“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
We, the people of Carlingford Uniting Church are dispersed this Palm Sunday, but we join with each other in worship, and pray:
While we may not be gathered in our building today, nevertheless we are bound together by our faith in Christ.
And wherever we are, God, you meet us, and, if we will allow, it is there that you surprise us with your love and your grace.
So we ask you to open our heavy eyes, and tired minds, enter into our cold hearts and surprise us again with joy and peace.
Open us to hope in you, and allow us to glimpse the goodness of your purpose for us.
Help us be conscious of your presence wherever we are, so that we can join in the cry “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”
We are your people, and you are our God. You know each one of us even better than we know ourselves. You have loved us so much that you gave up your Son for us. You call us to love you, and to love each other: To love you with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
But especially at times of crisis, it is easy for us to ignore your call. It is easy for us close our hearts and minds to what you would have us do. It is easy for us to pray for your help, but so much harder for us to help others.
In times of crisis, our instinct is to look after ourselves and our families, to secure our own positions, to safeguard our children, but as followers of Jesus, we know that you call on us to love our neighbours as ourselves.
And so often, our selfishness is reflected in what we do as a society. We ask ‘how much can we get?’ or ‘what’s in it for us?’. We look after ourselves, and leave others to fend for themselves.
Under the Job Keeper policy announced this week, most visa holders and those working in the cash economy are excluded, but they are no less effected by Covid-19 and its economic implications than any of us. Yet our leaders and our celebrities say ‘We are all in this together’.
Many people are now in Australia, with no income, and no way of returning to their home countries.
We fail so often to support them. We even fail to remember them.
We turn away ships from our waters, so that we can save our health care resources for ourselves.
We fail to hold our leaders to account for things that affect others so gravely, yet don’t touch our own lives.
Forgive us, Lord.
Forgive us our when we put ourselves, our families, and people like ourselves first.
Forgive us when we ignore the needs of others.
Forgive us when we hoard things that others lack.
Forgive us when we choose our own way rather than your way.
Forgive us, change us, and guide and inspire us to live as a light to others.
Forgive us in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, who gave himself for us all.
Assurance of forgiveness
The psalmist writes: ‘Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.’ (Psalm 32:5)
Hear again Christ’s word of grace to us all: “Your sins are forgiven”.
Thanks be to God.
Prayers of intercession
Well, this is different!
Lets take a moment to calm our minds as we bring our prayers to the Lord.
Good morning gracious and loving Father,
We give you thanks that we live here in Australia, where we can worship you and sing your praises without fear.
Sometimes we live on life’s hills.
Sometimes we live in life’s valleys.
And all that we hope for,
Is the Lord’s love.
We rise every morning,
Wondering what in the world Will the world bring today.
Will it bring us joy or will it take it away?
And every step we take is guided by,
The light of the Lord’s love upon the land.
We all walk in good company
We pray for our minister Richie, and for his family. We ask that you support him as he works with us to find new ways to lead us in worship. Keep his creativity flowing and his health and energy reserves full to the brim.
Lord we pray for those who are leading our Carlingford congregation in other ways at this time. There are new ways of doing things to be instigated, the business of the church goes on but meeting together to accomplish this is not possible just now.
We also pray for those leading the states and our nation, and those leading other nations and the world as a whole. We pray that you will bless all of these leaders with creativity, resourcefulness, humility, compassion, patience and forgiveness, as they navigate a new course, to new places, to some degree building the plane as it’s flying.
Lord, you know we have our challenges at this time. We offer our thanks to you for being there to support us in our uncertainty and doubt.
There have been so many challenges recently to the way we live our lives that we are all feeling very unsettled.
We don’t need to tell you, but we humans are a funny bunch; we like stability, we like to know what’s coming and how we can organise our activities accordingly. And these current times are no different. But of course there are always so many other factors around our lives, things we cannot even see, let alone influence or control, that we should never think we are in control.
This is one of the reasons we love You Lord. We love having you in our lives. You ARE in control. You are our safe harbour, our place of calm, where we can tie up securely, in strength and in safety. You are our lighthouse, guiding us through the seas of danger and insecurity, away from the waves crashing onto the rocks of uncertainty, towards You, our harbour of refuge.
And so we pray that you will remind us to continue to look to you, our lighthouse, for guidance and certainty. To see you as the secure course, protecting us from fear, from uncertainty and from doubt.
Gracious and loving Lord, we uphold in our prayers all those whose health is compromised, those who are lonely, and those who are newly lonely because of the current social distancing. Remind us all that our friends are still there and still love us. They are just at the end of the phone. Poke us in the ribs Lord, prod us to pick up the phone and call them. Don’t let us wait for them to call us. Remind us too, Lord, that our kids still love us and that our grandchildren are fine, only bigger. We give you thanks in advance, Lord, for the hugs we will enjoy when this is all over. Help us to keep looking forward to those hugs.
And though it is not always easy;
we trust the light,
Towards which we wend our way.
And every step we take is guided by;
The light of the Lord’s love upon the land.
We all walk, We all walk
We all walk in good company
The Lord's Prayer
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread, forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever.
Bible Readings (Matthew 21:1-11) GNT
The Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem
21 As Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to Bethphage at the Mount of Olives. There Jesus sent two of the disciples on ahead 2 with these instructions: “Go to the village there ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied up with her colt beside her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 And if anyone says anything, tell him, ‘The Master needs them’; and then he will let them go at once.”
4 This happened in order to make what the prophet had said come true:
5 “Tell the city of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you!
He is humble and rides on a donkey
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
6 So the disciples went and did what Jesus had told them to do: 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, threw their cloaks over them, and Jesus got on. 8 A large crowd of people spread their cloaks on the road while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds walking in front of Jesus and those walking behind began to shout, “Praise to David's Son! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! Praise be to God!”
10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was thrown into an uproar. “Who is he?” the people asked.
11 “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee,” the crowds answered.
Preaching of the Word
“Hosanna” is one of those words we say in church, but we don’t always appreciate what it means.
The word ‘hosanna’ comes from the Hebrew word ‘hoshana’ which literally means “save now!”. But, beyond its literal meaning, “Hosanna” or “Save now!” as an exclamation became, by Jesus time, a way of identifying and praising the promised messiah.
And that’s what the crowd cried as Jesus rode toward Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. So: Hosanna! Hosanna! Let’s wave our palm branches and throw down our cloaks and shout hosanna!
Except that you may have noticed in today’s reading that Matthew doesn’t mention palm branches – just that they cut branches from the trees. And yet, we celebrate the day as ‘Palm Sunday’.
In fact, neither Mark nor Luke specifically mention palm branches either. Mark is like Matthew, and says: “branches cut from trees” but Luke doesn’t mention any branches at all. In fact, Luke doesn’t even use the word ‘Hosanna’ when telling the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
So amongst the four gospels, it’s only John’s that says they were palm branches.
It seems that ‘Palm Sunday’ might not be an entirely accurate name. And then there’s the heading ‘Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem’ or similar in most bible translations… but that’s not necessarily entirely accurate either.
Today’s reading begins with “When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives…”
At this stage in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus and his disciples have been on a long journey to Jerusalem. A journey that started at the beginning of his ministry, when he went to the Jordan river, to be baptised by John, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted.
And after the wilderness, he began preaching the good news that the kingdom of heaven had come near, and he called his first disciples and they followed him.
And Jesus taught, and healed, and performed miracles and cast out demons and built up a great following. People would come – multitudes would come – to hear Jesus speak.
But even as his popularity grew, so did the opposition – from those in authority, those who had religious and political power.
As we’ve heard in our reading, Jesus’ journey was nearing its end. From the Mount of Olives you have a clear view into Jerusalem.
In fact, it’s so close that after they arrived in Jerusalem, Jesus and the disciples would walk back to the Mount of Olives – I guess for some time away from the hustle and bustle of the city, which would have been particularly busy in the week before the Jewish festival of Passover.
The journey to Jerusalem would have been an anxious one for Jesus’ companions. In fact, the disciples were probably dreading it; Jerusalem, after all, was the centre of the Jewish world, and the place where it was likely that Jesus would clash with the Jewish authorities - even more than he had anywhere else. Things were almost certain to come to a head, and in any conflict with the authorities in Jerusalem, Jesus and his followers wouldn’t likely fare too well – and of course, we know how disastrously things turned out.
But greater things were at work than simply the conflict between the established power of the Temple authorities – the scribes and the teachers of the law – and a wandering teacher and his band of disciples:
“When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples [ahead]” (19:29)
Bethphage was a village, but also more or less an outer suburb of Jerusalem. It was only a couple of kilometres from the Temple.
Jesus gives the two disciples he sends pretty concise instructions, and we read from verse 2, “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.”
And if anyone asks them why they’re untying the donkey and the colt, Jesus tells them simply to say ‘The Lord needs them”. Nothing else. Simply ‘the Lord needs them’ (21:3).
And Jesus tells them that if they say that, then [the owner] will send them immediately.
The donkey and the colt aren’t just a method of transport, but they’re hugely symbolic. Matthew explains this to his readers, sharing a prophecy from the book of Zechariah:
“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” (Zech 9:9)
And sure enough, the two disciples found a donkey and its colt tied, just as Jesus told them they would. Which, in itself, might not be that remarkable, because donkeys were fairly common around Jerusalem at the time, and tying them was also fairly common. So having found the donkey and its colt, the disciples untied them, and brought them to Jesus.
Matthew doesn’t tell us that anyone said anything to the disciples while they were untying the donkey and the colt… but both Mark and Luke do, and in each of those accounts the disciples say , as Jesus had instructed them, “the Lord needs it” (Lk 19:33-34, Mk 11:5-5)
There’s no indication of any further discussion, of selling the donkey, or renting it or whatever – simply “The Lord needs it.” And it happens. I wonder if Matthew leaves it out simply because there was so little drama about it?
In any case, the two donkeys, were taken by those two disciples back to Jesus and the other disciples on the Mount of Olives.
And there, the disciples threw their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them.
And so, for the last two kilometres or so into Jerusalem, Jesus rode the colt of the donkey, fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy.
And has he travelled toward Jerusalem, the crowd gathered.
Something big, something important, something significant not just in their lives, but in the whole of history was happening.
Matthew tells us that the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches and spread them on the road too (21:8).
It’s a grand parade, and it echoes the honour given in 2 Kings 9:13 when Jehu was anointed King of Israel – or the ticker tape parades of modern times.
The crowds were going ahead of Jesus, they were shouting and praising God.
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna to the highest heaven!”
They are clearly identifying Jesus as the Messiah, the one who comes in the name of the Lord (Ps 118), the one who saves. The one who brings reconciliation between God and all of humanity.
The crowd publicly, and vocally, acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, the one who will save them. Hosanna!
The entry to Jerusalem is the inevitable climax to the journey that Jesus has been on since he resolutely set out for Jerusalem back in Luke Chapter 9.
And although this passage is headed the Triumphal Entry, he doesn’t actually enter Jerusalem until the last two verses, and even then the mood begins to change. We read “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking ‘who is this?’. And the crowds in the city were responding, not “This is the messiah” but “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee”.
It seems that perhaps the mood of the crowd was beginning to turn.
So Jesus did enter Jerusalem… but was it really triumphal? We know that the real triumph of Jesus didn’t happen until Easter Sunday – and we know too, there was an awful lot to happen between the events of the “triumphal entry” and the resurrection.
Being part of the church can often be like the Triumphal Entry. People gather together to sing hymns of praise, and hear the scriptures and pray, and they do that as the people of God… and then the service ends, and everyone leaves and returns to being the people of the world, until next Sunday, when the people gather, and the hymns play again and all the rest of that.
We may not be doing it at the moment, but it’s traditional for Christians to gather together - particularly on Palm Sunday. To gather, like that crowd on the last couple of kilometres to Jerusalem, to praise God. But so often, we gather and then we disperse, just as that first Palm Sunday crowd did, and go our separate ways until the next time.
Praising God, and praying to God, and listening for God’s word shouldn’t be something we only do on Sundays, or for that matter, that we only do in church buildings, or that we only do when we’re gathered. We’re forced to not gather, and not be in our usual worship space at the moment, and while it might not be the way we’d like to worship, we’ve found that we can still pray and praise and listen.
The crowd who cheered Jesus on his way as he approached Jerusalem, soon scattered, and turned their backs on him, and then another crowd gathered on Friday and cried “Crucify him”.
And I have to wonder, how many in the crowd at the Triumphal Entry were also in crowd on that Friday? That Friday, when instead of praising Jesus, they were calling for the release of Barrabas, and when the cries of ‘Hosanna! Save us!’ turned into ‘Crucify him!’.
We’re called by Jesus, not to be members of a crowd which gathers and disperses as the mood takes us, rather, we’re called by Jesus to be part of his church – part of his body: the body of Christ. We continue the mission that Jesus gave his church which Matthew records later in his gospel – “Therefore” Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20)
And we do that in ways that are different for each of us, and differ for each of us over time. Paul writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor 12) that “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.”
And to the Romans (Romans 12:6-8) “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
We realise too, that there is no gift without its corresponding service. The owners of the donkey and the colt gave them to Jesus to use, simply because “The Lord needed them”.
We all need to think about what the Lord needs of us. Not because God “needs” our help in order to make his plan for the world work, because God doesn’t rely on any of us, but we all get to be part of the outworking of God’s plan for the world.
So I wonder: If you stop and think about it now, what does the Lord need from you? It’s probably not the colt of a donkey. If you catch someone taking your car, and they tell you that “The Lord needs it”, I reckon you should call the police.
But what the Lord needs of you might not be onerous, it may not a burden, what’s needed today is probably not the same as what was needed a year ago – or a month ago, but whatever it is, it should be done freely, in response to God’s grace.
So what does the Lord need from you?
Is it serving?
Is it encouraging?
Is it giving?
Is it leading?
Is it simply upholding others in prayer?
And as a congregation of the Uniting Church in Australia, what does God need from us?
How can we as a congregation serve and encourage our community during the Covid-19 crisis? How can we share God’s love when we can’t meet with others? What is God calling us to do?
How can our congregation serve and encourage and lead in Sydney in the 21st century? Looking into the future, what will be our response be to all that God has given us?
But whatever we might choose, let’s look forward to the day when all people will say:
Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!
The week of Easter goes from the highs of the Triumphal Entry, to the agony of Gethsemane, to the pain of betrayal and abandonment, to the sorrow and despair of Good Friday, and, finally, to the joy of Easter Sunday.
No matter what you are experiencing in this time of uncertainty, know that you have the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Hymns for this week:
Looking Out: Keeping Up Appearences
Good Friday: 10 April, 2020
Theme: The Message of the Cross
Readings: Mt 27:11-26,45-53, 1 Cor: 1:18-25
Lectionary Readings for Good Friday Is 52:13 – 53:12, Psalm 22, Hebrews 10:16-25 or Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9, John 18:1 – 19:42
Easter Sunday: 12 April, 2020
Theme: The Image of God
Readings: Matthew 28:1-10, Colossians 1:15-24
Lectionary Readings for Easter Sunday Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6, Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43, John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10
Special Notice: Easter Sunday is also Communion Sunday this month, and we will be offering on-line communion next Sunday (April 12). This will be available on the website at our normal service time (9:15). If you wish to participate, you should prepare the elements – a small amount of bread, and a small cup of juice (or similar). Any leftover elements should be reverently consumed after the service.