Rev. Jack D. Cook, Pastor
Palm Sunday (A); the Sixth Sunday in Lent; Communion Sunday
“A cheering, chanting, dizzy crowd had stripped the green trees bare, and hailing Christ as king aloud, waved branches in the air...Lest we be fooled because our hearts have surged with passing praise, remind us, God, as this week starts, where Christ has fixed his gaze.” Amen. (Hymns of Truth and Light, 180, 1 & 4)
CALL TO WORSHIP (based on Psalm 118)
L: O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
P: God’s steadfast love endures forever.
L: This is the day that the Lord has made.
All: Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
NCH#213 Hosanna, loud Hosanna;
Blessed One, you entered Jerusalem in humble and lowly estate, riding on a donkey; you emptied yourself, forsaking the power to command, and came as a servant to all. Come to us now, that we may become your servants in the service in others. In your name we pray, Amen.
BLESSING OF THE PALMS
“This king through David’s city shall ride in triumph by; the palm shall strew its branches, and every stone shall cry...” (Glory to God, 160, 2, adapted)
My friends, in memory and honor of Jesus and that day and those branches, let us bless the palms. Let us pray...
O God, who in Jesus Christ triumphantly entered Jerusalem, heralding a week of pain and sorrow, be with us now as we follow the way of the cross. In these events of defeat and victory, you have sealed the closeness of death and resurrection, of humiliation and exaltation. We thank you for the branches that promise to become for us symbols of this martyrdom and majesty. Bless them and bless us that we may announce in our own time that Christ has come and that Christ will come again. Come, Christ Jesus! Amen.
HYMN “The Palms”
O’er all the way green palms and blossoms gay
Are strewn this day in festal preparation.
When Jesus comes to wipe our tears away,
E’en now the throng to welcome him prepare.
Join all and sing, His name declare!
Let every voice resound with acclamation!
Hosanna! Praise to the Lord!
Bless Him who cometh to bring us salvation!
His word goes forth, and peoples by its might
Once more regain freedom from degradation.
Humanity to each doth giveto each his right.
While those in darkness find restored the light. (Refrain)
Sing and rejoice, O blessed Jerusalem.
Of all thy sons sing thee emancipation!
Through boundless love the Christ of Bethlehem
Brings faith and hope to thee forevermore. (Refrain)
FIRST SCRIPTURE LESSON Philippians 2: 5-11: “Christ’s example of humility and obedience”
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be; world without end. Amen, Amen!
O God of love, Parent of us all, whose child Jesus the Christ rode into a city which acclaimed him king and then rejected him: we come to you this day, a company of persons who would be among his loyal followers. We give you thanks that Christ’s Spirit is forever seeking entrance into our own world’s life, coming as our inspiration to seek a better global community in which all of your children may work, and play, and worship together.
We praise you, O God, for all that our Savior did and said during the last days of his earthly life: for his humility that made kingship an instrument of service; for his brave defiance of his enemies; for his tears of sorrow and of love, as he looked upon Jerusalem; for his institution of the sacrament and his word in the Upper Room; and for love’s agony in Gethsemane and Calvary. Increase our faith in him as your own word to us, that even we may deny ourselves, take us whatever cross you give us, and follow him.
Dear God, as you long to lead all of your people out of darkness into your marvelous light: send your Spirit this day to all who sit in deep shadows within the walled cities of their own sorrows or perplexities. Send your Spirit, O God, to all who are ill or recovering from illness, in hospitals, or nursing homes, or their own homes; those anticipating surgery or recovering from it; those who have left our side to be with you and those who grieve their departure; those who are lonely; and all others who are in special need of your presence this day, but especially those nearest and dearest to us. May they and we hear now the song of rejoicing of those who have found Christ to be their companion and their helper; and may they and we fling wide the gates of our own spirits, that he might enter in to bring even us his peace.
For your love’s own sake, we pray, Amen.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Praise God all creatures here below!
Praise God above you heavenly host!
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
OFFERING PRAYER OF DEDICATION
O Christ, instead of garments and palm branches, we lay before you our gifts and offerings as you enter the cities of our own lives. Receive and accept these gifts as you receive and accept us, all given in your name, Amen.
PH#155 All Glory Laud and Honor
SECOND SCRIPTURE LESSON Mark 11: 1-10: “Palm Sunday
SERMON The Ordinary Made Extraordinary
“Ride on! Ride on in majesty! O Christ, with brave humility, on lowly colt, your road pursue, as palms and cloaks are spread for you.” Amen (NCH, 215, 1)
At first blush, this high and holy drama of Palm Sunday is quite extraordinary indeed! A great parade, the road strewn with garments and palm branches, shouts of Hosanna! The one who arrives in the Holy City comes in the name of the Lord and ushers in the coming kingdom of God. What an important person; what an extraordinary event indeed!
But on careful, prayerful, and faithful reflection, we discover that this day is really about the quite ordinary stuff of life—like humility and obedience—the ordinary made extraordinary by the presence and guidance of God’s Spirit. It seems to me that the simple yet terribly important lesson of Palm Sunday is that God uses quite normal, ordinary people like all of us, to do quite normal, ordinary things that become truly extraordinary in their impact, through God’s love and power.
Think for a moment, if you will, about all the quite ordinary people and things that are part of this day’s celebration. Two unnamed disciples; an unnamed donkey; the animal’s unnamed owner; the imaginary person questioning the recruitment of the colt; the bystanders; the faces in the crowd; those who shouted Hosannas and Blesseds. Quite frankly, ordinary people in ordinary places at ordinary times doing ordinary things in order to achieve the truly extraordinary goals or intentions of God.
And that spiritual dynamic is true for us as well. We are neither the famous nor the important—at least not so far as the world is concerned—and yet, God continues to show up in our quite ordinary lives at the oddest moments to work the divine miracle of grace. Once in a blue moon, yes, something dramatic does happen to or with us; but most of the time, we live in and through the all-too-ordinary. But the redeeming message we need to hear amidst all the pomp and pageantry of Palm Sunday is that God is most often found among the ordinary, among the normal, among even the humdrum experiences of life. As Paul says to the Philippians and to us—even though Jesus “was in the form of God,” he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
Just think of where people found Jesus in those New Testament times and places—by the Sea of Galilee, walking along a dusty road, at a well at noontime in Samaria, or on a hillside teaching. And we too find Jesus most and best when we look for him in the ordinary aspects of everyday life. A very wise person (and by now, you ought to know who that might be!) once said, “The secret to life is to do the ordinary in an extraordinary way.” And how true that is! Whenever we know the love of God, whenever we have been touched and transformed at the very core of our being, then even our ordinary is made truly extraordinary.
Think too, for a moment, of all the ways, times, and places when and where we have experienced God’s presence ourselves; and I doubt that it’s ever been along a raucous parade route! In my life at least, God usually shows up in the most unexpected ways and at the most unexpected times to grace our ordinary lives with the truly extraordinary. A simple meal with family or friends becomes a special moment as we share together the stuff of our lives—and God is present. A kind gesture from a neighbor, a visit to a shut-in, a helping hand to one who needs it—and somehow mysteriously, even miraculously, before our very eyes, God is present; and we are transformed. We see Christ in others, or, even more amazingly, others see Christ in us!
I may have told you before about one of the earlier memorable and moving experiences in my own ministry. It was three churches ago; I was serving a grand, old downtown cathedral church, the very first church in that community. Our members were quite elderly; we had lots of shut-ins; and so a large part of my ministry involved calling on these folks and visiting with them to remind them that the church had not forgotten them. About mid-way in my tenure there, I had a terrible fall on the ice (Do you notice a pattern here in my life?) and broke my left ankle and leg in three places; I was in a cast for many weeks and obviously could not do this visitation work. But during those several months, several of my shut-ins called me faithfully each and every week to see how I was doing and to remind me that they had not forgotten about me—a simple reversal of roles and a simple act of kindness that meant the world to me during my time of temporary incapacity.
And just think of all the ordinary, yet extraordinarily selfless acts of kindness, generosity, and thoughtfulness that we have experienced from the very onset of the current health crisis that grips our lives and our world. Our Food Pantry volunteers continue their weekly mission under very challenging circumstances, because our guests need that ministry more than ever. So many of you have called or e-mailed or texted Nancy and me to see how we are doing so far away from our church family. Our next-door neighbor recently called to ask if we would like her to do some grocery shopping for us. And think too of those very many similarly ordinary things that so many of you have done for Nancy and me over our years together during several dramatic personal moments, both sad and joyous, in our lives—the deaths of our grandson Silas and Nancy’s mother; my two falls, surgeries, and recoveries; and the births of our grandsons Jonah and Caleb. All the quite ordinary things you did during those times became extraordinary gifts of grace to Nancy and me when we needed them most.
My friends, whenever we can truly see and understand the ordinary made extraordinary in our own lives, by others and by ourselves, we receive God’s blessing. And whenever we see finally that God is at work in us—even in ways we never dreamed, even in ways we would prefer not—then and only then shall we have open eyes, humble hearts, and obedient spirits. Then and only then, shall we become ourselves the ordinary made extraordinary.
And whenever we share the sacrament of Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper, let us remember that this sacred meal is in fact sign and symbol of this Palm Sunday miracle of quite ordinary things being made quite extraordinary through God’s presence and grace. Nothing
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more than bits of bread, tiny cups of juice—as ordinary as food and drink can get—yet understood spiritually as Christ’s own body broken for us, Christ’s own blood shed for us.
Indeed, truly extraordinary grace! Thanks be to God!
Let us pray...O Christ: “Ride on! Ride on in majesty! Ride on in humble dignity; behold the ones you came to save from senseless life and endless grave.” Amen. (NCH, 215, 3)
PH#288 Let us break bread together
THE SACRAMENT OF HOLY COMMUNION
INVITATION TO THE TABLE
Luke the evangelist, wrote of our Risen Savior, who at the table with two of his disciples took bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened, and they recognized the Risen Christ in the breaking of the bread. My friends, in company with all believers in every time and beyond time, we come to the table of our Lord to know the Risen Christ in the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the cup.
UNISON COMMUNION PRAYER
Loving God, bless the bread and cup we share as signs and symbols of the ordinary made extraordinary. And bless us all with love to be shared, glory to brighten our days, and grace to fill our hearts. Open our eyes, and make yourself known to us today, tomorrow, and forever. Amen.
UNISON PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
We thank you, God, for inviting us to your table, where in our eating and drinking, our eyes may be opened and we may recognize the Risen Christ in our midst, in each other, and in all for whom Christ died. Strengthen our faith; increase our love for one another; and let us show forth your praise and service in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Savior, Amen.
NCH#336 Here O My Lord I See You Face to Face;
“Hosanna, Christ we praise you with heart and life and voice. Hosanna! In your presence forever we’ll rejoice.” Amen. (NCH, 213, 4, c & d)
Go Now In peace