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URC Daily Devotions Worship for Palm Sunday 2021
The Rev’d Geoffrey Clarke
Welcome to worship for Palm Sunday. Our service this morning commences with the celebration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and moves on to ponder his self-giving love as heard and seen within the Passion Gospel.
I am Geoffrey Clarke, Moderator of the East Midlands Synod of The United Reformed Church, (a Synod that embraces the counties and 127 churches of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Milton Keynes)
Call to Worship
People of God, on this wilderness journey, what will you eat? The word of the Lord is our daily bread. People of God, in this time of temptation, how will you live? Our faith is in the faithfulness of God. People of God, at this kingdom crossroad, whom will you serve? We worship the Lord our God alone.
Reading St Mark 11: 1-11
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.”’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
Hymn: All glory, laud and honour to thee, Redeemer King Theodolf of Orléans 820, translated J M Neale 1851
All glory, laud, and honour To Thee, Redeemer, King! To Whom the lips of children Made sweet Hosannas ring.
1: Thou art the King of Israel Thou David’s Royal Son, Who in the LORD’S name comest, The King and Blessèd One.
2: The company of Angels Are praising Thee on high, And mortal men, and all things Created make reply.
3: To Thee before Thy Passion They sang their hymns of praise; To Thee now high exalted Our melody we raise.
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness
Loving God, at this time we remember that going up to Jerusalem cost Jesus his very life. So we come before you. conscious of the way religious words and holy phrases can slip so easily from our lazy lips and hardened hearts. What do we really know of your mountainous truth, your rock-hard integrity, the depth of your suffering for love of us all? Forgive us for the shallowness of our faith, and the timidity of our following: forgive us for the ready excuses we make for going our own way and claiming it as yours.
Turn us round again, we pray, by your Holy Spirit, active within us and among us. Show us how to be open again to your faithfulness and to your freedom, that we may live new lives and be again bearers of the seeds of the Kingdom of Jesus.
Here are words you may trust – words that merit full acceptance: Hear the Gospel word of grace: “Your sins are forgiven”. Thanks be to God.
Prayer of Illumination
Eternal God, whose word silences the shouts of the mighty: Quiet within us every voice but your own. Speak to us through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ that by the power of the Holy Spirit we may receive grace to show Christ’s love in lives given to your service. Amen.
Hymn: Our Saviour, Christ, of Godly nature The Rev’d Michael L Forster (born 1946)
Our Saviour, Christ, of Godly nature and equal in the Father’s eyes, refused to clutch his rightful glory the way a miser grasps the prize.
2: Of all his heavenly glory emptied, his very self he freely gave, to clothe himself in human nature and wear the mantle of a slave.
3: Immortal God for us made mortal, the God-breathed Word drew human breath, then gave up even that to save us, obedient to the very death.
4: From death to life did God exalt him, to heaven’s joy and earth’s acclaim; on him, and him alone, bestowing the Name above all other names.
5: That at the glorious Name of Jesus all nations shall acclaim his worth, & every knee shall bow before him above, below and on the earth.
6: Let every tongue in earth and heaven proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, who shows the glory of the Father, our God for evermore adored.
Narrator: It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said,
Other: “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”
Narrator: While Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger,
Other: “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.”
Narrator: And they scolded her. But Jesus said,
Jesus: “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Narrator: Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him,
Other: “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
Narrator: So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them,
Jesus: “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”
Narrator: So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said,
Jesus: “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.”
Narrator: They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another,
Other: “Surely, not I?”
Narrator: He said to them,
Jesus: “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Humanity goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Humanity is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”
Narrator: While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said,
Jesus: “Take; this is my body.”
Narrator: Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them,
Jesus: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
Christ, let us see, by this most holy sign, love’s highest cost revealed in bread and wine. As you command, this also we will do, living and giving all to honour you.
St Mark 14: 25-52
Narrator: When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them,
Jesus: “You will all become deserters; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”
Narrator: Peter said to him,
Other: “Even though all become deserters, I will not.”
Narrator: Jesus said to him,
Jesus: “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.”
Narrator: But he said vehemently,
Other: “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.”
Narrator: And all of them said the same. They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples,
Jesus: “Sit here while I pray.”
Narrator: He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And said to them,
Jesus: “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.”
Narrator: And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said,
Jesus: “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”
Narrator: He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter,
Jesus: “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Narrator: And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them,
Jesus: “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
Narrator: Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying,
Other: “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.”
Narrator: So when he came, he went up to him at once and said,
Narrator: and kissed him.
Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to them,
Jesus: “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.”
Narrator: All of them deserted him and fled. A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.
Christ, Lord of love, what treachery is this? See how your friend betrays y ou with a kiss! Change by your love all those who share his claim, all who call hatred holy in your name.
St Mark 14: 53-72
Narrator: They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying,
Other: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’”
Narrator: But even on this point their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus,
Other: “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?”
Narrator: But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, Other: “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
Narrator: Jesus said,
Jesus: “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Humanity seated at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’”
Narrator: Then the high priest tore his clothes and said,
Other: “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?”
Narrator: All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him,
Narrator: The guards also took him over and beat him. While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said,
Other: “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.”
Narrator: But he denied it, saying,
Other: “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.”
Narrator: And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders,
Other: “This man is one of them.”
Narrator: But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter,
Other: “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.”
Narrator: But he began to curse, and he swore an oath,
Other: “I do not know this man you are talking about.”
Narrator: At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him,
Jesus: “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.”
Narrator: And he broke down and wept.
Christ, by your friends in daily life denied, bruised by the fall which follows sinful pride, you, only you, can pardon and restore, reach out your wounded hand to us once more.
St Mark 15: 1-15
Narrator: As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him,
Other: “Are you the King of the Jews?”
Narrator: He answered him,
Jesus: “You say so.”
Narrator: Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again,
Other: “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.”
Narrator: But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed. Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them,
Other: “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”
Narrator: For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again,
Other: “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?”
Narrator: They shouted back,
Other: “Crucify him!”
Narrator: Pilate asked them,
Other: “Why, what evil has he done?”
Narrator: But they shouted all the more,
Other: “Crucify him!”
Narrator: So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
Christ, Priest and Victim, this is now your hour, victim of priests’ and princes’ lust for pow’r; help us destroy the gods of pow’r and pride, and stand with you among the crucified.
St Mark 15: 16-39
Narrator: Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him,
Other: “Hail, King of the Jews!”
Narrator: They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it.
And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. It was nine o clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read,
Other: “The King of the Jews.”
Narrator: And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, Other: “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!”
Narrator: In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying,
Other: “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.”
Narrator: Those who were crucified with him also taunted him. When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o”clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice,
Jesus: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”
Narrator: which means,
Jesus: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Narrator: When some of the bystanders heard it, they said,
Other: “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.”
Narrator: And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying,
Other: “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”
Narrator: Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.
And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said,
Other: “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Christ who has shared your people’s darkest fears, Father who knows bereavement’s bitter tears, Spirit of love, with healing in your breath, hold and unite us at the time of death.
St Mark 14: 40-47
Narrator: There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem. When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.
Father and Spirit of the dying Son, still undivided, Three for ever One, grant at life’s end that, trusting in your grace, we may surrender to your love’s embrace.
The late Fred Kaan, United Reformed Church hymnwriter and minister, was surprised that among his many hymns one that continued to be sung was his Palm Sunday hymn. Lyrically it was by no means his most theologically profound and the Companion to Rejoice and Sing suggests that “it is not a hymn for those who need to remain dignified”. The first line, despite its simplicity, affirms what today’s gospel readings proclaim: We have a king who rides a donkey
and its fifth verse declares,
Servant-king is Jesus.
The kingship of the “servant-king” is in stark contrast to the power sought and held by all too many. Martin Luther, writing over five hundred years ago, reflected on leadership. He could so easily have been writing it today. I quote:
“In the world there are many who seek only their own advantage, honour, and power. This never makes for good government. For such people have little interest in the country and the nation; they think that they alone must be feted and honoured. They are unwilling to endure peril, ingratitude, contempt and disgrace; or when they do encounter such things, they grow furious and foolish, begin to rage, and turn everything topsides-turvy. They are determined to avenge themselves and to carry their point even though everything is ruined and the government collapses. These people are not fit to rule.”
There may be longed-for comfort and reassurance in the Palm Sunday image of our faith being “feted and honoured” on the streets and resembling that of a victory procession. Palm Sunday is a welcome opportunity to assert the hope that, in the words of Philippians 2, at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth (Philippians 2: 10). But Palm Sunday celebrated in isolation from the unfolding story of Holy Week is escapism, albeit a tempting and welcome one! We do well to remember Kaan’s affirmation that we have a king who rides a donkey … servant-king is Jesus! If we cling too tightly to the notion that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was recognition of his kingship and power we do well to remember his mode of transport. Riding a donkey is not an affirmation of glory! I’d suggest that rather than being a cavalcade of royal cars this is akin to Jesus being given a lift into town in Del Boy’s three-wheeled Reliant Regal Supervan!
Ours is a servant-king. And, ultimately, this is seen in the Passion Gospel – in the Crucified King. It should come as no surprise to any of us that the One acclaimed on Palm Sunday is subjected, just days later, to betrayal and denial by those closest to him. Acclamation is changed to derision as the hosanna-hymn morphs to the chorus of contempt.
Today is an opportunity for us to reflect on what kind of God we glimpse in the servant-king and, at the same time, to consider in which crowd we stand. We claim our lives are subject to God’s reign and rule and yet also betray and deny God all too readily when the going gets tough.
It is vital – and life-giving – for us to ensure that the focus is first and foremost not on ourselves but on our servant-king. His reign saves us. Luther recognised the features of bad leaders – those he describes as seeking only their own advantage, honour, and power and that they alone must be feted and honoured. There is a world of difference between such embodiments of power and privilege and the Crucified servant-king. Let the words of Philippians 2 challenge us all:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.
I conclude with words by Sam Wells, in his latest book, A Cross in the Heart of God:
In short, we have a king who rides a donkey … servant-king is Jesus
Let us pray.
God of Palm Sunday streets and Calvary’s hill, cheering crowds and weeping ones, we offer our prayers for the streets and hills, crowds and individuals in our own time:
We pray for those for whom the crowds cheer and the red carpet is laid out, monarchs and presidents, prime ministers and politicians, whether their power is bequeathed or bestowed by vote, in democracies and in dictatorships: recalling Luther’s words, may they lead and govern as servants, not seeking their own advantage, honour and power but in the interests of all, and with a commitment that embraces the wellbeing of the least and the lowest.
We pray for those who live in places where human rights and basic dignity are denied; those who are powerless and oppressed, enslaved or ignored. May they be upheld by the enduring love of God – and may that love be embodied in the care and concern of us all in praying and working tirelessly for a world in which all are valued and honoured.
We pray for the Church: for our worship, witness and service, particularly in these challenging times. We pray for our shared endeavour to cry, “Hosanna” – our attempts to connect the faith and conviction of the Church with the needs and fears of those around us. Save us from a false piety and an obsession with self-interest, rescue us from despair and tune our hearts to sing your praise. Tune our hearts to an awareness of your presence on our streets as well as sanctuaries, in humble service as well as joyous recognition. Enable us to lay down the cloaks of our lives at the feet of the servant-king so that when the singing ceases our service persists.
We pray for all for whom the desolation and grief of the Cross bear a painful resemblance to their own experience. For all facing the challenge of Covid-19 and all key workers, NHS and care home staff, and any and all putting their lives at risk for the good of the rest of us by ensuring essential services continue.
And as we contemplate the amazing love of God, made manifest in the Crucified One, we pray for all in agony and grief. Those who suffer: the vast company of those who know mental, physical or emotional pain. We hold before God in prayer those whose names and needs weigh heavily on our own hearts.
Finally, we pray for ourselves: that we may realise afresh the amazing love of God and find the help, strength and peace we need for lives lived to God’s glory.
In the name of the servant-king, Amen.
Hymn: My song is love unknown Samuel Crossman (1624 – 1683)
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 folk made strange, and none the longed-for Christ would know: but oh, 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: Why what hath my Lord done? What makes this rage and spite? He made the lame to run, He gave the blind their sight. Sweet injuries! yet they at these themselves displease and ‘gainst him rise.
5 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.
6 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.
7 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.
May the cry of “Hosanna” lift our spirits and warm our hearts and the cry of “Crucify” ever remind us of our calling to carry our cross. And the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, remain with you, now and always. Amen.
Sources and thanks
Liturgical Prelude by George Oldroyd (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020) Trumpet Voluntary in D by John Baston (organ of Basilica Santo Spirito, Florence, Italy – 2016)
Thanks to Myra Rose, the Rev’d Gordon Smith and Lesley Thompson for reading the Passion narrative. Also thanks to Walt Johnson, Mandy Hibbert, Glynis Purland, Alison Jiggins for reading other spoken parts of the service.
Where words are copyright reproduced under the terms of Barrhead URC’s CCLI licence number 1064776, Some material reprinted, and streamed, with permission under ONE LICENSE A-734713 All rights reserved. PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0019762