In this week's post, I have include most of the liturgical material since the service hangs together as a unity.
Choral Introit, Hymn and procession of palm branches
"Ride On, Ride On" #126 VU (choir sings first three verses, congregation stands and joins for verses four and five as the children process in with branches)
May God's Love be with you!
Welcome to Sunday morning worship at Knox United Church. My name is Ian Kellogg and I am a student minister here at Knox this year. We have just experienced a different start to our service this morning -- the choir, a hymn, and the procession of palms branches by the kids. These differences reflect the fact that today, Palm Sunday, is the first day of the most important week in the Christian year. Today is the first day of Holy Week.
The hymn, "Ride On", which we just sang, seems to fit because, although it is a hymn written for the happiness and hope of Palm Sunday, it also echoes the sadness of Good Friday. It mentions both screams of delight and jeers; both palm branches of peace and tears, and both angel voices and evil voices. Today is Palm Sunday and it is also Passion Sunday. It is the first day of a mixed up week; and we will discuss this mix-up a bit more with the children in a few minutes.
Palm Sunday is also the sixth and final Sunday in Lent. It marks the entry of Jesus and his followers into Jerusalem. We also remember this morning the fateful events later that week that lead to Jesus' crucifixion on Good Friday.
This morning, we will also end our service differently. We move right from the Prayers of the People to the Offering; and from there to a Blessing. After the Blessing, we will not sing the usual Benediction Song. Instead, the choir will gather at the front of the sanctuary to sing a Benediction Anthem, the Good Friday hymn "O Sacred Head." As the choir sings, Maurice Buffel and Vic Hawtin will process a cross to the front of the sanctuary. We will return to this cross on Good Friday during the 10 am service and again on Easter Sunday worship one week from today. After the anthem, Vic and Maurice will then lead the choir down the centre aisle and out of the sanctuary. Doreen will not play music, and I will not stand at the back to greet people as they leave. Instead, you are encouraged to stay and sit for a minute of reflection, and then to come and join in our usual time of coffee and fellowship in the Church Hall.
We hope the service this morning -- which begins and ends with two contrasting but connected processions -- will help us feel both sides of the Holy City of Jerusalem: both its golden promise as shown on Palm Sunday and its reality as a place of death and desolation as shown on Good Friday. We also hope that this morning will point us to the joy of new life on Easter morning, one week from today.
As always, we enter into worship today by lighting a candle. The light of this candle could represent the light of God that leads us into Jerusalem with Jesus. This morning we gather in hope to reflect and remember . . .
We now turn our attention to the Life and Work of the Congregation. There are a number of announcements printed in the Bulletin, which I hope we will all take time to read. Are there other announcements for the community to hear. . .
Hearing no (more), we now ask if there are any birthdays being celebrated this week and offerings for the birthday jar?
Finally, we think about prayers and celebrations that are on our hearts and minds this week. . . Are there any prayer requests for the community to hear?
Hearing no (more,) let us now sing together all six verses of our seasonal Hymn.
* HYMN "Throughout These Lenten Days and Nights" #108 VU
And now the call to worship and opening prayer . . .
CALL TO WORSHIP (said together)
There is no turning back.
Jesus enters Jerusalem to confront the powerful
hoping the path will be made gentler
by the carpet of our humble prayers.
We prepare the way in trembling faith.
God of the Cross,
Help us be aware of your presence
as we remember the triumphs and tragedies of Holy Week.
Help us to accept the Grace shown on this difficult path. Amen.
And dear friends, as we prepare to hear again the good news that we are reconciled to God through Christ, please feel free to now turn to your immediate neighbours and offer a gesture of reconciliation.
* PASSING THE PEACE
One: May the Peace of Christ be with you!
All: And also with you!
THEME CONVERSATION: A different kind of week
I now invite those kids who would like, to come and join me on the front steps for a minute before church school.
Good morning. I am glad to see you all this morning. You know what that cartoon is supposed to show, don't you? Yeah, it is supposed to show a roller coaster. Who here likes roller coasters?
Well, when I was about 10, I rode on a roller coaster and afterwards felt kinda sick. So for a long time after that, I didn't go on many rides. But a few years ago, I spent a week at Disney World, and I came to really love roller coasters again.
Well, I thought of roller coasters today because this is Palm Sunday, and the beginning of Holy Week. And Holy Week sometimes feels to me like a roller coaster ride. We start up really high with the Palm Branches and being happy because Jesus has finally come to Jerusalem as the King. And then we go way down; and it is dark and sad and scary because Jesus is betrayed and arrested and he is killed. But the goods news is that we then go way back up next Sunday on Easter when we learn that God has raised Jesus to new life again. This promise of new life is also for all of us too.
So in this one week, we experience two high points and one low point. Perhaps this might confuse some of us. But the good news is that we start and end at a very happy place. Jesus is a King, but he is not a usual type of King. He is a King who comes into the city on a simple donkey, who confronts powerful people, and who gets rejected. But in the end, he shows us how to achieve new life despite the powerful people.
So, I hope the image of a scary roller coaster ride that ends really well might help you think about Holy Week.
And I hope you enjoy talking more about Palm Sunday in church school. But first I have a brief prayer and then we will say the Lord's Prayer together OK? So let us pray . . .
We give thanks for Palm Sunday where Jesus is King and we are happy.
Help us when we don't feel happy and when bad things happen.
Help us to know that Jesus is with us even when life is tough
He is a King inside our hearts whom we can always count on.
Help us to wait for Easter next week and to feel all of its happiness. AMEN.
And now let us pray again together the prayer that Jesus taught us, saying . . .
Our Father . . .
The hymn before church school tells a story of Palm Sunday and children. It is . . .
* HYMN: "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna" #123 VU
Luke 19: 28-40 Jesus enters Jerusalem
Luke 22: 66-23: 25 Jesus before Pilate and Herod
Philippians 2: 5-11 Jesus' humiliation and glory
Luke 23: 26-56 Jesus' death and burial
Since there is so much reading from Scripture this morning, Ric Arthurs and I are going to share the reading.
SERMON: Holy Week and us . . . a short but scary ride from Hosanna to Hallelujah
So we have strapped ourselves into the roller coaster ride of Holy Week for another year. Palm Branches have been waved and laid down as a carpet to welcome Jesus. He has finally entered the golden city of Jerusalem, the site of God's Temple. He has been hailed by children and common people as King.
But in the Scripture passages just read by Ric, we have also quickly rushed ahead to the sixth day of the week, to Good Friday, where Jesus, having been arrested the night before, is tried by Pilate and Herod, condemned to death, crucified, and buried.
Later this week at Knox, we will backtrack one day to Maundy Thursday. On Thursday evening, we will remember and re-enact the Last Supper between Jesus and his friends at a Passover/Seder Meal. And we hope that many of us will be able to come for this Seder Meal at 6 pm on Thursday; and also to Good Friday worship the next morning.
But do we have to get on the roller coaster of Holy Week one more time? As I found out as a kid, roller coaster rides can make you feel sick. And there is so much pain in the Good Friday story. Could we not just skip right over Holy Week, and go directly from Palm Sunday's Hosannas to Easter Sunday's Hallelujahs?
And of course, the answer is "yes." We are under no obligation to walk with Jesus through the events of Holy Week. Our gospel is one of Grace, and Grace is freely given whether we spend Good Friday focusing on suffering and death, or whether we decide to sit out Holy Week and wait until next Sunday when we can enjoy Easter eggs and the story of Jesus' resurrection.
Nevertheless a few words on why Holy Week is important for us.
In all four gospels, Jesus says that following him means taking up our cross and losing our lives. Now this saying of Jesus is not an obligation either. Instead, it is more of a wake up call. His call to lose our lives wakes us up to the truth that we are going to lose our lives no matter how carefully and anxiously we try to preserve them. Better, then, to face facts and find a trusting faith that acknowledges our mortality as well as the transitory nature of all human institutions. When with Grace we find this trusting faith, we also continually find God's new life. This new life flows from spending our lives instead of trying to preserve them.
As we live through Holy Week each Lent, our hope is that we will feel this message of dying to an old way of life deep in our bones and guts. We are going to die, just as Jesus died in solidarity with us on Good Friday. Knowing this bitter truth -- not just in our minds, but also in our hearts -- can help us be present to each gracious moment. By taking up our cross and following Jesus to our own suffering and death, we confront our anxiety, stare it down, leave it behind, and wake up to this moment. We wake up to the new life that arises upon the death of the old anxious one. We wake up to another resurrected moment in God's Kingdom . . .
Now during Holy Week, God's realm might sometimes seem like a Kingdom of Death. But Easter morning shows us that it is also a Kingdom of New Life, now and always.
There is a children's anthem called "Every morning is Easter morning." The title implies that Easter isn't just the unique event of Christ being raised from the dead 1980 years ago. Easter is also the possibility of new life in any situation. For Jews and early Christians, this might mean continuing to worship and praise God after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 AD. For individuals, it might mean continued hope and energy after the death of loved ones. For people living with addictions, it might new life after hitting bottom and starting recovery.
It could mean new life after a divorce, after leaving home as a young adult, or after starting a second career. For a congregation, it could mean new life after merging with a neighbouring church. For a nation, it could mean new life after economic disaster or defeat in a war. And for all of us, it means the promise of continued life within the Spirit of God through the Grace of Christ beyond our earthly existence.
New life is all around us, all the time. In lives filled with loss, God always gives us opportunities for new beginnings, even at the very end.
Our hope is that spending the Season of Lent in prayer and reflection and hearing the story of the Passion of the Christ during Holy Week will help us wake up to God's path of faith, hope, and love.
On the other hand, I believe that it is OK not to observe Lent and not to throw ourselves 100% into Holy Week. The arc of human life, both for individuals and for society, is such that we are confident that all will be received by God's Grace at the end. The purpose of seasons like Lent is simply to remind ourselves of this Grace and to hear again the still, small voice of Jesus saying, "wake up, wake up . . . the time is now" . . .
But if we miss the wake-up call this time, there is always the next moment. Life is an endless string of moments; and each one is a gracious opportunity to soberly see our beautiful reality and thus be moved to thanksgiving, praise and service. And one of the key things we remember in worship is that God's support is always here for us whether we are aware of it or not.
Life is precious. Holy Week reminds us of how fragile it is and how much pain and suffering it can also hold. But by staying awake to the tough realities in Holy Week, we also stay awake to the promise that is shown on Easter morning.
Life is beautiful and sometimes filled with pain. Life is a call to love and is also filled with violence. Life is fragile, and it is also always supported by the love of God. Life leads to death; but death leads to new life.
Holy Week, with all its triumph and tragedy, reminds us of the pain, joy and promise of life. So . . . this week, may we all live it fully and feel it deeply.
We have come with Jesus all the long way to Jerusalem. By following him this Lent to the end, even to the foot of the cross, may we confront our deepest fears, and then move past them with Christ to Easter morning.
Lent is almost over. Easter is almost here.
Come, Lord Jesus, Come.
Our hymn of response is
* HYMN "Were You There" #144 VU
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
And now let us pray . . .
Let us pray,
for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus
for all people everywhere according to their need
and for the entire web of life . . .
God of Life and Death, help us to be aware that you are with us every moment ; help us to give thanks for this and all our blessings.
For the path of faith hope and love shown by Jesus, we give thanks
For time to remember, reflect, repent and renew, we give thanks.
For new life which flows from the death of our anxious old life, we give thanks
For the eternal now, in which your support is always present, we give thanks.
God of Lent,
We have finally come to the end of of our annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem with Jesus. Help us to hear Jesus' call of repentance, love and justice in the Temple and at the Last Supper. Help us to stay awake with him on the night of his betrayal. Help us to bear the stories of his suffering for us.
And help us to give and receive love regardless of what happens in our journey.
God of Hope,
As we live through another Good Friday, may we keep the vision of Easter's New Life in front of us as our guiding light.
God of Healing,
May we feel your healing touch during times of physical and emotional pain, in times of loss, and when we feel afraid and alone.
God, we need your loving presence.
We raise up for support and love those that we have named aloud and those whom we now remember in silence . . .
Gracious God, these are our concerns, these are our joys, these are our prayers. We lift them up to you.
All of this we pray in the name of the Risen Christ, our Redeemer and our Hope. Amen
We now return a small portion of what we have been given. The offering will now be received.
* OFFERING & THANKSGIVING #542 VU
We give you but your own,
What e'er the gift may be,
All that we have is yours alone,
We give it gratefully.
God of all peoples and God of all places,
we present these offerings,
that they may be used to extend your liberating reign.
With them, we offer our varied ministries,
that each of us may be part of your answer
to the cries of the world. Amen
Dear friends, as we leave this sacred place,
we go into the world knowing that we do so
with the Love of God
the Grace of Christ
and the Communion of the Holy Spirit both now and always. Amen.
Please feel free to sit during the benediction anthem and the processing of the cross.
Benediction Anthem "O Sacred Head Sore Wounded
Processing of the Cross
Time for quiet reflection