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Tell Everyone! / Setting the Table: from Passover to Passion

Children's sermon
For April 14, 2019:
  • Tell Everyone! by Bethany Peerbolte — In the past, Jesus has told people to keep quiet about what they have seen or heard. On Palm Sunday he sets them free to shout out loud what they know to be true.
  • Jesus’ Money Management Plan by Chris Keating — Jesus’ eagerness to eat Passover with the disciples sets the table for all that is to come — reminding us of what it means to witness the outpouring of God’s love in Holy Week.
  • Sermon illustrations from Ron Love, Tom Willadsen and Mary Austin.
  • Worship resources by George Reed that focus on not being able to keep silent; God’s reign as portrayed in banquet.
  • Children’s sermon: Praise the Lord! by Dean Feldmeyer — Praising God isn’t just something we do because everyone else is doing it; it’s something we do because it’s part of who we are; it’s in our Christian DNA.
Note: This installment is still being edited and assembled. For purposes of immediacy we are posting this for your use now with the understanding that any errors or omissions will be corrected between now and Tuesday afternoon.

Bethany PeerbolteTell Everyone!
by Bethany Peerbolte
Luke 19:28-40, John 12:12-16

Watch any video of an animal’s first steps and they will prove that first steps are tricky. Legs are weak and so balance and footing can falter. Distance and pressure and timing and so many other details can throw a first step off course. Then if the first steps go well the achievement can give false courage and convince the new walker they can also swim. A newborn zebra in Spain made that mistake this week when it needed to be rescued from a pond minutes after learning to walk.

Despite the challenges and risks first steps are absolutely necessary for anyone to get anywhere. So, we all must take those wobbly first steps. Palm Sunday is the wobbly first step toward a new way of being in relationship with God. This Sunday is the wobbly first step toward living out a different truth, one where Jesus is king, messiah, lord, and savior. In the past, Jesus has told people to keep quiet about what they have seen or heard. On Palm Sunday he sets them free to shout out loud what they know to be true.

The step is wobbly. By Friday the joyous welcome will turn into an angry mob. When the crowd realizes they aren’t getting their rebellion they will demand Jesus’ life. Darkness is as much a part of the process as is pain and struggle. By next Sunday we will all be happy we endured the first step because the next ones are amazing!

In the Word
The lectionary provides two options for presenting Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Luke 19 and John 12. Luke’s account includes picking up a donkey from Bethany, calling to the forefront the prophecy from Zechariah 9. It isn’t a far-fetched idea to think Jesus had made the arrangement to pick up the colt in advance. He had friends in Bethany and visited multiple times, so it is probable that he made a deal with the animal’s owner for use on this day. Acquiring the animal before entry to the city suggests that Luke wants readers to know this was intentional. Luke leaves no room for coincidence or chance. Jesus planned to ride into the city on a colt on this day, purposefully fulfilling the Zechariah prophecy.

In Luke the people recognize the royal procession and lay down their cloaks on the road in front of Jesus — creating a soft carpet for the animal to walk on. Their shouts include their understanding of Jesus as a king coming in the name of the Lord. They echo the choirs of angels at Jesus’ nativity saying, “peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.” Jesus’ response to the crowd is gracious and welcoming. He allows them to shout their titles and welcome. In the past, he has instructed people to stay quiet about who he is and what he is capable of. That order has been rescinded, now Jesus allows them to speak their truth out loud.

However, not everyone in the crowd was joyous. Pharisees mutter about the problem the crowd is creating, Rome will not be happy if they get wind of a messiah demonstration. Again, Jesus is ready for the moment and declares that if the people were quiet the stones and creation would begin to shout the same message. Jesus has prepared his response and mindfully makes the challenge to the Pharisees, stating his purpose plainly, he will defy authority.

While Luke’s telling makes Jesus the party planner for the celebration, John leaves a little more to happenstance. The people hear Jesus is on his way and decide to meet him on the road with palm branches. They shout “Hosanna!” which means “Save us, I pray” and call Jesus “King of Israel” a political challenge to the actual king. In Luke Jesus makes the challenge, but here the people recognize Jesus’ calling themselves.

Upon seeing the welcome Jesus so happens to find a young donkey nearby and takes a seat. John’s account of the day does not suggest there was much forethought or planning. The reaction of the crowd was completely spontaneous, and the event unfolded naturally.

In verse 16, readers find out the disciples were not putting the puzzle pieces together. The two major pieces are the donkey’s connection to Zechariah, which is quoted by John to help the readers not make the same mistake. The other major piece of the puzzle is the palms and their connection to Hanukkah. When Maccabaeus defeated the invaders and cleansed the temple his followers entered the city celebrating with palm branches. Essentially Jesus was about to bring together Hanukkah and Passover.

It says the disciples were confused up until Jesus was glorified. The idea of being glorified would have held a deep understanding that glorification is a process with a defined beginning and end. Every event in the middle is part of the process of glorification. This is the beginning, when Jesus first turns to face death full on. The ending…well we will get to that next Sunday.

In the News
We have lived in the #MeToo world for 13 years. No kidding! The phrase was first used in 2006. This movement is a great example of people once told to be silent, finally being able to speak their truth. At first the #MeToo stories focused on sexual assault. Stories of rape, forced touching, and unwanted kissing made the most headlines. Then sexual abuse and harassment stories began to be told. Victims of sexual acts toward children, coercion, relentless pressure for dates, unwanted touching even when a sexual act did not happen, felt safe to tell their truth. These stories share one thing, intention of harm, but now we are being asked to take another step forward. Now we need to address the problem of Joe Biden. He did not intend any sexual meaning to his actions but still made women feel uncomfortable. Now we must decide if he belongs in the same category as Nassar, Cosby, and Weinstein.

One perspective is to recognize there is benevolent sexism. This kind of sexism looks like it agrees with feminists, but still places men as her necessary hero. Benevolent sexism says they want equality, even openly fight for equality, but also take credit for their part in breaking through a glass ceiling. The hero of the story are the men who fought for women. Women are still the weak but grateful damsels.

Churches can relate to this problem. There was a time the work of a missionary was to find a poor unfortunate community of souls and fix them, or, in other words, westernize and convert them. Many have seen the error of this kind of ministry and begun the work to stop “white savior syndrome.” There is still work to be done, but the church has experience with a benevolence problem. We are uniquely situated to help society make this first step away from all forms of sexism.

Taking steps forward can be painful too. Some people in Maryland want to take a step toward separating church and state. Their WWI memorial is a towering 40 foot cross, that now sits on a busy intersection. Opposition does not think it is appropriate to have the religious symbol on public lands and maintained by government employees and funds. Supporters point to the cross’s history of being funded by local families and the names of their fallen neighbors on the memorial as reasons it needs to stay. This week the supreme court will rule on the case. We will see if Maryland can take a step forward in recognizing not everyone is comfortable with a religious symbol being so central in their community.

These steps forward in sexism and religious separation from state are tricky. There was a time when neither one of these issues would even spark a moment of concern. However, because of the steps forward we have already taken we now know them to be concerning. There was a time when three burned churches would not mean much more than a rampant arson on the loose. When three churches in Louisiana also had predominantly black congregations the community recognized the acts as hate crimes. We know better now. We know to look for the deeper motivations. We know to be more inclusive of others perspective. We know to listen to the victims. We have taken steps forward before and we can do it again.

In the Sermon
Palm Sunday is a prime example of people taking a step toward God’s kingdom. Before this day Jesus has asked people to remain silent about who he is. He has healed and told people to stay quiet. He has taught and told people to be quiet. Peter was told to be quiet when he correctly identifies Jesus as Messiah. Then Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey and the time to be quiet is over. Whether we prioritize Luke’s well-planned parade or John’s unexpected welcome, the people are free to speak their truth.

Taking a step toward God’s kingdom is never easy. There was a time when you could be killed for accidentally injuring a neighbor. Even if the injury was minor. Israel took a step toward God’s kingdom by declaring the eye for an eye law. This meant the injury that was given would be the highest form of injury received as punishment. The new law reigned in their previously wild revenge-based system, and took a wobbly first step toward God’s kingdom. Once they found their footing in the eye for an eye system, Jesus then asked them to take another step toward the Kingdom by declaring they should turn the other cheek.

The step will be clumsy. The crowd on Palm Sunday expects a rebellion to follow and for Jesus to pick up a sword. When Jesus refuses to start the fight their joy relapses into anger. The direction they thought the step was leading to turns out to be wrong. It will take a while to reteach what messiah means. Jesus is not a fighting warrior king but a suffering servant king. It will take pain and struggle to incorporate this new found truth into society. Soon they will know better.

The Palm Sunday crowd has a lot in common with our world today. They are suddenly facing a new way of living. Their ideas are still not perfectly in line with God but at least they are open to a new way. We are facing a new way of living, where victims can speak their truth even in opposition to power. We haven’t gotten it right yet, but we clumsily kick our feet out in front of us and trust that God will help us find our footing. For now we need to keep encouraging people to shout their truth, and be ready to take the next step.

Chris KeatingSetting the Table: from Passover to Passion
by Chris Keating
Luke 22:14--23:56

The hour arrives, and Jesus takes his place. Darkness descends on the room as evening approaches — but there are other shadows forming as well. Jesus’ presence in Jerusalem stirs the people, and the religious officials are watching. Secrecy and mystery cling to the edges of the narrative, with Peter and John sent on a cryptic mission, and the chief priests and Judas hatching a plan to capture Jesus. All is set in motion.

Luke’s gospel tells of many different types of meals, but none are quite like this Passover. Our image of the Last Supper is influenced by Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting and other illustrations that portray Jesus and the disciples sitting on one side of the table — as if they were posing for a photograph or waiting for the bill. Yet a close reading of Luke’s passion narrative yields something different. Jesus comes not to be served, but to serve and his expectations are the same for the apostles. In light of the events that are about to happen, his eagerness seems out of place.

He’s shared many meals, but only here do we hear Jesus say, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you.” It does not appear to make sense. Why the eagerness? With all that is about to happen, why is this night so different from all other nights?

For one thing, this Passover will highlight the stark contrasts between Jesus’ kingdom and human realms. In God’s realm, all who gather are fed — betrayer and clay footed believer alike. Jesus’ kingdom will soon collide with the kingdom of the world. In human kingdoms, power and betrayal go hand in hand.

Passion Sunday invites us to reflect on these competing allegiances. Jesus’ expectations of the apostles are clear. His kingdom rubs against tides of racism, nationalism, and experiences of misogyny. Even the contemporary geographical kingdoms of the world share in this conflict: in Great Britain, it’s the upheaval surrounding Brexit; in Brunei, it is hostility toward homosexuals; in Syria it’s the redefinition of a post-ISIS nation.

Jesus’ Last Supper invites us to rethink our relationships to each of these kingdoms. The table is set, and the hour is come. It’s time to take our seats as Christ’s passion begins.

In the News
The narrative contrasts the kingdom of Jesus — characterized by justice, self-giving love, healing and forgiveness — with the violent, unjust and disruptive kingdoms of earth. Filled by lack of concern for others and a preoccupation with injustice, the chaos of the teetering kingdoms of the world dominates the news.

In the kingdom of Brunei, for example, new legislation levies capital punishment for adultery and homosexuality. Anyone found guilty of the offenses will be stoned. The tiny kingdom also enacted amputations as penalties for theft. In Syria, the collapse of ISIS has led to the displacement of tens of thousands of people. Children are starving, and hospitals are struggling to respond to the overwhelming needs of sick and injured persons. In the United States, racial tensions continue to mount following the burning of three black churches in Louisiana over the past ten days.

Meanwhile, the British parliament continues wrestling with the pending departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union — creating its own version of strife and chaos.

The failure of British Prime Minister Theresa May to reach a compromise in Brexit negotiations illustrates the floundering character of postmodern kingdoms. Without a deal with the European Union, Britain’s exit from the EU in April will likely result in serious economic upheaval. While pro-Brexit forces claim the effects will be less drastic, there are still concerns that lacking some compromise, Brexit will result in a rocky divorce from the EU.

Critics of Brexit suggest that the current political chaos is a result of the “Leaver” side not having a well-defined plan, as well as May’s inability to create a compromise.

“We are reduced to this,” writes Martin Fletcher in the New Statesman. “A humiliated, supplicant British prime minister sitting alone in a Brussels side room for six hours while the rest of the European Union discusses our fate. A government no longer capable of governing. A country that has become a byword for chaos and dysfunction. A sundered “United Kingdom.”

It all seems to reflect Winston Churchill’s comment that “I think I can save the British Empire from anything — except the British.”

Yet political chaos is hardly unique to the UK. In the United States, President Trump’s administration continues to experience an unprecedented level of departures of top officials, including this week’s resignation of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and the firing of Secret Service Director Randolph Alles. Trump now holds the record for White House staff turnover — a dubious achievement at best, since the loss of leadership can be catastrophic.

“The disruption is highly consequential,” Max Stier, the president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit organization that specializes in federal government management issues. “When you lose a leader, it has a cascade effect throughout the organization.”

In a posting for the progressive publication Counter Punch, Graham Peebles notes that he views the collective impact of these destructive forces as indicators of a cultural digression into isolated realms of fear. Peebles point is worth considering:

We have all been the victims of such sociological/psychological conditioning, some more, some less. Conditioned images of oneself and of others are unconsciously built up, attachment to content made firm. Far from creating the security we yearn for, attachment to the construct ensures fear is maintained. Instead of allowing ourselves to be, we have become something — someone: we belong to a nation, and share in its values; its history and traditions become ours, as do its enemies. We are Brazilian, French, British, American, etc.; successful, middle class, or unsuccessful and poor; white or non-white; a colonizer or the colonized; strong or weak, ideologically inclined — Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, socialist, capitalist, and so on. The image of ‘me’ in contrast to the ‘you’ is formed, the ‘us’ against ‘them’ takes root; my country versus your country, my political party against yours, my God versus your God, my opinions versus yours and so on, and on, and on.

And on and on. In contrast, the kingdom Jesus confers upon the apostles brings healing and freedom. “I confer on you,” says Jesus, “just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom…” (22:28-30)

In the Word
As if Holy Week itself was not exhausting, the seemingly extraordinarily long gospel lection poses additional burdens. Choosing where to focus is a daunting task, especially if the Palm Sunday texts will also be incorporated into worship.

First look at how the text includes several smaller units, including the Passover preparations (22:1-13), the meal and accompanying dialogue (22:14-38), Jesus’ prayer on the Mount of Olives (22:39-46), his betrayal, arrest, and torture (coupled with Peter’s denial) in 22:47-65, concluding with Jesus’ trial, sentencing, crucifixion and death (22:63-23:56). Within this broad swath of narrative there are sub-units also worth exploring, including several features distinctive to Luke’s gospel.

The passion is introduced by the Passover meal, itself a symbolic retelling of Israel’s exodus. Jesus prepares the disciples for his departure, conferring on them authority and freedom. While meals play an important part of Luke’s telling of the Gospel (see Marcus Barth, Rediscovering the Lord’s Supper, p. 71), there are several features which set this Passover apart.

Luke notes the sharing of two cups during the meal (22:20), along with the earnestness of his prayer in the Mount of Olives (22:44). He contrasts Jesus’ “hour” (22:14) with the “hour” of the power of darkness (22:53). Throughout it all, an air of injustice permeates the story, though Jesus continues to model forgiveness (23:34) even until the moment of his (23:42).

God’s self-giving love is poured out for all, just as the cup is poured. Service becomes the hallmark of the authority of this new kingdom: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you…”

Jesus’ expression of eagerness to share in the Passover seems problematic. To those of us who know where this is headed, this may seem misplaced. But his eagerness is not just an antsy, let’s-get-going attitude. Rather, it suggests that Jesus remain in control of what is happening and demonstrates his obedience to God by the conferring of a new and sacred form of relationship. As he calls them to the rich act of remembering (anamnesis), Jesus models what it means to live in the kingdom of the world.

In the Sermon
The overwhelming arc of the passion narrative is a challenge for a preacher and congregation alike. Many in the church will not attend to the details of Holy Week, and will thus miss the shadows of Maundy Thursday, the emptiness of Good Friday, and the emerging hope of Holy Saturday. They will go from Palm Sunday’s “Hosannas!” to Easter morning’s “Alleluia’s!” without stopping in between to consider Jesus’ passion.

The passion narrative reminds us of what is at stake in Holy Week. Jesus’ enters the city to cheers and accolades but is soon rejected and despised. He risks everything for the kingdom of God that stands in marked contrast to the kingdom of Herod, or the prefecture of Pilate. In the meal that he shares, Jesus risks his friendship with the disciples for the sake of the kingdom.

In her recent introduction to the texts of Holy Week, biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine suggests that the story of Jesus’ last days offer several challenges. “What do we stand for? What do we believe in? When do we stand up for those beliefs? ... When a friend comes to you and says, ‘What is the cross that you’re bearing? What is the cause that you have taken up? How much have you risked?’ Do you know what your answer is? That’s entering the Passion.” (Levine, Entering the Passion of Jesus, Abingdon Press, 2018, p. 17.)

Worship this Sunday invites the congregation to begin the journey of Holy Week. The service begins with shouts of acclaim but could then move closer to the encroaching shadows. The sermon could uphold the contrasts of the brick and mortar kingdoms of the world with the kingdom of God. It could also explore understandings of sacrifice and service so crucial to Jesus’ self-giving love.

Weaving the elements and drama of the Passion narrative into Sunday’s sermon will also uphold the call to servant leadership — a lifestyle far removed from our society. Our earthly kingdoms reject this sort of leadership and way of living. Throughout his passion, however, Jesus enacts the words he spoke at dinner, “I am among you as one who serves.”

Take that challenge and explore what that might mean for your congregation this Holy Week. Allow the contours of service, love, and gracious acceptance of others to frame the sermon and its introduction to the days ahead. Jesus’ pouring of himself calls us to be poured into the world — all in anticipation of the great joy of Easter. Levine notes that “Americans don’t like accepting service from others. We get nervous when friends, let alone strangers, go out of their way to be helpful, especially if they act in a way that is not convenient or pleasant, for them personally. But Jesus teaches us that we need to receive, with gratitude gifts that are appropriate to the occasion and marked by generosity.” (Levine, p. 124.)


Ron LoveFrom team member Ron Love:

Palm Sunday
A devotional was written, and all that church historians know about it is that it was published in Manchester, England. The author chose to remain anonymous, and it was probably written in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century. The title of the meditation is Meditations for Every Day from Palm Sunday to Low Sunday. The opening line is both thought provoking and inspiring. It reads, “The entry of Christ into Jerusalem is the symbol of his entry into your soul by communion.” It is through the Holy Communion that Christ enters into our souls.

* * *

Good Friday
Thomas Kelly was an evangelical preacher in Dublin. It was his belief that hymns are helpful aids in worship. For this reason he wrote a hymn for all the main themes found in the scriptures. He then arranged the hymns topically. In 1839 his hymnbook was published with the title Hymns on Various Passages of Scripture. The hymn for Good Friday opens with this stanza, “Stricken, smitten, and afflicted, See him dying on the tree! ‘Tis the Christ by man rejected! Yes, my soul, ‘tis he! ‘tis he!” Another interesting stanza reads, “Many hands were used to wound him, None would interpose to save.”

* * *

Holy Saturday
Robert Meek was the rector of Brixton Deverill in England. He called Passion Week the “Great Week.” It was the Great Week, as he wrote, “not because it had more hours or days in it than any other week, but because in this week was transacted an affair of the greatest importance to the happiness of man, and actions truly great were performed to secure his salvation: death was conquered, the devil’s tyranny was abolished, the partition wall betwixt Jew and Gentile was broken down, and God and man were reconciled.” Meek wrote a meditation for each day of the Great Week. The meditations were based on the daily readings designated by the Church of England. His meditations were published in 1835 with the title Passion Week: A Devotional and Practical Exposition of the Epistles and Gospels Appointed for that Season, adapted for use in the Closet and the Family. Meek began with this thought, “Little did Joseph imagine, when he constructed this tomb for himself, that it was destined to be honored as the resting-place, for a short time, of the body of him who is ‘the resurrection and the life!’” He then went on to discuss that death had been conquered, with that sin had been concurred for the penalty of sin is death. As Christians we no longer need to fear death, because, as Meek wrote, “Never did the grave hold such a captive before. But he entered the grave as a conqueror, rather than as a captive. ‘Through death he destroyed death.’” This is why we as Christians can, according to Meek, “... draw near to the grave of Jesus, to see death conquered. Death was the penalty of sin, and therefore to endure this for us and deliver us from it, Christ descends to the grave.”

* * *

Holy Week
On Saturday, March 30, at 8:30 p.m., cities across the globe turned off their lights. Each did it according to their time zone and it was done in recognition of Earth Hour. The Earth Hour gesture calls for greater awareness of climate change and the ecological need to use our resources more sparingly. Earth Hour began in Sydney in 2007, and has now spread to more than 180 countries. In Hong Kong major buildings along Victoria Harbour turned off their non-essential lights and the city’s popular tourist attraction, the Symphony of Lights, was cancelled. In Paris, the city of lights, turned off the Eiffel Tower’s nightly twinkle. This occurred in cities across our planet. In New York City, the Empire State Building went dark.

During Holy Week, there will be many hours for the world to join together as one.

* * *

Good Friday
Anne Bradstreet was North America’s first published poet. But Bradstreet, who died in 1672, has no known burial site. It was thought she was laid to rest on the campus of Merrimack College in Massachusetts, but this turned out to be incorrect. There is a marker for Bradstreet on an old burial ground in town, but it was erected two decades ago and it is not where she is buried. The original marker for her grave was probably wooden, and lost to time and weather. Scholars do believe she was buried close to the Merrimack College campus. The students of a Merrimack College English class, led by Dr. Christy Pottroff, are actively searching for the grave. In their search they hope to revive the legacy and poetry of Anne Bradstreet.

* * *

Holy Week
A recent video of Pope Francis went viral. It showed the Pope pulling away his hand to discourage people from kissing his ring. This incident in Loreto, Italy, had critics saying the Pope was “graceless.” This forced the Vatican spokesman, Alessandro Gisotti, to state the reason the Pope did this: “The Holy Father told me that the motivation was very simple: hygiene. He wants to avoid the risk of contagion for the people, not for him.”

There will be many incidents that occur during Holy Week that we will not understand.

* * *

Palm Sunday / Good Friday
I grew up in a blue-collar manufacturing city in Ohio. We had a steel mill, ship yards, and a Ford Motor plant. It was the 1950s, the age of red, white and blue, and a man would give his bus seat to a woman. It was also a decade that demonstrated the great divide, white and black, Catholic and Protestant, and a Jew could not be found. In this environment I thought the pope could not be very important since he was not an American.

* * *

Holy Week
In the comic strip Frank and Ernest, we have two motley characters that seem to just manage to get through life. The author of the comic is often listed as Thaves. It was created by Bob Thaves, and after his death his son Tom wrote the comic strip. In all the episodes Frank has the dominant personality. In this episode Frank is sitting at his desk, surrounded by papers and open file drawers. Ernie is standing meekly before him. Frank, obviously unshaven, a result of many days of uninterrupted work, says to his friend, “I can’t believe that when I was young I thought the ‘Tax Man’ must be some sort of superhero!”

During Holy Week there will be many incidents in which Jesus is misunderstood.

* * *

Holy Week
Henry Bessemer is best remembered for developing the Bessemer Process, also called the pneumatic conversion process, for making steel. His invention could produce as much steel in 24 minutes that previously took 24 hours. He revolutionized the steel making process, and because of this the last half of the nineteenth century is often called the “age of steel.”

Unknown to most people is that his first invention was the “spinning projectile.” He designed the spinning motion of bullets and artillery shells to increase their accuracy and destructive potential. This killing innovation was invented to assist the French and British during the Crimean War.

As we read the story of Holy Week, we encounter many individuals who had conflicting and contradictory actions. Peter, who was the senior disciple, was also the one who betrayed Jesus. Judas, who was the treasurer, was the one who sold Jesus out to the authorities. Pilate, who was known to be ruthless, when facing Jesus chose to wash his hands as a declaration of innocence. What will we remember most about each individual who passes through the story this week?

* * *

Palm Sunday / Good Friday
Elie Wiesel is most often recognized for his book Night, in which he recounts his captivity at Auschwitz. From that experience and the horrors he endured and experienced, he has become a great humanitarian and advocate for justice. He realized and preached that the Holocaust could have been prevented if righteous people stood firm against the tyranny of evil. Wiesel once wrote, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

* * * * * * * * *

Tom WilladsenFrom team member Tom Willadsen:

Palm Sunday observations
A close reading of the Luke passage should reveal something that isn’t there. There are no palms. No one spontaneously cut down branches for Jesus and the donkey, and or/the foal of a donkey to ride into Jerusalem. They put their coats on the animal and on the road, but no one cut down branches. If one is to read the Psalm reading as prophesy, the detail about “binding the festal procession with branches” (118:27) isn’t fulfilled by Luke’s account of Palm Sunday.

Are there other stories in which we insert details that aren’t there? Everyone knows Humpty Dumpty was an egg, but there is nothing in the text that indicates that. And does it make any sense that “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” would even be a good choice to put the pieces of whatever Humpty Dumpty was back together again?

When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper there’s always a bit of a hiccup because some people say “We lift them up to the Lord” while others say, “we lift them to the Lord.” It all goes back to what we learned to recite in our pre-literate days, when words we’ve memorized stay in our minds more firmly than any other kind of spoken words.

Speaking of spoken words — the people are riffing on Psalm 118:26 as they are processing with Jesus. Preacher, do you imagine and describe this procession as planned or spontaneous? One could argue for either interpretation. What impact would it have if it were planned as opposed to spontaneous? In 21st Century America how do we participate or respond to a planned, coordinated demonstration as opposed to something spontaneous? Do you imagine Palm Sunday with the experience of having marched in processions, say with the Boy Scouts, Brownies or in a marching band?

* * *

About those stones crying out…
Your congregation will likely have some kind of procession with branches for the people to wave. You’ll pull out “Hosanna!” for its only appearance of the year, besides communion liturgy. Let the people really shout, or sing “Hosanna!” remind them that it means, “Save us, we pray!” and also something like “Hurray!” With very little encouragement, children can get the whole congregation shouting. Remember the shouting…

…because it Palm/Passion Sunday. Toward the end of the service, have the congregation shout “Crucify him!” It’s a nice, participatory way to “bookend” worship at the start of Holy Week. If the people are reluctant to shout — let the stones do it.

* * *

Isaiah 50:4-9a
The last of three servant songs that are used during the three years of the lectionary cycle for Palm/Passion Sunday. Clearly this one depicts a servant who suffers physical pain and insult with great confidence. Who has suffered as Isaiah describes? What kind of confidence does one have to set one’s face like flint? Consider leaders in the Civil Rights movement, who filled the jails with people breaking unjust laws.

Here’s a quick peek at some of the ways Nelson Mandela embodied the suffering servant.

* * *

Psalm 31:9-16
This passage is a parallel to the Servant’s Song of the Isaiah reading. The psalm is a little darker, more of an interior description of suffering by the sufferer. The confidence that emerges in vv. 14-16 is not as resolute as Isaiah expresses. Which reading better describes the suffering that we will remember Christ suffering this week?

* * *

Philippians 2:5-11
Preacher, do yourself a favor as you gear up for Holy Week; read the entire Letter to the Philippians. Paul’s joy leaps off the page as he reconnects with his dear friends. Paul expresses this great joy while he is in prison. Even his being imprisoned is cause for rejoicing, because word of the strength of the love of Christ — and his great confidence in that love is testimony.

The text for Palm/Passion Sunday, the hymn to Christ as servant is in harmony with the other readings for this day, but let yourself feel the rejoicing. Find a way to proclaim the reason for rejoicing, let it shape you as you lead worship this week. Remember, “Rejoice!” is a command. And it means “joice again!” Whatever has helped you understand and accept the joy of following Christ — do it again.

* * *

Luke 22:14--23:56
All of the details I call to attention here will, I believe, help congregations see beyond Passion/Palm Sunday. We all know how the story ends, there’s no need to conceal anything until next Sunday’s celebration of the Resurrection.

There’s a lot in this text; it goes from table to tomb. If the entire text is read there will be little time for comments. What we know as “the words of institution” point the disciples — and us — both to the cross and beyond, to the complete arrival of the promised Kingdom.

As Jesus is heckled on the cross, there’s deep irony. While he “saved other” but not himself, his death saved all of creation.

Jesus was mocked and beaten and ordered “Prophesy!” he did not to those beating him, yet he had already prophesied that Peter would betray him, and that one who had sat at the Seder table would betray him.

En route to the cross he consoled and warned the women of Jerusalem, even though he himself had been savagely beaten, mocked and humiliated.

From the cross he offers forgiveness to those who crucified him. He also grants passage to paradise to one of those crucified with him.

* * *

Luke 23:56b

“On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” Only Luke presents any “action” on the Sabbath, the day Jesus’ body was in the tomb. Imagine this as the story’s end. If this were a musical concert, 23:56b might be thought of the end of a movement, a necessary pause, significant even though no notes are played. The narrative needs to just sit down and breathe, which is what the Sabbath has always been for.

* * * * * * * * *

From team member Mary Austin:

Equipment for Palm Sunday
If you want to re-enact Palm Sunday, the site Art and Faith Matters offers a suggestion. “German sculptural tradition provided…a form called a palmesel (palm donkey). The figure of Jesus, usually about half life-size, is seated on the donkey, and the sculptural group is on a wheeled platform pulled through a town or city as part of Palm Sunday processions. Townspeople spread their cloaks, along with palm branches, on the ground before the Palmesel. Just like they did in the gospel accounts.”

These re-enactments of the original procession into Jerusalem were celebrations, “lively pageants in which hymns were sung, palms strewn, and clothes spread on the ground before the Palmesel.”

Here’s an example:

Palm Sunday equipment

We all want to enter into Jesus’ story as fully as we can.

* * *

Ticker Tape Parades — Palm Sunday
Our closest American equivalent to Jesus entry into Jerusalem, with all its symbolism, is the tradition of the ticker tape parade. We celebrate sports champions, astronauts and others with these parades in New York City. The first one was 1886, and was unplanned. “As the parade in honor of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty marched up Broadway, employees spontaneously threw ticker tape out of their office windows to join in the celebration, giving the tradition its name. Celebrations continued intermittently over the next few decades, with more formally scheduled events beginning in 1919 with a parade for 25-year-old Edward Albert, the Prince of Wales.”

“The ticker-tape parade is mostly closely associated with New York sports teams, but that wasn’t always the case. The first athletes weren’t honored until 1924, and before 1999 the parades were primarily used to honor world leaders, military veterans and astronauts, and to celebrate achievements in exploration, aviation and science. The astronauts of Apollo 11 were honored in 1969 after the moon landing. Theodore Roosevelt was welcomed back from his African safari with a parade. And Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein, Pope John Paul II, John Glenn, Amelia Earhart, Queen Elizabeth II and John F. Kennedy are a few more of the many individuals to receive a parade in their honor.”

All things change, and even the ticker tape parade no longer uses actual ticker tape. “Though known as ‘ticker-tape parades,’ the parades themselves have not featured ticker tape in quite some time. The 1-inch strip of paper was used to print stock quotes from the ticker machine, popular in lower Manhattan’s financial district, which became the parade route. As the stock exchange moved to electronic boards in the 1960s, ticker tape was no longer in use, and shredded paper and confetti took its place.”

The particulars change, but our human call to celebrate important events remains.

* * *

Prayer — Maundy Thursday
Jesus asks his disciples to remain awake with him while he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, and sleepiness overcomes their desire to watch and pray along with him. Many of us are stumped about how to pray. There is a story told of an older man, near the end of his life, who received a visit from his new pastor. The man’s daughter had him come, and when he arrived, he found the man lying in bed, with an empty chair next to the bed. The pastor assumed that the man knew he was coming, and asked if the man was expecting him. No, he hadn’t known, and so the pastor introduced himself, and asked who the empty chair was for, if the man hadn’t known he was coming. The man asked the pastor to shut the door, which he did, with an expression of puzzlement.

The man confided that he had never told anyone this story, not even his daughter, who was his caregiver. He said, “all of my life I have never known how to pray. At church I used to hear the pastor talk about prayer, but it always went right over my head. I abandoned any attempt at prayer,” the old man continued, “until one day about four years ago my best friend said to me, ‘Joe, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here’s what I suggest. Sit down on a chair, place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair. It’s not spooky because he promised, ‘I’ll be with you always.’ Then just speak to him and listen in the same way you’re doing with me right now.”

“So, I tried it and I’ve liked it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I’m careful, though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she’d either have a nervous breakdown or send me off to the funny farm.” The pastor was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old guy to continue on the journey. Then he prayed with him, and returned to the church. Two nights later the daughter called to tell the pastor that her dad had died that afternoon. “Did he seem to die in peace?” he asked.

“Yes, when I left the house around two o’clock, he called me over to his bedside, told me one of his corny jokes, and kissed me on the cheek. When I got back from the store an hour later, I found him dead. But there was something strange. In fact, beyond strange — kinda weird. Apparently, just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on a chair beside the bed.” (Source: unknown.)

by George Reed

Call to Worship:
Leader: O give thanks to God, who is good.
People: God’s steadfast love endures forever!
Leader: Open to us the gates of righteousness.
People: Let us enter through them and give thanks to God.
Leader: God has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches.
People: O give thanks to God, who is good.


Leader: Be gracious to us, O God , for we are in distress.
People: Our lives are spent with sorrow and with sighing.
Leader: I trust in you, O God ; I say, "You are my God."
People: My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of the enemy.
Leader: Let your face shine upon your servants.
People: Save us in your steadfast love.


Leader: Jesus calls us into God’s new Realm!
People: With joyful songs we gladly enter God’s new world.
Leader: The ways of the old world are to be left behind.
People: We leave the old and embrace the new!
Leader: Rejoice that the darkness of the week heralds a new dawn!
People: We rejoice to know God’s Realm is eternal joy!

Hymns and Songs:
All Glory, Laud, and Honor
UMH: 280
H82: 154/155
PH: 88
AAHH: 226
NNBH: 102
NCH: 216/217
CH: 192
LBW: 108
ELW: 344
W&P: 265
AMEC: 129

Hosanna, Loud Hosanna
UMH: 278
PH: 89
NCH: 213
W&P: 267
AMEC: 130

Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether
UMH: 632
PH: 504
NCH: 337
CH: 392
ELW: 470

O Jesus, I Have Promised
UMH: 396
H82: 655
PH: 388/389
NCH: 493
CH: 612
LBW: 503
ELW: 810
W&P: 458
AMEC: 280

Seek Ye First
UMH: 405
H82: 711
PH: 333
CH: 354
W&P: 349
CCB: 76

Jesu, Jesu
UMH: 432
H82: 602
PH: 367
NCH: 498
CH: 600
ELW: 708
W&P: 273
CCB: 66
Renew: 289

Christ for the World We Sing
UMH: 568
H82: 537
W&P: 561
AMEC: 565
Renew: 299

All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name
UMH: 154/155
H82: 450/451
PH: 142/143
AAHH: 292/2393/294
NNBH: 3/5
NCH: 304
CH: 91/92
LBW: 328/329
ELW: 634
W&P: 101/106
AMEC: 4/5/6
Renew: 45

Sing Unto the Lord a New Song
CCB: 16

All Hail King Jesus
CCB: 29
Renew: 35
Music Resources Key:
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982
PH: Presbyterian Hymnal
AAHH: African American Heritage Hymnal
NNBH: The New National Baptist Hymnal
NCH: The New Century Hymnal
CH: Chalice Hymnal
LBW: Lutheran Book of Worship
ELW: Evangelical Lutheran Worship
W&P: Worship & Praise
AMEC: African Methodist Episcopal Church Hymnal
STLT: Singing the Living Tradition
CCB: Cokesbury Chorus Book
Renew: Renew! Songs & Hymns for Blended Worship

Prayer for the Day/Collect
O God who reigns over all creation:
Grant us the grace to discern the ways of your reign
that we may live fully into the wonders of new life;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.


We praise you, O God, because you reign over all creation. You are the One who lays out the path to life, eternal and abundant. Help us to discern how you are moving among us so that we may follow Jesus into your realm. Amen.


Bless, O God, these palms that they may be signs for us of the dawning of your new realm. Help us to cast away the works of darkness and follow Jesus into the light of your new day. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially our reluctance to share with others the wonders of the new realm you have opened to us.

People: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We have been welcomed into the new realm of your eternal reign and yet we cling to the ways of this world. We cling to darkness when you offer us light. We cling to death when you offer us life. We cling to hatred when you offer us love. We cling to strife when you offer us peace. Forgive us and renew us in your Spirit that we may joyfully follow Jesus into your new realm, this day and always. Amen.

Leader: God’s new realm is open to us all. Let us bring ourselves and those around us into God’s joyous reign.

Prayers of the People
All praise and glory are yours, O God, because you have created and are creating anew. You offer us a new way that leads to eternal life and abundant joy.

(The following paragraph may be used if a separate prayer of confession has not been used.)

We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We have been welcomed into the new realm of your eternal reign and yet we cling to the ways of this world. We cling to darkness when you offer us light. We cling to death when you offer us life. We cling to hatred when you offer us love. We cling to strife when you offer us peace. Forgive us and renew us in your Spirit that we may joyfully follow Jesus into your new realm, this day and always.

We give you thanks for the life you offer us and all your children. We thank you for Jesus who proclaimed your reign of love and blessing. We thank you for those who proclaimed that love to us.

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for one another in our need. We pray for those who feel trapped in the death grip of this world. We pray for those who have not experienced joy.

(Other intercessions may be offered.)

All these things we ask in the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ who taught us to pray together saying:

Our Father....Amen.

(Or if the Our Father is not used at this point in the service)

All this we ask in the Name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity. Amen.

Children’s Sermon Starter
We all enjoy eating but not all meals are alike. We have breakfast, lunch and dinner but we also have other differences. Sometimes we all sit down at the table together and things are all nice and we know we are going to have a big meal and take our time. Other times we might just be handed something to eat as we rush out the door. Jesus had a very special meal with his disciples on the Thursday before his trial. He was looking forward to spending time with his friends. He had some things he wanted to share with them. He also probably just wanted to feel the friendship because he knew the end of the week would be hard. Whether we are having a big, sit down meal or a quick bite as we run out the door, it is always good to be thankful for those we eat with. It is always good to make them feel loved.

Praise the Lord!
by Dean Feldmeyer

You will need:  Enough real palm branches or fronds or leaves to give one to each child. Failing that, print off some of the ones available on line. Print them on green paper, green construction paper, or white paper and color them.

Good morning, brothers and sisters!

(The response will probably be anemic but even if it isn’t comment on how they can probably do better and try it again.)

Good morning, brothers and sisters!

(When a more robust response has been achieved, move on.)

That’s much better!

So, why did you say “good morning” to me? Because I said it to you, right? When someone says good morning to you the polite thing, the proper thing, is to say it back to them. We say it because it’s the right thing to do, right?

There are other things that we say because they are the right thing to say.

Like, what would you say if you saw someone starting to walk into the street when there were cars going by?


That’s right. You’d say “stop” and you’d say it loud so they could hear you, right?

On of the things we’re learning in the news this past week is that there’s something that is right to say before you touch someone, even if the touching is a good kind of touching. You ask permission.

So if I wanted to give you a hug, I wouldn’t just do it, I’d ask you, “Would it be okay if I gave you a hug?”

(To nearby child) Well, would it? (Respond appropriately to whatever the answer is. Honor their wishes.)

Today in the story we heard read about Jesus entering the city the people who loved him felt like they needed to say something. They couldn’t help themselves. They just had to say something. In fact, they had to shout something. They loved him so much and they loved what he was teaching them so much that they had to shout their joy. And they shouted a word.

Do you know what that word was?

It was “Hosanna!”

Can you say that with me? “Hosanna!”

Do you know what that means?

No? Me either. In fact, no one really knows what it means. Some people say it means, “Praise the Lord!” But some other really smart people who study the Bible a lot say that they think they that it sounds like two Hebrew words that, if you put them together sound a lot like the word, hosanna.

And those two words, when we translate them, mean: save us, please.

Whatever it means, it’s what we call an exclamation. It’s like saying, “Yay!” or “Yeehaw!” or “Hallelujah!” When we say those words what we are saying is that we are so happy that we just had to shout something, anything to show how happy we are. And that’s what “Hosanna” is. It’s a word that shows how happy we are.

And that, according to the Bible stories, is one of the things that the people shouted when Jesus came into the city on that first Palm Sunday.

So, let’s say it together, okay? Let’s just pretend that Jesus is right out there, passing by, and let’s let him know how much we love him, okay? Everyone, now. Shout! HOSANNA! HOSANNA! HOSANNA!

Hey, that’s pretty great. I think he knows we love him, don’t you?

Thanks for coming and sharing with me, this morning.

Okay, as you go back to your seats, one more time: HOSANNA! HOSANNA! HOSANNA!

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Immediate Word, April 14, 2019 issue.

Copyright 2019 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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