Service for Palm Sunday 2022
The Rev’d Andy Braunston
Minister for Digital Worship
Hymn All Glory, Laud and Honour
Theodulf, Bishop of Orléans (c. 820)
to you, Redeemer, King,
to whom the lips of children
made sweet hosannas ring.
You are the King of Israel
and David’s royal Son,
now in the Lord’s name coming,
our King and Blessed One.
2 “Hosanna in the highest!”
That ancient song we sing,
for Christ is our Redeemer,
the Lord of heav’n our king.
Oh may we ever praise him
with heart and life and voice.
and in his royal presence
through Jesus’ precious blood,
heirs of His home in heaven –
oh, praise our pard’ning God!
Praise Him in tuneful measures
who gave His Son to die;
Praise Him whose
sev’n fold treasures
enrich and sanctify.
4: In our fair home shall never
be silent music’s voice;
With heart and lips forever
we shall in God rejoice,
The company of angels
is praising you on high,
And we with all creation
in chorus make reply.
5: Then let us praise the Father
and worship God the Son
And sing to God the Spirit,
Eternal Three in One,
Till all the ransomed number
Who stand before the throne
Ascribe all pow’r and glory
and praise to God alone.
Hello and welcome to worship for Palm Sunday. My name is Andy Braunston and I am the United Reformed Church’s Minister for Digital Worship. I currently live in Glasgow, but in a few weeks, should have moved up to Orkney where we will become part of the Peedie Kirk – our most northerly URC congregation. Palm Sunday is a day of irony – the joyful shouts of the crowds who acclaimed Jesus as their coming king soon gave way to the shouts to “crucify Him”. Leaders have known, ever since, how quickly public opinion can turn and how fatal it can be.
Today we move from the joyful exuberance of crowds expecting their liberation to the murderous machinations of political and religious leaders and ponder how we might have reacted. Would we have acclaimed Jesus as king and then clamoured for this death? Would we have kept out of the way unsure of ourselves? Would we have stood with him in his hour of need?
Today we greet Jesus as our King, although we know His crown is made of thorns and His throne a cross – an instrument of cruel torture. We follow Him this week from the glory of the palms to the glory of the resurrection by the dark road of suffering and death, knowing that as we are united with him in his suffering on the cross we also share with him in the resurrection. As we ponder let’s listen to our first reading telling of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem.
Reading St Luke 19: 28 – 40
After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.'” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Blessing of Palms
Bless these parade palms, O God of celebration.
May they remind us of the simple joys of living.
May we remember the excitement that comes with following Christ.
Bless these protest palms, O God of justice.
May they remind us that Empire is not a thing of the past.
May they make us bold and brave to stand up against injustice.
Bless these funeral palms, O God of Comfort.
May they remind us of the road that lies ahead.
May they encourage us in times of grief and pain.
We give you thanks for the parade, the protest, the processional.
Guide our steps through this holiest of weeks
as we cry out together “Hosanna” Amen.
Children and Young people might like to process with the Palms and then give them out during the next hymn.
Hymn Hosanna, Hosanna
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna in the highest!
Lord we lift up Your name
with hearts full of praise
Be exalted oh Lord my God!
Hosanna in the highest!
Glory to the King of kings!
Glory to the King of kings!
Lord we lift up Your name
with hearts full of praise
Be exalted oh Lord my God!
Glory to the King of kings!
Prayer of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness
Lord of palm and protest,
we come to you today with joy in our hearts,
we acclaim you as our king,
knowing no other king, no other Lord, no other emperor but you;
the king who serves and lays down his life for his friends.
Lord of praise and procession,
we remember those who, throughout the world worship you today,
recalling your marvellous deeds,
rejoicing in your presence in grand cathedral
and quiet room away from prying eyes,
from pristine meeting house to cold basement amidst falling bombs.
Remind us all you are the world’s true King,
despite so many who deny you your place.
Lord of forgiveness and compassion,
we bring to you the times we have not acknowledged you as our King, (pause)
the times when we have failed to love you in others, in ourselves
and the times when we’ve failed to love you in your serving majesty.
Forgives us, good Lord, and give us time to change. Amen.
Here is good news,
before we were made,
the Rock of Ages knew us and loved us.
We cannot be loved any more completely than we are;
the One who loves us, forgives us and desires we become whole,
so accept the forgiveness proclaimed to you this day
and have the courage to forgive yourself. Amen.
Prayer of Illumination
Life-giver, Pain-bearer, Love-maker,
day by day you sustain the weary with your word
and gently encourage us to place our trust in you.
Awaken us now to your Word, read and proclaimed,
that we may, through you, serve our world and those in pain, Amen.
The Passion reading from St Luke’s Gospel is set for three voices. For reasons of space we have not reproduced it here but it runs from St Luke 22:14 to 23:56
Hymn My Song is Love Unknown
Samuel Crossman (1664)
My song is love unknown,
my Saviour’s love to me;
love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
my Lord should take
frail flesh and die?
2: He came from his blest throne
salvation to bestow;
but we made strange, and none
the longed-for Christ would know.
But O, my Friend,
my Friend indeed,
who at my need his life did spend!
3: Sometimes they strew His way,
and His sweet praises sing;
resounding all the day
hosannas to their King.
Then ‘Crucify!’ is all their breath,
and for His death
they thirst and cry.
4: They rise, and needs will have
my dear Lord made away;
a murderer they save,
the Prince of Life they slay.
Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
that He His foes
from thence might free.
5: In life no house, no home
my Lord on earth might have;
in death no friendly tomb
but what a stranger gave.
What may I say?
Heav’n was his home;
but mine the tomb wherein he lay.
6: Here might I stay and sing:
no story so divine;
never was love, dear King,
never was grief like Thine!
This is my Friend,
in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.
Sermon Kissing Pragmatism
The long reading we’ve heard is central to the story of our faith. The editor of Luke’s Gospel arranged his material to keep us on the edge of our seats even though we’ve heard the story many times before and will hear it many times again. It’s a story of power and pragmatism, excitement and evil, love and betrayal.
I suspect we’ve all felt betrayed before; some of us may have been guilty of betrayal. We are a church that understands that relationships, whilst intended to be lifelong, don’t always work out that way. We are a church that has always been compassionate and would offer remarriage if asked. We’re a church that understands human frailty and failings yet Judas’ betrayal of Jesus with a kiss still shocks. A kiss, a sign of warmth, friendship, trust, love and passion is turned into a sign to the guards so they’d know which one to arrest. We hear the pain in Jesus’ voice as he said “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?”
Have we been betrayed by one we love? Have we felt ourselves betrayed by one who kissed us but left us for another? Have we found that the one who was supposed to love and care for us, maybe even after public pledges, decided they were no longer able, or willing, to keep those pledges? If so we know the pain of betrayal – even though our pain didn’t lead to death. If so, we know the anger that can be all consuming; we know the rage that gives energy to move on but at a terrible cost. If so, we know the darkness of grief and unrequited love and can have an insight into Jesus’ feelings in Gethsemane.
But have we been the betrayer? Have we found it impossible to keep promises that we made? Have we found that circumstances, feelings, and commitments changed and we found ourselves, wittingly or not, in the role of betrayer? If so, we know how easy it is to wound one we love – even if we could no longer love them as they wished. If so, we know the guilt that comes from such decisions, even if we believe those decisions were for the best. Maybe we felt the betrayal was the most pragmatic response to the situation we found ourselves in. If so, we can relate, a little uncomfortably I suspect, to Judas whose motives for betrayal will never be known. Maybe he was being pragmatic too.
Betrayal plays out in our common life too. Ukrainians felt betrayed both by Russia and Belarus – it’s closest neighbours – by the invasion and facilitation of that invasion. Mr Putin’s lies about not intending to invade and the decision of Belarus to allow nuclear weapons on its soil again marked huge betrayals of the Ukrainian people. In our life in the UK many felt betrayed by the news stories of parties in government offices during lockdown when the rest of us were trying to keep to the rules despite the pain of not being able to see loved ones and the pain of restricted funerals where we weren’t able to pay our respects or honour those who had died as we would have liked. Betrayal happens in a range of ways.
Maybe we can relate to both Jesus and Judas – betrayed and betrayer. Maybe in our lives we’ve experienced both the pain of betrayal but also know the guilt of being the one who betrayed. Maybe we can see both sides, rage and guilt, pain and pragmatism.
Our society, and often our church, prides itself on pragmatism – an approach that evaluates things based on if they work. Beliefs – political, social, or religious – are evaluated on how they work rather than on older standards of truth. Sometimes we like to say we’re pragmatic as a church – we try and do what works; sometimes we might dress that up and call it being contextual!
It’s what Pilate did of course – he was a very fine example of a contextual theologian. Pilate gets to the heart of the matter quickly in Luke’s Gospel – he brushes aside the accusations that Jesus was perverting the nation, forbidding the paying of tax to the Emperor and focuses, instead on the key claim – that Jesus was the Messiah and so he asked Jesus if he was a king. Jesus, of course, doesn’t play the game and simply answers “you say so.” Which is not an entirely helpful answer. The claim to kingship was at the heart of the matter. Only Rome could appoint local leaders; those who tried to claim leadership were seen as usurpers, terrorists, rabble rousers and had to be put down violently. The peace had to be kept no matter what.
As the religious leaders weren’t letting Pilate off the hook, he took the entirely pragmatic decision to pack Jesus off to Herod to deal with – someone else’s problem is always easier than our own after all. If Herod could deal with it then it was an internal Jewish problem, Rome – as personified by Pilate – could sit back and not get involved. Pragmatically, exulting Herod sealed a friendship with Pilate – all very useful. Except Jesus treated Herod with contempt, not recognising his authority, not answering his questions. Herod had, after all, murdered his cousin. So Herod send him back to Pilate. The pragmatism is played out again – Pilate can find no fault with Jesus but offers to have him flogged hoping that would appease the crowd – hardly just, why flog an innocent man? But, pragmatically, it might assuage the crowd’s blood lust and let him get on with his busy day; a flogging is better, I suppose than a crucifixion. Pragmatism wins, however, and Pilate realises the crowd want more so he agrees to have Jesus killed and lets a murderer go free.
Politically Pilate was quite right – the people were restless, their leaders were agitating, occupation can only work with some form of consent from the occupied, and the life of one obscure preacher wasn’t as important as the good order of the Empire. He’d cemented a good working relationship with the odious Herod on the back of this little bit of unpleasantness, and pleased the people with the release of Barabbas – who’d probably be back in custody, or dead, before long. So Pilate had nothing really to lose and everything to gain. His approach was pragmatic, it worked, there wasn’t a revolt.
Instead, however, he killed God and condemned his reputation for eternity, forever now seen as the weak judge, the pragmatic killer, the unsteady ruler, the untrustworthy leader.
So where do we go with these ideas of betrayal and pragmatism? I think we have to go to the Cross. The whole of today’s long passage finds its culmination in Jesus’ death on the cross. We know, of course, he was innocent – Pilate had declared this no less than three times (that didn’t make a difference of course, pragmatism won) and, at the end the Centurion declares Jesus’ innocence. Jesus, of course, didn’t choose a pragmatic response to his arrest and execution. He didn’t call down legions of angels or encourage his followers to rise up in insurrection. He chose a harder path – one seen throughout Luke’s Gospel – a path of faithful trust in God.
In Mark’s Gospel Jesus’ final words are of abandonment. He recites words from Psalm 22 about being rejected by God and dies; in St Luke those words aren’t present, instead Jesus places his trust in the Father and commends himself to God’s care. Luke’s portrayal of Jesus is one of a trusting disciple. In an age when the Church has been pushed to the edge of our society, is no longer listened to but, instead is viewed with profound suspicion as being an unsafe institution, and is on the brink of institutional collapse it’s easy to warm to Mark’s despairing Jesus as summing up the zeitgeist of our age. Why has God abandoned us?
But this year we’re invited to read and reflect on Luke’s Jesus; instead of despair we’re asked to trust. In the midst of an affluent society that sees no need of God or religion, we’re asked to trust. In an era of, in the West, church decline and closure we’re called to have faith in God. In a pragmatic age where values, agreements, relationships and alliances can all be betrayed to suit the mood of the time, we’re asked to be keep our promises.
Throughout Luke’s Gospel Jesus was on the move – he calls his disciples to leave everything to follow him, he travels light and tells his followers to do the same, he proclaims the coming Kingdom in word and action and everything he says about God he demonstrates in his own life and ministry. His ministry is authentic not pragmatic. Jesus is true to himself in the wilderness when tempted and on the Cross as he dies. Even when mocked by the leaders, the soldiers, and one of the thieves killed with him he remains faithful to the One who had called him.
So in an age where we’re expected to be more pragmatic in how we minister, what we say, how we deploy our ministers, how we interact with the wider public Jesus pulls us up short and reminds us to be faithful.
In an age where the soundbite is king, the quick witty word gets on the news, where truth depends on context, Jesus calls us be authentic – authentic to the One who calls us and to His own self who died for us.
In an age of decline where we cling on to our resources for that rainy day, Jesus calls us to leave all to follow him.
Jesus was betrayed by a kiss from one he loved; we betray Jesus now by kissing and holding onto the things that stop us being authentic.
Jesus was killed by the forces of pragmatism and political expediency; we kill him now, in his people, by turning pragmatism into an art form. The world was, rightly, outraged by Mr Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the atrocities carried out there. The world admired Mr Zelenskiy’s remarkable courage. But pragmatism means we don’t sanction other despotic regimes; we need to think about, as the fictional Sir Humphey once said, the oily places not the Holy Places.
Jesus was killed by a disregard of truth, we kill him now by not holding fast to the truths we know; yet Jesus calls us to truth – the truth that St John’s Pilate would never understand, the truth that kept Jesus faithful despite the pragmatism and betrayal. The truth that gives us energy and purpose even as we navigate world we don’t understand and a changing Church.
Will you pray with me?
betrayed by a kiss,
killed by politics,
faithful to the end,
give us the grace to follow you
to tell your truth
to hold fast to your kingdom
that we may not betray you
with our pragmatism. Amen.
Hymn See Christ Was Wounded For our Sake
Brian Foley (1919 – 2000)
See, Christ was wounded
for our sake,
And bruised and broken for our sin
So by his sufferings we are healed
For God has laid our guilt on him.
2: Look on his face,
come close to him,
But you will find no beauty there.
Despised, rejected – who can tell the grief and sorrow he must bear?
3: For on his shoulders God has laid
The weight of sin that we should bear;
So by his passion we have peace,
Through his obedience and his prayer
On this day where the crowds acclaimed Jesus as their King and Messiah, the long promised deliverer, we pray for all who lead their peoples….O God of our world, guide those who hold elected or appointed office that they may govern wisely, always remembering the poor, the weak and the vulnerable….Lord, in your mercy…
Hear our prayer.
On this day when we remember that Jesus was given over to torture and degradation we remember all those today imprisoned for their faith, their love, their politics, or their sex and who are subject to torture…..O God, strength of the weak, hope of the oppressed, lover of the despised we pray for all who are tortured this day, keep them strong, turn the hands of their oppressors away, disturb the consciences of those who do evil that all may live in freedom….Lord, in your mercy….
Hear our prayer
On this day when we remember the cruel and unjust execution of Jesus we remember all who are on death row around the world…..O God in whose image we were made and who creates all life to be sacred, turn our hearts from violence in all its forms, bless those who live on death rows around the world with your love and grace, give wisdom to those who represent them and turn all our hearts and countries away from violence – legalised or not…..Lord, in your mercy….
Hear our prayer
On this day when we marvel at the love that drove Jesus to trust in his Father, we bring to the mind of God all those whom we love and are in any kind of need (longer pause)
Accept our prayers, Eternal One,
for the sake of your son, our Saviour,
who taught us to pray saying…
We bring our gives to God, gifts of ourselves, our time, our energy and our money knowing that these gifts make a difference in our world. Let us pray
All things come from you, Loving God,
and of your own do we give you.
Bless our gifts of time, talent, and treasure
that they, with us, may bring you glory.
Hymn I Cannot Tell
William Young Fullerton
I cannot tell why He, whom angels worship,
should set His love upon us, now or then,
or why, as Shepherd, He should seek the wand’rers,
to bring them back, they know not how or when.
But this I know, that He was born of Mary,
when Bethl’hem’s manger was His only home,
and that He lived at Nazareth and laboured,
and so the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is come.
2: I cannot tell how silently He suffered,
as with His peace He graced this place of tears,
or how His heart upon the Cross was broken,
the crown of pain to three and thirty years.
But this I know, He heals the broken-hearted,
and stays our sin, and calms our lurking fear,
and lifts the burden from the heavy laden,
for yet the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is here.
3: I cannot tell how He will win the nations,
how He will claim His earthly heritage,
how satisfy the needs and aspirations
of east and west, of sinner and of sage.
But this I know, all flesh shall see His glory,
and He shall reap the harvest He has sown,
and some glad day His sun shall shine in splendour
when He the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is known.
4: I cannot tell how all the lands shall worship,
when, at His bidding, every storm is stilled,
or who can say how great the jubilation
when every human heart with love is filled.
But this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture,
and myriad, myriad human voices sing,
and earth to heaven, and heaven to earth, will answer:
at last the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is King.
May the One who upholds the created order with the power of truth,
the One who showed kingship through sacrifice
the One who energises with grace all those who search and justice
bless you with truth,
enable you to live sacrificially
that you may proclaim and embody justice from on high,
and the blessing of Almighty God
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
be with you
now and always
Blessing of Palms Prayer written by the Rev’d Caela Simmons Wood, Pastor, First Congregational United Church of Christ in Manhattan, Kansas.
Prayer of Illumination adapted from Vanderbilt Lectionary Prayer resources https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/prayers.php?id=124
All other liturgical material written by Andy Braunston.
All Glory, Laud and Honour – Theodulf, Bishop of Orléans (c. 820) sung by the group Koine.
Hosanna, Hosanna – Carl Tuttle © 1985, Shadow Spring Music sung at a Vineyard Church.
My Song is Love Unknown – Samuel Crossman (1664) sung by the Choir of St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney
See Christ Was Wounded For our Sake – Brian Foley (1919 – 2000) sung by the choir of Christ Church Arcadia
I Cannot Tell – William Young Fullerton sung by Ruth and Joy Everingham used with their kind permission.
Opening Organ Piece: Liturgical Prelude by George Oldroyd (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Closing Organ Piece: Toccata from Suite Gothique by Leon Boëllman (organ of St Thomas-on-The Bourne, Farnham – 2016)
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com
Thanks to John Young, Alison Jiggins, David Shimmin, Ray Fraser and Lorraine Webb for reading various spoken parts of the service.