Service sheet 5th April 2020
Call to worship
The story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem,
tells us that after his celebrated arrival,
he went into the Temple
and looked around at everything.
As I prepare for worship today,
may it be with a sense that Jesus
has walked in too, and is looking around.
May my eyes be open to see him,
may my heart be ready to be seen by him,
may my worship be worthy of his presence,
and may I be transformed
so that I see the world through his eyes.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-F8mdyhRVmU – Give thanks to the Lord, our God and King (Singing the Faith 77)
If we are ill, strengthen us.
If we are tired, fortify our spirits.
If we are anxious, help us to consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air.
Help us not to stockpile treasures from supermarkets in the barns of our larders.
Don’t let fear cause us to overlook the needs of others more vulnerable than ourselves.
Fix our eyes on your story and our hearts on your grace.
Help us always to hold fast to the good,
See the good in others,
And remember there is just one world, one hope,
One everlasting love, with baskets of bread for everyone.
In Jesus we make our prayer,
The one who suffered, died and was raised to new life,
In whom we trust these days and all days,
The Revd Barbara Glasson, President of the Methodist Conference
Psalm 118: 1-2. 19-29
Isaiah 50: 4-9a
Philippians 2: 5-11
You can see a dramatized reading of the entry into Jerusalem using Lego here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4sX-fJosw8 )
For a lighter, modern version, you can also see Rev Phil Summers in action here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXRWWDMaDv0
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MD9rMkIS1yw – Ride on ride on in majesty (Singing the Faith 265)
For many of us, today would have been marked by a walk of witness through the streets, waving palm branches and singing loud hosannas. This year, of course, things will be very different, and perhaps like me, you are wondering how to celebrate or even feeling guilty that you’re not in the mood to cheer. It’s hard to feel triumphant in isolation.
It’s a shame the lectionary, yet again, cuts off before the story gets really interesting. Because, of course, after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem like the return of a wandering hero, Jesus heads straight to the temple and gets really cross. It’s almost as if he has a tantrum, pushing tables over and causing total chaos. This part of the story brings into sharp focus the contrast between the crowds who hail his arrival cramming the streets to catch a glimpse of their Messiah, and the authorities who are becoming increasingly agitated with the actions of this agitator. We all know the fickle nature of this crowd who less than a week later will be baying for his blood.
Jesus is an odd figure-head, rejecting power and choosing a different way. The crowd in Jerusalem were living under occupation by a foreign army. They were oppressed and ruled by fear. Their hope was that the Roman occupiers would be overthrown and life would be restored. Jesus was that hope and they pin their expectations upon him. When they cry ‘Hosanna’, this is as much a political cry as it is theological, for hosanna means ‘rescue’ or ‘save’ us. Its implication is that they are in need of rescuing; that their current conditions are far from perfect. ‘Hosanna’ is a challenge to those in power, a subversive criticism in a world where that kind of talk could end up getting you killed.
No wonder then, that Jesus disappointed them and they quickly turned against him. This was a king without an army, without financial backing, who refused to look like a king, refused to act like a king. He had the opportunity to ride a magnificent stallion, but chose a ridiculous donkey instead.
With a bit more time on my hands, I’ve been exploring boxsets on Netflix and have stared watching The Crown. Those of you who know me may be aware I’m not much of a royalist, but I’m finding this series fascinating from a social history perspective and it is giving me a greater understanding of the British monarchy. Although the series has been fictionalised in parts, it seems that those around the ‘Crown’ are constantly terrified of the potential erosion of its power and will do anything to maintain the appearance of strength and leadership. I have never been terribly comfortable with attributing the title ‘King’ to Jesus, and The Crown is confirming my belief that Jesus is the antithesis of monarchical rule. I’ve never found Jesus to be terribly interested in doing or saying things for the sake of appearance. Just as Jesus defied expectations of being a Messiah, he does the same with our expectations of being a king.
The swift change of scene from the streets strewn with cloaks and branches to the tables of the temple money changers reminds me that the economy of Jesus is very different from the economics we are used to. One lesson the coronavirus pandemic is teaching us is our value judgements are having to shift. Suddenly supermarket workers are more useful than accountants (apologies to any accountants out there!). Our cars, holidays, nice clothes are all meaningless when confronted by the potential loss of health, the loss of family. Jesus is a populist leader who attracts large crowds, but he refuses to get drawn into their expectations. How easy would it have been to assert his influence and justify spending money on an elaborate campaign? How easy would it have been to throw on an expensive tunic to stand out and be noticed, to ride a horse to give him greater height so more people could see him? How easy would it have been to have a red-carpet moment, just for once? How easy would it have been to hold his tongue when speaking to the political and religious authorities because in diplomacy there always has to be compromise? How easy would it have been to stay alive just a little longer, to heal more people, to spread the good news a bit wider, if it just meant not getting under the skin of those in power? How easy would it have been to just behave himself, to keep that temper of his under check, to smile politely if it meant not facing arrest?
Put like this, his crucifixion could easily have been predicted. His execution inevitable.
Jesus does not conform to our expectations. He goes to those who are broken, those who can’t afford temple sacrifices. He provided free health care because his currency is life and love, not insurance and conditions.
John Dominic Crossan writes: ‘Jesus does not ride a stallion or a mare, a mule or a male donkey, and not even a female donkey. He rides the most unmilitary mount imaginable: a female nursing donkey with her little colt trotting along beside her.’ Stay with that image for a while. That the way of Jesus might be seen to be nonviolent is in contrast to the next scene where he overturns tables in a riotous act. These two Jesus’ seem incompatible, but I believe there is no inconsistency here. The temple scene demonstrates the passion Jesus has for justice and his anger at those who suffer. This is often described as being righteous anger, because he was taking a great personal risk by behaving in such a way. His decision to side with those who had little or no economic value is woven throughout his ministry, and his choice of a female donkey and his choice to overturn tables is consistent with his message of justice, mercy and love.
At every turn, Jesus provoked attention, and not always the good kind. The further through his ministry the more every action and every word was scrutinised and eventually determined to be a threat to the establishment. His civil disobedience could not be tolerated for much longer. Our passage for today might end with the crowd asserting Jesus as prophet and Son of David, but look again at verse 10 – the whole city was in turmoil. The entry into Jerusalem might have caused quite a stir and this crowd is volatile.
This turmoil is what stands out for me this week. I have always enjoyed the experience of Palm Sunday; the celebration before the contemplation of Holy Week, a chance to dance before the solemn waiting. But I have not noticed this word ‘turmoil’ before. Is there something here about the turmoil we are living through right now? The turmoil of the pandemic? The turmoil each of us is trying to keep a lid on? Does Jesus cause a turmoil – well, that’s not quite what I think Matthew is saying. It sounds to me as if the city would have been in turmoil whether Jesus had arrived or not, because people are living through difficult days. Jesus doesn’t always behave how we expect. Instead he is a living example of justice, of unifying his words and actions. What might that teach us as we sit in our homes for another week? There is much rhetoric spoken of regarding the coronavirus, much of it framed in the language of war, as if our words of violence can reduce this threat. Jesus doesn’t show up waving a ‘V’ sign at us, giving us platitudes that everything is going to be ok and then riding off to a disinfected palace. Instead, Jesus shows up and stays with us. He stays with us through the turmoil. He stays with us regardless of the pandemonium and panic.
Of course we read this passage in the knowledge of what comes next. But sit with this awhile. The Ignatian way of reading the bible is to immerse yourself in the story, to imagine you are there. So I invite you to read again this passage and put yourself there with the sights, sounds and smells. Who will you choose to focus on? One of the crowd? A disciple? A chief priest? What do you feel? Spend some time listening for God’s word speaking to you today and let that word wash over you.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRUp5JiRFu0 – My Song is Love Unknown (Singing the Faith 277)
For the layers of comfort and convenience that surrounded our lives and that we never considered a blessing but always just took for granted, forgive us.
For we who must grieve in isolation and not in community, comfort us.
For we who care for the sick, protect us.
For the ability to turn off the fear-mongering and unhelpful commentary and worst-case scenario click bait, strengthen us.
For the times when we are all out of creative ideas for how to get through this with cooped up kids, inspire us.
For we who are now cutting our own bangs at home, guide us.
For the grace to allow ourselves and others to just be less productive, shower us.
For the generosity needed from those of us who have more resources, empower us.
From our own selfish inclinations, deliver us.
For just being your children, none of whom have done a global pandemic before, love us.
For the days ahead, accompany us.
God, unbound by time, help us to know that you are already present in the future we are fearing.
(Nadia Bolz Weber)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dAiBntMtViY – Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest (Singing the Faith 263)
We have gathered with the crowds crying Hosanna!
Because even if we were silent
the stones themselves would have called out.
We have shared the hope for a world about to be changed,
and then it changed.
We have walked with another crowd.
One that called words of scorn and condemnation.
And now we follow the crowd as it leads out to the cross,
and yet even as the world grows dark,
we cannot lose hope.
Because God is with us.
God will be with us.
We are not alone.
And so we watch the crowd and we follow…