Worship Resources for March 24, 2024—Palm and Passion Sunday

A note on Rev-o-lution:
After seventeen years of blogging, first on an old Blogger site and then for the past thirteen years at this domain, providing worship resources on the Revised Common Lectionary (and for the past ten years on the Narrative Lectionary), it is time to hang up my blogging hat.
I will continue to post new resources through Pentecost (May 19, 2024) and keep the website up through at least November 2024, perhaps longer, for access to the archives.
It has become more difficult to say something new week after week, and also, I’m now writing novels, and it has taken more of my time than I can give.

Thank you for your support of Rev-o-lution over all these years. It has meant a lot to me that my resources are useful to local pastors and that I have been able to provide them for free. But all things come to an end and there are other people blogging on the lectionary currently, with fresher words than mine. I’ll be sharing those sites in the coming weeks. Thank you for all your kind words over the last few weeks.

Revised Common Lectionary
Palm Sunday: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-26
Passion Sunday: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:1-15:47 or Mark 15:1-39 (40-47)

Narrative Lectionary: Triumphal Entry (or Anointing at Bethany), Mark 11:1-11 or 14:3-9 (Psalm 118:25-29)

We begin Holy Week with Psalm 118, a song of praise to God, calling the people to worship God in the temple. The psalmist speaks of how God has chosen the people rejected by the world, the chief cornerstone. The psalmist calls upon the congregation to process toward the altar, giving thanks to God with praise and offerings.

Mark’s account of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem in 11:1-11 (also the scripture for the Narrative Lectionary), portrays Jesus as having entered Jerusalem for the first time. He arrived at Bethpage and Bethany, outside of Jerusalem, for the city was crowded for Passover. Jesus sent the disciples ahead of him to find a colt, and they found one exactly as he said they would, to borrow for a short time. The disciples threw their cloaks on the colt, and Jesus rode on it into Jerusalem. People spread their cloaks on the road like a red carpet rolled out, and cut leafy branches to wave, and shouted “Hosanna!” which means “Save us!” They called out blessings to the one who came in the name of their Lord, referring to Psalm 118, and the kingdom in the name of their ancestor David. There is some thought among scholars that Jesus entered Jerusalem the same time that Pilate did, and that Jesus’s act is an act of protest against Rome. Jesus went to the temple, looked around at everything—for he had not seen it before—and then returned with the disciples to Bethany to stay for the night.

John’s account of Jesus’ entry is much shorter. In John’s account, the people call him the King of Israel, and John links both Psalm 118 and Zechariah 9:9 as prophesying Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey with proclamations from the crowds. But his disciples did not understand everything until after the resurrection.

The Passion readings with the Suffering Servant passage found in Isaiah 50:4-9a. In this passage, the prophet Isaiah personifies Israel as a people who have suffered in exile. Because the people have remained faithful to God, God has taken notice of them, and they will not be put to shame or be disgraced for what has happened to them. God knows their innocence, and God will vindicate the people.

The psalmist has suffered in Psalm 31:9-16. Unlike the Suffering Servant, the one suffering in this psalm has experienced shame and disgrace by their neighbors, who scheme and plot to take the psalmist’s life. Yet the psalmist trusts in God’s deliverance, and they call upon God to save them, for God’s steadfast love endures.

Paul shares the ancient confession of the church—quite possibly a hymn—in Philippians 2:5-11. Paul urged the church in Philippi to be humble like Christ in their dealings with one another, both inside and outside the church. Christ did not take advantage of being the Son of God, but became one of us, humble and obedient as a faithful servant of God, to the point of death on the cross. God raised Jesus so that everyone, at the name of Jesus, would confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God.

The longer Passion narrative in Mark, from 14:1-15:47, begins two days before the Passover, with the plot to betray Jesus, and the preparation of Jesus for his death. Both threads are found throughout the Passion narrative: some religious leaders plot to kill Jesus; Jesus is anointed as in preparation for burial. Judas betrays Jesus; two days later, the other disciples prepare for the Passover meal and Jesus tells them that one will betray him. Judas asks, “Surely not I, Lord?” and Jesus replies, “Take, this is my body.” In the garden, Peter assures Jesus he will not abandon him; Jesus says before the rooster crows twice Peter will deny him three times. Judas and the others come to arrest Jesus; Jesus reminds them that he was among them day after day, and they did nothing. Jesus is brought to trial and accused of blasphemy; Jesus tells the religious leaders that they will see him seated at the right hand of power. Jesus defends himself in the court; in the courtyard, Peter denies he knew him. Jesus is brought before Pilate but refuses to answer him to stop his execution. Barabbas is released, Jesus is brought to execution. The Roman soldiers mock him, crying out, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Jesus accepts the thorn of crowns in silence. The soldiers crucify Jesus; Jesus refuses the wine to ease his pain. They mock and taunt him; Jesus cries out to God. The threads weave their way through the narrative until Jesus is placed in the tomb.

The shorter narrative is only 15:1-39, or through 47, focusing solely on the events of Good Friday after the trial, when Jesus is brought before Pilate. Even though in the Gospel accounts Pilate is portrayed more favorably, he still hands Jesus over to be crucified. Jesus is tortured and killed by the Roman Empire as a criminal. Even though Pilate seems to believe Jesus is innocent, he relents to the crowds and has Jesus crucified. Jesus dies at the hands of the empire, of soldiers who mock him and beat him and deride him. The crowds may have called for his death, but it is the instruments of the empire who cause all the physical harm and kill him. The systems and structures of this world designed to keep the world’s ways of peace, the Pax Romana, killed Jesus.

The Narrative Lectionary follows Mark this year, so the initial passage of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem is the same. The alternative passage of Mark 14:3-9 is of Jesus’s anointing at Bethany. In Mark’s account, this happens at the home of Simon the Leper—already a place of stigma. A woman anoints Jesus with a costly alabaster jar of nard. Some (Mark’s account doesn’t say if they were disciples) were upset by this, probably because she was a woman touching Jesus, but the argument was that the jar could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 15:11, reminding those around him that they always have an opportunity themselves to show kindness to the poor. Instead, they are attacking this woman who has performed a good service for him, preparing him for burial. Jesus then tells them that whenever the Gospel is proclaimed in the world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her. Remember her. Remember God’s commandment to always show kindness to others and bless those who are among you.

The secondary reading of Psalm 118:25-29 is the latter portion of what is in the Revised Common Lectionary for Palm Sunday above. The psalmist prays to God to save the people and blesses the one who comes in the name of the Lord. The psalmist instructs the procession to bring branches up to the altar and gives thanks to God.

If anything, Palm Sunday reminds us that our ways are not God’s ways. Our ways are to show power and strength through dominance. God continually lays down God’s power. God covenants with us, the people, throughout history, instead of domineering over us. God promises an abundant life. God shows us how to live. God’s desire throughout our scriptural history is not punishment, but restoration. Jesus embodies God’s desires for us by living as one of us, and laying down his life for us. He enters Jerusalem not on a war horse but on a donkey, not on a red carpet but on the coats of the poor. He comes before Pilate not promising revenge but willing to die. He suffers the abuse of the Roman soldiers—and a reminder that it is the Romans who called him the “king of the Jews,” not the Jewish people. Jesus’ own friends abandon him, just like we have abandoned God time and again when our lives get difficult. We look to save ourselves instead of saving others. Jesus literally laid down his life for us.

The woman who anointed Jesus laid down her own reputation to bless him. We can be like those arguing that she should have done something different, or we can accept that each of us has an opportunity to be a blessing for others, and we ought to take it, every chance we get. We ought to take the chance to live as God called us to live. We ought to take that chance for God and for each other.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 118:1-2, 24, 26)
O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good;
God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Let all the people say,
God’s steadfast love endures forever.
This is the day that the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,
May we bless one another, and our God, in this time of worship.

Prayer of Invocation
Creator of All, we give You thanks on this day that we are able to gather together. We give You thanks that we can bring our prayers and petitions before You. We give You thanks that we can worship with one another and care for each other. We give You thanks that You have made Your ways known to us, through the teachings of our ancestors, the Scriptures handed down, and the love shared with us, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, we confess that we sing Your praises in one breath and curse one another in the next. We fail to follow You and to live into Your ways. We follow the ways of this world, the crowds of power, and feed the fears of the powerful. We abandon faith in You to chase a passing glimpse of worldly satisfaction and security. Forgive us for our foolishness. Call us back into Your ways of love, compassion, and hope. Call us into living into Your ways of healing and reparation and restoration. In the name of Jesus Christ, who entered Jerusalem as one of us and died for us all, we pray. Amen.

We know that our Redeemer lives. We know that in the face of all our faults and shortcomings, Christ lifts us up, embraces us, and forgives us. You are loved. You are forgiven. You belong to Christ and can never be forgotten. You are valued. Know your worth—you are God’s beloved child, and with you God is well pleased. Go forth and share the good news of God’s hope to the world. Amen.

God of Death and Life, You have made us to become like seeds that fall to the ground, so that we will bear much fruit by dying to the ways of this world and being born in Your way. We are afraid to let go. We have known only this way that the world has taught us, to put ourselves and our desires first, but we know Your Way is the Truth and the Life. Help us to let go of the worldly understanding of success. Help us to let go of the world and to fall into You. Help us to take root and to bear fruit, so that all may know Your abundant love. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.