Guide for Worship for April 5, 2020

Palm Sunday

Welcome to worship! It is Palm Sunday, and we have much to celebrate. This is the beginning of Holy Week, marked by the remembrance of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The people had heard of his coming, and, believing he was arriving to overturn the occupying forces that they feared, greeted him as they would a King ascending to the throne.

They threw their garments over his path so his feet would not touch the ground. They waved palm branches as if they were flags of the coming kingdom. And they shouted “Hosanna,” a word which means “save now” to greet him. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey: a signal that he was there to be a different kind of King altogether.

Later in this worship, we will share Communion together. If you have not already done so, you will want to prepare some bread or a small cracker – any kind of bread will work. Prepare a cup or cups of juice (yes, grape or cranberry), but in a pinch, even water or tea will do. We will share the experience of the Lord’s Table, even though we may be separated.

Scripture Reading – Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

A Song of Victory

1  O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;

his steadfast love endures forever!

2  Let Israel say,

“His steadfast love endures forever.”

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,

that I may enter through them

and give thanks to the Lord.

20 This is the gate of the Lord;

the righteous shall enter through it.

21 I thank you that you have answered me

and have become my salvation.

22 The stone that the builders rejected

has become the chief cornerstone.

23 This is the Lord’s doing;

it is marvelous in our eyes.

24 This is the day that the Lord has made;

let us rejoice and be glad in it.

25 Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!

O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

We bless you from the house of the Lord.

27 The Lord is God,

and he has given us light.

Bind the festal procession with branches,

up to the horns of the altar.

28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;

you are my God, I will extol you.

29 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,

for his steadfast love endures forever.

Hosanna (Praise Is Rising)

A familiar song to our worship on Palm Sunday, this spiritual song might stir memories of our gathered worship, watching children and others process into our Sanctuary waving palm branches in the air. In this recording, you will hear the voices of our congregation singing this song together. As you sing, allow the images of children smiling and waving and of our congregation singing with joy to fill your imagination. Capture the feeling of celebration it inspires, and join your voice to the song’s plea to God: “Save us! Have your way with us! You are worthy of our praise!”

Praise is rising, hearts are turning to You, we turn to You

Hope is stirring, hearts are yearning for You, we long for You

‘Cause when we see You we find strength to face the day

In Your presence all our fears are washed away, washed away

Hosanna, Hosanna

You are the God who saves us

Worthy of all our praises

Hosanna, Hosanna

Come have Your way among us

We welcome You here, Lord Jesus

Hear the sound of hearts returning to You, we turn to You

In Your Kingdom broken lives are made new, You make us new

‘Cause when we see You we find strength to face the day

In Your presence all our fears are washed away, washed away

Hosanna, Hosanna

You are the God who saves us

Worthy of all our praises

Hosanna, Hosanna

Come have Your way among us

We welcome You here, Lord Jesus

Hosanna, Hosanna

You are the God who saves us

Worthy of all our praises

Hosanna, Hosanna

Come have Your way among us

We welcome You here, Lord Jesus

Hosanna, Hosanna

Hosanna!

Hearing the Gospel: Matthew 21: 1-11

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately. This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion: Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Response Through Giving

We encourage you to give your offerings online through Pushpay here, through the Yates app, or by mail (2819 Chapel Hill Road, Durham, NC, 27707). We are growing into new ways to be the church together, and your giving allows us to keep being the church, even in the absence of our physical presence.

Meditation

Listen to the sermon audio using the player above, or read the complete text below. An archive of this and other sermons is found on the Yates sermon page.

“The Lord Has Need of Them”

Today is Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week. The Gospels recall with worshipful fanfare how Jesus enters the holy city of Jerusalem. The city is swollen with pilgrims who have arrived to celebrate Passover, the great Jewish celebration of emancipation of the oppressed Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. Every year, they remember how the people were loosed from their captivity, so that through them their vocation to be the light to the nations might carry on to its fulfillment.

Palm Sunday comes at a great time any year, but maybe even more so this year. We just want to feel good with all the hard news confronting our world. On this day, at least, we can picture the disciples moving through it all confidently with heads held high. Palm Sunday looks like a big bright spot amid the gloominess of Lent and the darkness of the Holy Week ahead.

But we can’t remember this moment apart from the awareness that Jesus’ arrival in the Holy City on Palm Sunday will be his last. All the jubilation is quickly overcome with shadow. By week’s end, Jesus will die a lonely death on a Roman cross.

This day also invites us to profound reflection. Think about it: we find the world on the brink of a most momentous event. The very Son of God was about to be handed over, betrayed, abused, murdered. There was, in a sense, going to be a death in God within days. The universe was about to turn the corner from endless darkness back toward the Light (into that Light that the darkness cannot overcome). All that is at stake cannot ever be overestimated or overstated. It is a point in time when all of creation holds its breath as it plays out.

As is so often the case with Jesus, though, we receive things of eternal significance in a simple story. Surely, we have come to understand this by now. After all, Christians are a people who have been taught to remember Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – the very saving work of God in our lives and for our world – when we receive and share simple gifts of bread and cup. Today, I want us to focus on a couple of small details that speak beyond themselves to our lives.

All the grandeur of Palm Sunday’s story begins with a rather mundane concern – Jesus needs transportation into the city. He dispatches a pair of disciples to obtain some animals for Jesus to enter Jerusalem properly. On their Master’s instruction, the two go to a nearby village, and just as he had said, they find a colt tied securely alongside its mother. As they loose the animals, the owners appear on the scene and demand to know what’s going on. Jesus has told them how to respond. “The Lord needs it,” they say.

Some commentators suggest that this is a pre-arranged password. Others think the animals’ owners are simply convinced by the sincerity and deep faith in the disciples’ response. We’re not told. But they willingly release the donkey and the colt, and the disciples bring them to Jesus.

With these animals, Jesus triumphantly proceeds into Jerusalem. The people could probably catch the dramatization of Zechariah’s Old Testament prophecy: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zech. 9:9)

The king had arrived and deliverance was at hand. “Hosanna!” the people cried. Save us, please!

As we remember that first Palm Sunday today, I’d like for us to turn to the simpler prologue of the bigger, flashier moment. I think it speaks deeply into our lives today.

But to do that, we’ll need to turn our attention back to those animals, tied up and awaiting release. I’ll put it this way: do you find yourself tied down by something that limits your freedom, or that prevents you from fully realizing your potential, or that distracts you from the ideals you believe in and long for? If you are like me, it’s probably not just one thing, but many things.

Listening to this story, we can ask what needs “untying” in you and me? How are you tied down? What is tying you down? What is part of your life or within you that needs to be loosed, released, let go, untied, so you can join in the triumphal march of life as a full participant in God’s redeeming work? Many of us feel bound to situations now or things in our past that weigh us down like a heavy burden. Yet we may, consciously or unconsciously, long for freedom.

Some of us are tied to our possessions, to our comfortable way of life, structuring our lives first and foremost to quiet our fear of losing them. Some of us are tied to negative feelings toward others; we live amidst broken relationships, estrangement, intolerance, alienation, or separation. Some are tied up in knots by compulsions or addictions that can harm us and others physically, psychologically and spiritually. Some of us are tied down and held back by the burden of our sins, past and present. Some of us are tied to a relentless sense of unworthiness that leads to feelings of resignation, apathy or despair. We tell ourselves we’re not good enough to succeed, not strong enough to carry our responsibilities, not important enough for anyone to have even a small peek at our real selves, since our real selves aren’t worth much anyway. That hopelessness, the fear of being unacceptable, very often shows up in those things that we do that we don’t want to do but keep on doing despite all our desires for something different.

These are just a few of the ways we are tied up. Maybe you can identify with some of them. Maybe they’ll help you identify something in your life that you need to untie and let go. Besides our own need to be freed from such burdens, there is an eternal reason why we need to untie that which is holding us down. It is a word of amazing grace about how God chooses to be with us.

Remember what Jesus taught those disciples long ago? “The Lord needs them.” I believe that is a word for us, too. The Lord needs us. Each of us has been created with purpose, given diverse and unique gifts by the Holy Spirit. They’ve been given to us to use. We are called to be the body of Christ, hands, feet, voices that work for the Kingdom of God and to serve others in Christ’s name. The Lord needs us and doesn’t want any part of us tied down by those things, attitudes, or behaviors that prevent us from getting that work done.

God’s side in that relationship is known by God’s love. We may not be worthy in terms of deserving God’s love. None of us are, but we are not worthless. The good news of God in Jesus Christ is that we have been saved, that we are eternally loved, though we are still sinners. Though our relationships with God or others may need repair, though we cling to our possessions, though – whatever. The grace of God in Christ is lavished upon each of us. What we must do is wake up and receive God’s love and allow it to transform us and live that transformation out in the world.

What needs untying in you? If you are ready to ask, God is ready to answer. We will be able to untie these things if we respond in faith – the faith that comes in the humble obedience of these disciples running an errand for their Master that gave way to the spontaneous joy of the great procession of deliverance by the Lord. May we join the holy processional by responding to his call and untie all that needs untying. “the Lord needs them.” The Lord needs us, too – each and every one of us. Amen.

 

Observance of Communion

Today, as part of our worship, we will celebrate communion together. We hope that this service will be familiar to you while obviously not an exact replica of our usual practice, and that it will lead you to be more aware that we are missing our gathered community. This is not an apology for something that is not-as-good as in-person worship, simply a recognition that during these days, while our worship takes on new and different forms, the same God continues to inspire our worship, and we can make good use of new prompting.

If you haven’t already, you will want to prepare some bread, a slice or a small loaf of any kind of bread. In some parts of the world tortilla, rice cake, or other things are used as this element. Let it be something you alone or you with others in your house may break and share. Prepare a cup or cups of juice — perhaps grape or cranberry — in a pinch, even water or tea will do. Our hope is to share the experience of the Lord’s Table, even though we may be separated.

Set these elements in the living room or kitchen where you experience worship electronically with our faith community. Perhaps you want to put them on a table cloth or fabric that reminds you of a special time or a person deeply connected with you in the communion of saints. Perhaps you will light a candle or place a flower or plant or the photograph of someone you wish to bring into the circle of faith beside the bread and the cup.

Thank you for your preparation. Let’s begin.

Celebration of Communion

Invitation

For our Communion this morning, I invite you to lend Christ your table.

On the first day of Holy Week long ago, people throughout Judea arrived at the dusty gates of Jerusalem, ready to greet a King, primed with “Hosanna” in their hearts – and Jesus asked to borrow a donkey.

On the Thursday that followed, Jesus was given John Mark’s mother’s Upper Room to celebrate the Passover with the disciples.

Whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Support together, we begin with simple elements: bread, a cup, a table. And yet, these simple elements, blessed by God, become more than they already are. They bring us radically into the presence of Jesus, sharing these moments and this meal with Him.

There is blessing in this celebration today, and you can give more than your bread and your cup. In these moments, give yourself to Jesus and find yourself transformed.

Lend Christ your table, your bread, your cup and your heart, for, as the disciples told the person who loaned the donkey, “The Lord has need of it.”

Prayer of Consecration

We are one bread, one body, one cup of blessing. Though we are many throughout the earth and this church community is scattered, we are one in Christ. In your many kitchens and living rooms, rest your hands lightly upon these elements which we set aside today. Let’s ask God’s blessing upon them. Pray with me:

God of all grace, there is no lockdown on your blessing and no quarantine on grace. Send your Spirit of life and love, power and blessing upon every table where on of your children shelters in place, that this Bread may be broken and gathered in love and this Cup poured out to give hope to all. Risen Christ, live in us, that we may live in you. Breathe in us, that we may breathe in you. Amen.

Words of Remembering

And now, in our many places, receive the gifts of God. We are one in Christ in the bread and cup we share.

We remember that Paul the apostle wrote letters to congregations throughout places we now call Greece, Turkey and Macedonia, and they were the first “distance” worship resources. Some people even think that Paul meant for his letters not merely to be read, but to be performed together with the gathered church community, as if he were sharing it in person. And so, our online service has a long heritage.

Paul sent answers to questions, guidance, and instructions about being the church to these communities. For the church at Corinth, he was particularly concerned for their practice of sharing the Lord’s Supper together, so that their practice would reflect the Christ that unified them, not the things that separated them. Those words focused, not on who they were, but on the person and work of Jesus himself. The Communion words Paul sent to the church at Corinth were these:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Take your bread, break it, and eat.

In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Take the cup you have prepared, and drink.

For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Let us pray in thanksgiving for this meal of grace, rejoicing that, by the very method of our worship,  we have embodied the truth that Christ’s love is not limited by buildings made with human hands, nor contained in human ceremonies, but blows as free as the Spirit in all places. Pray along with me.

Spirit of Christ, you have blessed our tables and our lives. May the eating of this Bread give us courage to speak faith and act love, not only in church sanctuaries, but in your precious world, and may the drinking of this Cup renew our hope even in the midst of pandemic. Wrap your hopeful presence around all whose bodies, spirits and hearts need healing, and let us become your compassion and safe refuge. Amen.

This service of Communion is adapted from “Online Communion for Palm Sunday,” written by the Rev. Maren C. Tirabassi, ©2020 Maren Tirabassi, all publishing rights reserved.

Come Share the Lord

As we close our worship, we join our spirits and our voices in a simple and meaningful prayer in song. Hear in it notes that are both hopeful and victorious, yet aware that a difficult journey lies ahead: “We’ll gather soon… now we anticipate the feast for which we wait.”

We gather here

In Jesus’ name

His love is burning in our hearts like living flame

For through his loving Son

The Father makes us one

Come take the Bread

Come drink the Wine

Come share the Lord

We’ll gather soon

Where angels sing

We’ll see the glory of our Lord and risen King

Now we anticipate

The feast for which we wait

Come take the Bread

Come drink the Wine

Come share the Lord

 

Blessings to you on this day of worship!

 

Click here to visit the worship experience from March 15, 2020.

Click here to visit the worship experience from March 22, 2020.

Click here to visit the worship experience from March 29, 2020.