Palm Sun

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Welcome and Announcements






Already it’s Palm Sunday. I Can’t believe how fast the year went. Thank you for taking time to worship with us today. We are happy to be in your presence as we worship God together with you.

Today’s service marks one full year since we moved our worship services to online services. It was on Palm Sunday last year we went online as Ontario went into the state of lockdown for the first time in its history. We thank God for keeping us safe and guiding us through this difficult year.

We thank all those who participated in our online fellowship last Sunday. We pray that more of us will join next time.

We will worship together online on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Please mark those days. The worship links will be sent to you as usual.

Next Sunday is Easter. We invite you to our outdoor worship service at 10 am. It is our prayer that we will gather together in our church yard to worship and celebrate Easter. We will abide by all COVID 19 restrictions. The service of worship will be a short one to keep all of us safe.

Those of you who would like to make donations to Easter Memorial Flowers, you are encouraged to do so by putting it in your offering envelope. This year’s fund will go to the mission we have been carrying out for the people in Niagara Falls.

The Holy City



Prelude:






When things are familiar we overlook many things. Because we see the same things over and over we do not look deeply or carefully. This is why sometimes children can make us see things we have long forgotten to see or are no longer able to see. When we repeat familiar rituals we may remember certain important things, but simply glaze over many small yet crucial details. When we celebrate year after year on a special day like a birthday, we end up doing the same thing over and over, becoming stuck in a routine that gets fossilized as a ritual. A new perspective is always welcome. A different point of view can make what we already know even more special and meaningful. Today we will draw from icons. For Eastern Orthodox Christians icons are an important part of their prayer life. Meditating or praying with icons help them see beyond drawings on their surfaces. The icons invite people to peer behind those images to the mystery of God.

Scripture: Mark 11:1-11

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

Can you imagine? Can you see with your mind’s eye Jesus walking toward Jerusalem? The city is abuzz. Everyone is preparing for Passover, the biggest festival of the year. Jews are gathering from every corner of Roman Empire. Some have been here every year. For some it is the first time. Jerusalem is overflowing with people speaking many different languages everyday. This is the time to spend money for these pilgrims. This is the time to make money for many people in Jerusalem. Inns are charging whatever the going price. Vendors are out everywhere. Sacrificial animals are herded through narrow streets.

Jerusalem was not built for so many people. It was built as a fortress. The city of David looks indomitable. Huge rock walls envelope the city. Gates are small so that enemies charging have a hard time getting in through them in large numbers. High walls make it impossible to see the other side. Once you enter, streets are narrow, houses are built right next to each other closely. The widths of streets are no more wider than to allow small carts to pass each other. At Passover, the streets are packed with noisy, dusty, hot and loud people. With so many people from so far away, merchants are out in full force. They surround the Temple. They sell anything and everything.

Jesus is coming from Bethany. From East to West Jesus is coming. As he approaches, the road follows down the valley and up toward Jerusalem. He is riding a donkey. Why the donkey you ask? I thought you’d never ask. Reading the Old Testament helps us to understand a lot about what Jesus does. Abraham and Isaac rode donkeys when Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac. Prophets rode donkeys. We know that kings in the earlier time entering the battle rode horses. On the other hand kings who were coming in peace rode donkeys. Unlike horses, donkeys were owned by regular people as well as the rich.

As Jesus approaches Jerusalem on a donkey, as his disciples are walking with him, a shout breaks out. No one knows who began. Everyone is joining in, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” More and more people are shouting. Have you thought about what this word, hosanna, means? According to Oxford English Dictionary, it means, “save” or “rescue”. It can also be used as a noun, “saviour.” People lining up on this road to Jerusalem know what it means. They do not need any explanation. When they hear others shouting, “Hosanna!” their heads turn. They see Jesus on a donkey. Many join in shouting. Many are breaking palm branches to put them on the road. Many are even putting garments on the rode. It becomes a royal procession.

Hosanna! Hosanna!



Part 1: The Son







In the icons entitled “Entry into Jerusalem,” we see Jesus sitting on a donkey. His body is seated away from Jerusalem to emphasize that Jesus’ wish is not to die just like any person who knows death awaits him in the very near future. No one wants to go to death so willingly. This icon shows us how our desire betrays God’s will. The struggle between the unwilling body (facing away from Jerusalem) and the obedient mind (Jesus’ eyes looking straight to Jerusalem and its gate) is depicted here.

Most artists’ drawings do not show any of this inner conflict. Rather they show the heroic Jesus entering Jerusalem being met by and followed by many joyful people. Was Jesus as heroic and single minded as we desire him to be? Probably not. Anyone who faces death struggles mightily in spirit. Jesus’ face in this icon invites us to this struggle. His face is somber and somewhat reluctant. It is bowed slightly to show humility and obedience. His eyes gaze past people as if he is searching for God--for God who would tell him as God did to Abraham not to kill Isaac because God saw Abraham’s faith.

In the second icon, we see the opposite. The face is turned away from while the body heads toward Jerusalem. Is there moments of doubt in Jesus since he knows where this road leads to? Is it possible that Jesus was not as resolved to die and as obedient as we have made him out to be? He is facing away as if to find God from his past. God was always with him as he cured, taught, and lived. Would that God call him from the past to Jesus on the colt to say that there would be no need to die?

The struggle of mind and body appears real in these two icons. What do we do when our bodies desire one thing while the minds another? Are these iconographers letting us into the mystery of God’s mind that might change at any moment? What can we believe if God changes mind as often as us?

Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. As people shouted hosannas, laying down branches, what was he thinking?

He knew the danger of going to Jerusalem. He forewarned his disciples three times that he would be killed. Knowing this, he sat on a donkey as if he were being led to his slaughter. Did these cries of him being the Saviour give him comfort? Did these words of blessings--Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord--give him courage to continue? Did people’s gesture of honouring him by laying down branches of palms and garments make his mind think about the afterlife soothing his spirit? Did the large number of crowds vindicate his resolve to walk his last steps into Jerusalem to celebrate his last Passover? Did he remember what John the Baptist said, “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” as he sat on the donkey? Did he have time to remember everything he had done up until this point?

He could have turned away. Why didn’t he? What made him continue? You see his eyes looking straight ahead in the second icon? How could he be so strong? Yet, in the first icon, he is looking away towards where he came from as if to see God there to call him back from this terrible road. Was he thinking if there is a way to escape? Was he searching for God moments from the past to get more strength? Was he trying to recall and see if God’s will was elsewhere?

Yet, the donkey pushes forward. The donkey takes Jesus into Jerusalem. In a way the donkey looks more dejected in both icons, sorrowful and heavy burdened. In the Old Testament, we recall Balaam’s donkey could see the angel of the Lord blocking the way and refused to go. Here, the donkey carries Jesus forward as if it carries out God’s will. What does this donkey see that we can’t see? What does this donkey know that we don’t?

Ride on ride on in majesty



Part 2: People







Prayer

O Lord, as the God who loves the world, you continue to invite alongside you so that in and through your passion and death we may experience your love. Be with us now in our worship. Know that we come to rejoice in you humbly by recounting each step you took as you faced the world and its power. May we sing with those who were at the gate of Jerusalem shouting hosannas, with Christians throughout the world who sing hosannas on their because of COVID virus, and with our own members of Drummond Hill who are scattered all across Niagara Falls and Ontario. May the joy of our rejoicing reach your ear this day! Amen.

In the first two icons we see people. They look similar, holding palm branches, children branches and garments while other children are on the trees to get more branches.

Can you see? Can you feel? Can you be part of this crowd shouting hosannas?

Did everyone on that road seeing Jesus on a donkey knew who he was? How many of them were there when he was baptized and God’s voice was heard proclaiming, “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased?” Did everyone, who joined in to shout, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” know Jesus was there on that day to accomplish the task of saving the world through his impending death and resurrection? Did those who were from other parts of the empire know who this man sitting on a donkey was? Did those who moved out of the way understand why these people from Galilee were making such fuss over this man on a donkey? How many participated in this procession? How many people laid garments for the donkey to walk on? How many people got excited and taken up in the excitement just because it sounded like something? How many were simply spectators?

Now put yourself in a bird’s eye view. A procession and loud commotion are at the gate where Jesus is entering, but people on other gates can neither see nor hear. The walls are too thick and they are too far away. In the centre of the city surrounded by vendors and merchants is the Temple. Priests and High priests are busy giving sacrifices and doing their things with their backs turned from the gates.They are busy and oblivious to the commotion when the procession arrives at the gate. Soon, words spread. Everyone is beginning to wonder. Words are travelling far faster than Jesus on a donkey could cut through the crowd. The words tell priests that there is a Galilean on a donkey causing all kinds of excitement among the crowd.

Priests can be seen conferring and formulating what to do. Pharisees are gathering more information on what is happening. Sadducees are scrambling. Yet, the business of the Temple must go on. Nothing ever stops the business of sacrificing. Preparation for Passover cannot be stopped. They are busy with tasks of the Temple. This is the most profitable time of the year. The news about Jesus is irritating at best and inconvenient at the least. They do not like this commotion. They cannot afford to stop everything to tend to this irritation. Too much is at stake. Too much money will be lost if they stop everything.

By the time Jesus reaches the Temple, it is already getting late. This procession that finally reached the Temple has lost its momentum. It is not clear when the shouts of hosannas stopped. Maybe the desert Sun of the early afternoon dried their throats. Maybe the crowd could not easily be moved out of the way because the streets were clogged up with people and dampened those voices to nothing more than muffled sounds among the shouts of merchants.

Did the priests hear what was being shouted? Did the shouts bring fear into their corrupt hearts? Did they already make their minds up on what to do with this pesky Jesus from Nazareth? Were they waiting for him to come so that they could arrest him? Did they know Jesus was coming to Jerusalem this day? Did they care that the procession did not break into a riot? Did they wonder if they would be overthrown if they let this band of Galileans to stir up the crowd? Or did they know what they were going to do so that they were simply waiting for the right moment? Were they already in contact with Judas?

The crowd, including his disciples, was in the dark about his death. His warnings had not registered with them at all. They knew something exciting was going to happen. They were celebrating Jesus’ arrival at Jerusalem. As their cries, shouts, and rejoicing reverberated in the streets, Jesus must have felt alone. Totally alone. No one had a clue. No one cared to know what was in his mind.

In this third icon, we see Jesus meeting people. As they wave and line the road with their garments, we see Jesus gesturing to people. We can almost hear, “for these lost ones of God, I have come.” These regular people are fickle, weak, and cowardly. They will all fall away. Yet, here, you can see him blessing them all. No one is left out. Does he not care that some may be untrustworthy? Is he blessing everyone? Even ones who will soon mock him? Oh, how limited we are when we define who will be in and who will be out! He blesses them all, regardless...

Hosanna! Loud Hosanna!



Part 3: God






Prayer

Bless us, O God, on this Palm Sunday as we bless your Son our Lord. Through the Holy Spirit make us one with your Son who took the hard road instead of the easy way so that we may be found in you now and ever. Only in him, do we put our faith and hope.

Make us to love you and one another this day and many days yet to come. Help us never to forget all your people to whom we are sent and by whom we find your Son’s presence among us.

Help us to bring your hope to all those who are in despair, sadness, and are under death’s grip. Whether we are in hospitals, in our own homes, or without a shelter, guide and protect us. Gather us in your presence each day so that we may continue to live the life of faith, hope, and love.

Fill us with your Spirit. Make us your servants who bring your presence to all always.

All these and more we pray in your Son’s name. Amen.

In all icons God figure is absent, yet God seems to be present everywhere. God is in silence. God is present in the colours of these icons. More you look at them, more you confront God because God is not visible. Was God so determined? Determined not to interfere, to rescue and to change the will? Why is God silent? Where is God? How could it be that God’s people missed all the warnings? How could they not see those prophecies being fulfilled in Christ? In these icons the hallows on Jesus and the disciple are the only clue of what God is up to.

Did God know that COVID 19 would assault this world? Did God give us warnings and we missed them just like Jesus’ disciples? Did we expect something exciting and grand as we were planning for another summer of enjoyment last year? Did we not think about what a wonderful year 2020 might have been in store for us at the beginning? How much attention did we pay when those Italians, already dying in hundreds and being locked down, warned us about the danger of this new virus? Did not those thousands of people go onto those cruise ships as if nothing ever would change their time of respite and celebration as the virus began to take hold like a small amber being fanned with strong wind? Why did those early warnings from doctors fall on deaf ears? Why did local authorities in China suppress and threaten doctors who were ringing alarm bells? Many people went on as if nothing was going to affect them.

Did God know that the lives of many people would be taken in this past year mercilessly apart from the diseases of the body? Did we miss warnings from God about our worldly power that would take the lives of George Floyd, Broeanna Taylor, and many others on whom bombs dropped while they were sleeping? What did we do as a society with warnings about the dangers of the endless wars to dominate others not only against the poor, the weak and the ones different from us? Why did we turn away saying that we were powerless? Why did we not know that eventually the stains of psychological traumas would affect us, too, when so many warnings have been given?

Looking back, reading Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem the second time away from the worship in the sanctuary, we are grateful and are in awe that Jesus, knowing what awaited him, continued into this death anticipating the new future where the world may come to know, live and share in the Way, the Truth and the Life. A year later, as we scramble to get vaccinated and save our own lives, we give out sighs of relief because our lives are spared and we are here to live and make happy life for another day. Unlike secular people, we are the ones who are fully aware of what it means for us to see Jesus as the Saviour of the world. But how do we understand him to be our Saviour in this world that seems to talk about unimaginable numbers of people suffering and dying because of this COVID 19 and COVID 19 induced social and mental ills? How can we share with the world Jesus as the Saviour of the world when so many are being crushed by the power holders of this world who appear to be insurmountably powerful?

Albert Camus in his book, The Plague, lays out his case of atheism based on the immeasurable and incomprehensible suffering inflicted on people by diseases from which he could not find God or the use of faith anywhere. Many people have made similar arguments in this pandemic. It is very true that there are many diseases causing unbelievable suffering to many good people. It is also true that many Christians have argued that God as the mighty power has full authority over diseases and heal anyone suffering from the worst of them and that if God so wished can eradicate these terrifying pathogens. With so many deaths this claim of God’s omnipotency lost its legitimacy. Yet, more than ever, we, as Christians, hang onto this scene of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem because by entering, Jesus begins his suffering meted by the powerful people in this world unjustly.

The issue of faith has little to do with the existence of these diseases or deaths of those who catch them as they suffer unreasonable amounts of pain as they lie dying. It has to do with how we live with pain and in what way we share life with those who are in pain. As Christians we are focused on what it means to live in all of life through good and bad. Our black and indigenous Christians of the USA and Canada given us a way to live life in this world filled with evil powers faithfully. Though they had to endure slavery and are still suffering under the racially unjust social and institutional structures, these Christians found strength and hope in faith as they saw Jesus being unjustly accused and lynched.

Their faith of last 500 years refined through unimaginable suffering teaches us that life is not about how we die or faith death, but about whether we can live life fully in love that comes from God.

Their experiences in slavery and unending injustices point us to faith in God that witnesses what God in Christ has gone through in this final phase of Jesus’ life as he suffered at the hands of others in this world. That is, when this suffering God is our God who sent Christ, our purpose in life to work in ways to face and fight against the powers of this world that inflict such senseless pain on others in all manners of means, to share in the life of those who are being hurt living in despair, and to bring about God’s love shown in Christ to be what everyone ought to enjoy together here and now. Not tomorrow. Not sometime in the future.

This is why Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is celebrated by Christians who suffered the most in life as a triumph. The triumph is experienced in Jesus entering into the life of pain and suffering in the hands of others in order to fight against this world’s power by pointing to a different life where pain and suffering induced by others can be overcome. Once this power of the world is confronted and exposed as a self-serving authoritarian human structure, we as humanity can focus on loving one another to face the pains and agonies we are living with because of diseases and decay of our physical bodies. We may suffer the same degree of pain when having contracted diseases as when we are being tortured at the hands of others. But the quality and meanings of life are totally different when shared in love fully by those who suffer and those who witness.

In many ways, as American Christian Cornel West says, we should be able to welcome atheists, too, as part of God’s children because they are able to destroy those humanly constructed images of God so that with their work we ought to see how many of us have been worshipping God of human minds, not the very God who sent us Jesus. He is pointing out that many Christians are worshipping God created by rulers and theologians of the Church. In this God who is constructed through our Christian institutions, we have been inflicting pains on those whom we dislike because they are unlike us in thoughts, beliefs and behaviours with exclusion, banishments, condemnations and separations--that is, we have othered them as sinners. But, we can transcend our own limitations when we share in sufferings with others and love each other as God loved us in Christ. We do this when we witness, walk with, and be part of Christ who puts himself to die at the hands of those who wield power in this world for their own gain at the expense of the poor, the weak, the abused, the marginalized and the broken--yes, the sinners.

Let us now take a moment to reflect on how our lives have been witnessing and sharing this God who in Christ chose to be with all those who suffer in this world by entering Jerusalem while listening to Bach’s Cello Suite #1 in G Major. Let us give God our offering..



Offering






Offering Prayer

Bless us, O God, on this Palm Sunday as we bless your Son our Lord. Through the Holy Spirit make us one with your Son who took the hard road instead of the easy way so that we may be found in you now and ever. Only in him, do we put our faith and hope.

Make us to love you and one another this day and many days yet to come. Help us never to forget all your people to whom we are sent and by whom we find your Son’s presence among us.

Help us to bring your hope to all those who are in despair, sadness, and are under death’s grip. Whether we are in hospitals, in our own homes, or without a shelter, guide and protect us. Gather us in your presence each day so that we may continue to live the life of faith, hope, and love.

Fill us with your Spirit. Make us your servants who bring your presence to all always.

All these and more we pray in your Son’s name. Amen.

Postlude:

As we wave (metaphorically) palm branches on this day and sing, “Ride on, ride on in majesty…” “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest…” “All glory, laud, and honour to thee, Redeemer, King…” It is important to remember that we are witnessing Jesus who is walking into the life of immeasurable suffering at the hands of others who in God’s name choose to take his life. As Christians we witness and remember Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem. In our witnessing and remembering we meet Jesus as the one who invites us to walk with him on this road of pain and death in order for the world to gain true life as God created it. In celebrating this triumphal entry--hardly a triumph in the way of this world--we proclaim the arrival of God’s kingdom, in which God reigns not as the one who is totally impotent and is easily discarded, but as the one who has won the victory over death, the power of this world, to libertate and save all those who have been under the authority of this world. Our worship on this day is the public proclamation that, like Jesus and in Jesus as the body of the risen Lord, we take on the power of this world by suffering with the sinners made up of poor, the weak, the abused, the marginalized and the broken of this world so that they, too, might gain the life, the truth, and the way. By entering Jerusalem he chose to draw to himself all the sinners of this world including us and on their behalf suffered so that they may find not only a true friend, but their Saviour. As we enter Jerusalem with him, like him, we know that only through death the sin of the world will be taken away, the power of death will be overcome. Because we are the Easter people, we take on the task again with Jesus, as his body, the suffering of this world even to death so that the world may taste the resurrection life where all tears will be wiped away, all suffering will cease, and all lives find their fulfilments.

Benediction