Sunday Worship 24 March

Order of Service

Below you will find the Order of Service, prayers, hymns and sermon for today’s service.   You can either simply read this or you can
 

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Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 24 March
Palm Sunday

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Walt Johnson

 
Welcome

Hello, and welcome to our Service of the Word on Sunday 24th March 2024. My name is Walt Johnson. I serve as a non-stipendiary Minister of Word and Sacraments in the Bolton and Salford Missional Partnership in the North-Western Synod of the URC.  Have you ever changed your opinion about somebody? You thought someone was awful, but they grew on you and now you like them?  Or you thought they were brilliant when you first met them, but now you don’t want anything to do with them. In both cases it was probably something the person said or did which changed your mind. On Palm Sunday, the people of Jerusalem welcomed Jesus into the city with joy, waving palm-branches and crying “Hosanna”. But five days later, they had changed their minds, and they were shouting “Crucify Him”. How people can change! We come together now as God’s people to worship our Lord, Jesus Christ: in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Call to Worship

We come to worship as we are. Make way, make way!
For Jesus is the King of kings!

We bring to God our sadness and our joy. Make way, make way!
For Jesus is the King of kings!

We cry out to God against brokenness and injustice. Make way, make way!  
For Jesus is the King of kings!

We hunger for the Bread of Life and thirst for the Living Water. Make way, make way!  
For Jesus is the King of kings!

We call on God’s holy name in the power of the Holy Spirit. Make way, make way!  
For Jesus is the King of kings!

Hymn     At The Name of Jesus 
Caroline Noel, 1870 Public domain Sung at the Aber Conference, 2016, of the Evangelical Movement of Wales and used with their kind permission 

At the name of Jesus ev’ry knee shall bow,
ev’ry tongue confess him King of glory now;
’tis the Father’s pleasure we should call him Lord,
who from the beginning was the mighty Word.

Humbled for a season to receive a name
from the lips of sinners unto whom he came,
faithfully he bore it spotless to the last,
brought it back victorious when from death he passed;

Name him, Christians, name him with love strong as death,
but with awe and wonder, and with bated breath.
He is God the saviour, He is Christ the Lord
ever to be worshiped trusted and adored.

In your hearts enthrone him; there let him subdue
all that is not holy, all that is not true;
crown him as your captain in temptation’s hour;
let his will enfold you in its light and pow’r.
 
Christians, this Lord Jesus shall return again
with his Father’s glory, with his angel train;
for all wreaths of empire meet upon his brow,
and our hearts confess him King of glory now.

Prayer of Approach

Loving God, You, who are our Creator; 
You, who, in Jesus, are our Saviour;
You, who, in the Holy Spirit, are our Life-Giver;
we come to You and give You thanks and praise.
We praise You for the freedom which we enjoy to worship You;
we remember our Sisters and Brothers in Christ who must meet in secret.
For all that we are and all that we have, we praise You.
As we gather together for worship today,
may it be with a sense that Jesus is here, too: 
may our eyes be open to see Him, 
may our hearts be ready to be seen by Him, 
may our worship be worthy of His presence, 
may our ears be open to hear the Word:
may we see the world through His eyes, 
responding in service and love. 
Thanks be to God. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

There are times when we have all failed to love others, failed to love God, and we have even failed to love ourselves. We bring these now to God.  Listen for the Words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (11:28-30)
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Short period of silence

O God, you know us well. We are quick to speak of faith, but slow to live it fully. We shout “hosanna” as Jesus approaches, as did the people of Jerusalem many years ago; but we do not want him to come too close – not close enough to really see…

Lord, have mercy… Christ, have mercy.

O God, you know us well. We are quick to claim faith in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour; but, like the throng who greeted his entry into Jerusalem, we are fickle, slow to live fully and everywhere as faithful disciples. We know where we fail…

Lord, have mercy… Christ, have mercy.

O God, you know us well. We are quick to want the blessings of faithfulness; but, like the Twelve who spent the last week with him, we are slow to accept the pain and suffering of authentic Christ-like living. Forgive our weakness and fear…

Lord, have mercy… Christ, have mercy.

Assurance of Pardon

Listen for the assurance of pardon as found these Words of Jesus: “Your sins are forgiven.” Jesus also says, “Come, follow Me.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymn     Ride On, Ride On In Majesty 
Henry Milman, 1827 Public domain Sung by the choir of St Michael and All Angels, Bassett, for Palm Sunday, 2021

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
Hear all the tribes hosanna cry;
O Saviour meek, pursue Your road
with palms and scattered garments strowed.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
O Christ, Your triumphs now begin
o’er captive death & conquered sin.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
The wingéd squadrons of the sky
look down with sad and wond’ring eyes
to see th’approaching Sacrifice.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
The last and fiercest strife is nigh.
The Father on His sapphire throne
awaits His own anointed Son.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
in lowly pomp ride on to die,
bow Thy meek head to mortal pain,
then take, O God, Your pow’r & reign.

Introduction 

Before we hear our first reading, let us consider for a moment how we travel. What is the best way to travel? Well, that probably depends on the journey we are making. No matter the journey, there are always preparations before we set off. Shoes – check. Keys – check. Wallet or purse – check. Is the house secure – check. Oh and, mobile phone – check. Off we go!

How would you normally get to church? On foot; by bus, tram or train; by car; by bike? I doubt if anyone these days rides an animal to church!
What does our chosen mode of transportation say about us?  As today is Palm Sunday, we are – of course – going to mention the donkey.

Think back to the Coronation of King Charles III in May: his golden carriage was pulled by the finest horses. On the way back to the Palace, Princess Anne rode her horse. And on Palm Sunday, Jesus – the King of kings – is riding a donkey, or the “humble beast” as we have just sung in our last hymn. The point is probably that important and powerful people do not ride donkeys.
If Jesus’ Incarnation were to have happened in 2023, how might he have travelled instead? An upcycled-bicycle? An e-scooter, perhaps. Waited long for an infrequent bus?

All four Gospels give an account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. I have chosen readings from Luke’s version. In Chapter 19, Jesus has just been speaking to the rich tax collector called Zaccheus and told the parable of the talents.

Reading     St Luke 19:28-34

Listen for the Word of God, as found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 19, verses 28 to 34.

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.’

Talk 

Every church congregation has its traditions when it comes to the big festivals like Christmas, Holy Week, Easter and so on. On Palm Sunday, many of us are used to receiving a new palm cross each year.

Some churches have the tradition of beginning the Palm Sunday outside and processing into the building. There are even some churches with a very brave minister who gets a local farmer to bring a donkey along, hoping that the church carpet doesn’t get too messy!

All four Gospels give an account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Matthew’s and John’s gospels point to the fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy (Zechariah 9:9) “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 

From our own experience of royalty in the UK, we would expect a king or queen to ride on a magnificent horse or in a golden carriage. Think also about how government ministers are chauffeured around under police escort – no traffic jams for them! Even the mayors of our towns have their own official car and driver.

The journey from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem is about 3km, which would take about an hour on foot, though the crowds will have slowed that down somewhat. Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels all hint at Jesus’ foreknowledge of what was to going to happen: He sends ahead two of His disciples to fetch the donkey. As the events of Holy Week unfold, we see more occasions when Jesus’ said in advance what would happen. So, on such a short journey, why the need for a donkey?
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, often when Jesus had performed a big miracle (like the feeding of the 5000), the crowds wanted to seize Him and proclaim Him king, but John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus slipped away, not letting that happen. So why the change? Once He is sat on the donkey and begins the ride into Jerusalem, Jesus is fulfilling the prophecy, riding as King into Jerusalem!

And what about the young donkey? We are told that no-one had ever ridden it. How did the colt react to the first rider on its back? Did it panic at first and try to throw off its divine rider? How did it cope being led through a very noisy crowd waving palm-branches? So many new and overwhelming experiences! 
We may be reading the Bible through a rose-tinted lens, if we imagine the young, never-ridden-on-before donkey to have been meek and mild, content to be led through the noisy streets. Was it afraid? Surrounded by people, there was no place to run and escape to. Or maybe it refused to move and needed some ‘persuasion’? Maybe it peed or pooped out of fright on the cloaks strewn on the road! 

In comparison, sometimes our lives are a bit like the donkey’s when new things happen to us: going to school, starting a new school, getting a first job, a first relationship, a first home, a first child, retiring, being widowed. At such times, we are glad that there are others there with us to support us. All the more scary, when we have to face things seemingly alone.
And, if we are honest, we are all afraid sometimes. Sometimes, those fears can threaten to overwhelm us: loss of family or partner, unemployment, the gas bill, illness, old-age…

At Christmas, we speak of God as Immanuel, which means “God with us”. When we read the Gospels, we read about hundreds of occasions when Jesus met real people in their very real circumstances: He was with them.
Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus promises us God’s enduring presence always, even in the scary moments of life, often through others.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus was the King of Kings who entered the city for everybody, but He did so in simplicity.

Let us hear now how the story continues…
 
Reading     St Luke 19:35-40

Listen for the Word of God, as found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 19, verses 35 to 40:

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.’

Talk 2 

So, the young donkey makes its way down the Mount of Olives. If you have been to Israel, you may have seen or even walked that road – it’s very steep indeed! I am relieved for the young donkey’s sake that it didn’t have to carry Jesus up the hill! 

The people were shouting. What were they shouting? All four Gospels agree that they were shouting “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Psalm 118:26) Luke and John’s gospels add that the crowd proclaimed Jesus as King.

I deliberately chose Luke’s account as our reading, because it is the one which does not include the word “Hosanna”. It is a word used only in religious circles: it means little or nothing to others. In the context, it is from the previous verse in Psalm 118:25. The Hebrew “ho-shi-‘ah-na” means “save now”.

Every family, company, club, organisation etc. has its own jargon. While this language is often a shortcut, it also gives a sense of belonging; but, at the same time, it can be a barrier to others. If we were to go outside now and ask the first person we met what “Hosanna” means, do you think they could answer?

While the crowds were cheering Jesus, we read that not everyone was happy. Unique to Luke’s Gospel is a brief exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. Read carefully, it says “some Pharisees”. But why did “some Pharisees” want Jesus to silence the crowd? Maybe their motivation was out of concern for the people to avoid a brutal reprisal by the occupying Roman forces. Maybe their motivation was theological: they disagreed that Jesus was seemingly taking on the fulfilment of prophecy to be the promised Saviour. Maybe it was their selfish fear that their hold on power seemed lost. 

If you know the Rice & Lloyd-Webber musical ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar!’, in the song ‘Hosanna’, there is paraphrase of Jesus’ reply to these Pharisees:

“Why waste your breath moaning at the crowd? 
Nothing can be done to stop the shouting.
If every tongue were stilled
The noise would still continue.
The rocks and stones themselves would start to sing!”

Jesus may have been saying this to the Pharisees: there is nothing you can do to do stop God’s plan, something which the Pharisee Gamaliel also said to the rest of the Sanhedrin. You can read about that exchange in the book of Acts, chapter 5.

As churches, we have maybe over-relied on the rocks and stones which make up our church buildings. During the Covid-Lockdowns, many churches were able to do new and innovative things to make church digital. This very service is an enduring example of that! Now that the Lockdowns have long-since ended, the challenges vary: for some churches, their future is uncertain; others have grown as the existing and digital congregations have continued. The wider world never ceases to change, and for the church to try to stay the same or to regress is folly.
Luke’s Gospel tells us that the people were cheering Jesus because of “all the deeds of power that they had seen”. 

The people were fickle then, just as there are fickle in 2023. This year’s sporting hero is next year’s scandal. Politicians voted in with huge majorities voted out at the next election.

2000 years ago, the crowds were shouting “Blessed in the King!”, and just five days later, they were shouting “Crucify Him!” 

And here is also a great mystery: the people cheered to be saved, but for them to be saved, they also had to change and cry “Crucify” and Jesus had to die.

As we go through Holy Week, we revisit the saddest and most joyful story of our faith, a journey which both ends and begins – when Mary, torn apart in grief at losing her beloved master, Jesus, goes to His tomb, only to find it empty. She hears a man speaking her name, whom she recognises as Our Risen Lord. 

Death is defeated. Eternal life is ours. In mercy, in grace, we are reconciled to our loving creator God.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymn     We Have A King Who Rides A Donkey
Fred Kaan © 1968, Hope Publishing Company 
Sung by Andrea Maxson and Grimsby Minster’s Organist and Director of Music, Steven Maxson Printed and podcast in accordance to the terms of OneLicence  # A-734713  
 
We have a king who rides a donkey, (x3)
and his name is Jesus:
Jesus the king is risen (x3)
early in the morning.

Trees are waving a royal welcome (x3)
for the king called Jesus:
Jesus the king is risen (x3)
early in the morning.

We have a king who cares for people, (x3)
and his name is Jesus:
Jesus the king is risen (x3)
early in the morning.

A loaf and a cup upon the table, (x3)
bread-and-wine is Jesus:
Jesus the king is risen (x3)
early in the morning.

We have a king with a bowl and towel, (x3)
servant-king is Jesus:
Jesus the king is risen (x3)
early in the morning.

What shall we do with our life this morning? (x3)
Give it up in service!
Jesus the king is risen (x3)
early in the morning.
 
Affirmation of Faith

Let us affirm our faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, using the words of Paul in his letter to the church in Philippi:

Let the same mind be in us 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.
Therefore, God also highly exalted Him
and gave Him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Prayers of Concern & The Lord’s Prayer

Empty, broken, here we stand: touch us with Your healing hand.
Take our arrogance and pride: wash us in Your mercy’s tide.

Loving God, we pray for the brokenness in our world: especially we pray for those whose lives are torn apart by violence, war and disaster. We pray for leaders of governments and business that they might turn from narrow self-interest to global concern.

O Lord, hear our prayer… And let our cry go unto You.

When our faith has all but gone: give us the strength to carry on.
When our dreams have turned to dust, in you, O Lord, we put our trust.
Loving God, we pray for those whose strength is failing. We pray for those who are unwell, in body, mind or spirit. We pray for all those who work and serve in health and social care. In the silence of our hearts, we name those known to us in need:

O Lord, hear our prayer… And let our cry go unto You.

When our hearts are cold as ice: Your love speaks of sacrifice.
Love that sets the captives free: pour compassion down on us.
Loving God, we pray for those who find themselves in desperate situations, not knowing where to turn. We pray for refugees and seekers of asylum. We pray for those in our own communities whose lives are in turmoil. We pray for those who provide support – practically, emotionally and financially.

O Lord, hear our prayer… And let our cry go unto You.

You are the voice that calms our fears: You are the laughter that dries our tears. You are our music, our refrain: help us sing Your song again.
Loving God, we pray for those who are bereaved, and for those for whom anniversaries occur at this time. We give thanks for Your eternal promise that You will be with us always, even to the end of the age.
We praise You thanks for the beauty of creation, the joy which the diverse creativity in many forms enriches our lives, 
and for the times our souls rejoice!

O Lord, hear our prayer… And let our cry go unto You.

Humble heart of holiness: kiss us with Your tenderness.
Jesus, faithful friend and true: all we are, we give to You.
Loving God, we pray for the church throughout the world, and the church families of which we are apart. We pray for our United Reformed Church: we pray for the unity of the Body of Christ. We give thanks for Your faithfulness which never ends, and especially we pray for those who are taking the first steps in faith.

O Lord, hear our prayer… And let our cry go unto You.

We bring all our prayers together, as we say the prayer Jesus taught to us say…

Lord’s prayer:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come; thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

Hymn     You Shall Go Out With Joy
Stuart Dauermann  Text and music © 1975, Lillenas Publishing Co. One Licence # A-734713   Sung by St Francis United Church, St Francis Bay, South Africa

You shall go out with joy
And be led forth in peace,
And the mountains and the hills shall
Break forth before you.
There’ll be shouts of joy,
And all the trees of the field 
Shall clap, shall clap their hands.

And the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
And the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
And the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
While you go out with joy!

You shall go out with joy
And be led forth in peace,
And the mountains and the hills shall
Break forth before you.
There’ll be shouts of joy,
And all the trees of the field 
Shall clap, shall clap their hands.

And the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
And the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
And the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
While you go out with joy!

And the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
And the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
And the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
While you go out with joy!
(repeat x 3)

Blessing

Thank you for joining in with our worship today. 
We close with some verses from Scripture.
Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord turn His smile towards you and give you peace. Amen.

 

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