wholeness. Amen.
MUSICAL CALL TO PRAYER Let the Lower Lights Be Burning — Bliss
COMMUNITY PRAYERS – SAVIOR’S PRAYER
Eternal Spirit, Earth Maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that ever shall be,
Father and Mother of all people, Loving God in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by all peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and
come on earth!
With the bread that we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and forever. Amen.
*BENEDICTION (unison) A New Zealand Prayer Book
Jesus, when you rode into Jerusalem
the people waved palms
with shouts of acclamation.
Grant that when the shouting dies
we may still walk beside you even to a cross. . . .
*POSTLUDE Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley
trad. African- American