Musings Sermon Starter

All That is Before Us: From Palm Sunday to Easter

Image of a beach at sunrise/sunset with palm branches and trees in the foreground.

Palm Sunday. During pandemic. Again. I’ve heard too many clergy colleagues asking how to preach this Holy Week during pandemic. Sure, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are comparatively easy. How to preach good news on Palm Sunday and even more so on Easter is the repeated question. What does new life look like when the pandemic has not ended, though an end may be on the horizon? What does new life mean when congregations are failing or haven’t met in person in over a year or many members have died or the doors have permanently closed? Can we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant return to Jerusalem when we are still held captive by COVID? The short answer is yes. Yes, there is new life. Yes, there is a way through grief. Yes, the church is still vital and necessary in the world. Yes, celebrating Jesus’ return to Jerusalem is both possible and important.

We are all stressed by the experiences of this last year. Most of us could not have predicted that we’d be facing our second Holy Week of virtual worship. We thought it would all be over by now. Now it’s not. And we are weary on top of the on-going stressors pandemic brings. All the more reason to take a closer look at the events of Holy Week, and to remind ourselves that the week goes from celebration to suffering to death to New Life. This is the story of the human journey. This is the story of our spiritual lives. We move through these stages. We, too, experience betrayal and loss and death. We grieve. We celebrate. We remember. We live. So, let’s begin.

Jesus returned to Jerusalem without a lot of fanfare. He rode a colt, fulfilling prophecy. He was humble and quiet in contrast to Pilot with a parade and a Century of soldiers on horses and wearing shiny armor. Jesus came in humility while the Empire made promises of power and protection that they couldn’t possibly keep. Jesus rode in quietly with only palm branches waving and few shouts of “hosanna!” He promised life to those who would follow him. He rode into town, checked out the Temple, and went to Bethany for the night.

Not much has changed. The Empire doesn’t necessarily come riding into town with soldiers and horses any more than Jesus comes in riding a donkey. However, the Empire is still making promises of power and protection that it cannot possibly fulfill. It’s goal is to keep us separate and powerless so that the status quo may endure even the pandemic. Jesus’ goal, in complete contrast, is to unite and empower so that the oppressed may be liberated and justice may be embodied throughout society. Jesus would have something to say about the ways this pandemic has been managed (or not) by those with power. He would have something to say about the inequity of those victimized and the way the vaccine has been released according to the same old racial divides. Jesus would have something to say about how we have let white supremacy and classism, ablism, and other divisive fears determine who lives and who dies. We need Jesus to ride into town and remind us that there is a better way to face the Empire.

Palm Sunday can remind us that there is another way to be in the face of fear, anger, and oppression. We can humbly remain firm in our love or our neighbors and ourselves. We can be reluctant to let go of the (false) protections of Empire even as we recognize that the way of Love demands an active response. Jesus didn’t ride that colt into Jerusalem because he wanted to; he rode into the city because he needed people to see the Love provides more safety, healing, and hope than might. The God’s steadfast love is the way through all the pain, deceit, and division caused by participating in the power of the Empire. Where is Jesus challenging us to respond differently in this moment, to leave behind the illusions of the Empire?

If we skip ahead to Thursday, we know that betrayal rules the day. Judas couldn’t help himself. In the moment, the money seemed more powerful than Jesus’ love for him. As a result, Jesus was betrayed into the hands of the authorities. Yet, not before some important things happened. There was footwashing to show us that we are all equal before God; not one human life is more important than another, not one is too good to wash the feet of others. And there was, of course, the Last Supper. Here Jesus told us all what he was doing and why. His body would be broken for us to know healing. His blood would be poured out for us to know forgiveness. He would die for us to know that violence and death are not the end. Resurrection tells us that Love always triumphs. How do we move through this week experiencing it all fully and trust the fullness the New Life that is promised and demonstrated?

We know the story. We know that God does not abandon us at any time. God is with us in our moments of being overwhelmed and weary. Holy Week in its entirety can remind us that we are not alone and that the best way to journey together is through all of it – the hope, the despair, the fear, the betrayal, the grief… everything. By going through it all we get to New Life. No thing lasts forever. However, we are changed by our experiences. Life will never be what it was before COVID. As true as this is, there is still hope because we are a people seeking to live into and embody Divine Love. Love that unites and liberates us and instills hope in us for a life that is yet to come. This is the good news. This is the good news writ large this week. May we all have the grace to stay awake, to keep watch, and to bear witness to all that is to come. Blessings on the journey!

RCL – Year B – Palm Sunday – March 28, 2021 Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29  • Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16

Photo: CC0image by gregovish

Musings Sermon Starter

Thoughts Along the Way

I am struggling a bit this week. Not with Palm Sunday itself or with all that is to come during Holy Week. Rather, I am wrestling with anger at the federal government for making the situation in the U.S during this pandemic far worse than it might have been. Inaction and spreading of false information has led to a higher number of deaths. I want to commemorate Jesus’ triumphant return to Jerusalem. However, I am feeling the press of a hostile government far more intensely.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem so long ago in stark contrast to the way Roman officials rode into town. Jesus rode with humility while the soldiers rode with pride. The power Jesus offered seemed little in the face of armor and swords. Yet, it is this very power to disrupt the oppressive ways of those who claim authority that we need right now. We need to remember a truth that can abide with us through life into death then into new life. We need to celebrate, honor, and remember the One who spoke of peace in a world bent toward destruction, and embodied love in the face of hateful violence.

How can we as the Body of Christ be triumphant in these days? In the U.S. we have an administration that denied the severity of COVID-19 even as the worldwide death toll mounted. The federal government has also outbid individual states for medical supplies, driving up the prices. And then the President said that governors needed to be nice to him if they wanted federal aid in this crisis. Today I read that gun stores are considered “essential” and can remain open. The NRA has enough power that gun stores can remain open to profit from people’s fears and put the lives of vulnerable people at greater risk. All of this leads me to think things that I have no proof of, and yet can’t help feeling. I’m just going to say it: I think the current administration hopes that COVID-19 will rid the U.S. of “undesirable” populations. If they keep their response ineffective, then the people who will die are those who are elderly, those who are homeless, those who are disabled, those who reside in institutions (those experiencing psychiatric crises, those who are incarcerated, and those in detention centers), those who live in poverty, and everyone else who lacks the resources needed to access necessary healthcare in this country.

Part of me wants to say that these are the kinds of things Jesus returned to Jerusalem to face. He opposed the Roman government and Temple authorities at every opportunity. People greeted him with cheers and celebrations because they believed he would set them free from oppression. And he did, just not the way they expected. Are we able to follow his lead? Are we able to encourage all of our people to stay at home if they are not among those who truly are essential? Are we able to create or sustain a strong sense of community that will hold the fear and the grief (and the anger) that accompanies COVID-19? Are we somehow managing to counter the messaging of hatred and blame coming from this administration? Are we reminding people that they have value, that their lives are worth saving, and this virus is not a punishment or judgment from God?

While we cannot gather in person and celebrate this Sunday with any of our usual traditions of Palm branches and processions, we can still gather using whatever virtual means is available to us. We can sing songs of praise and remind ourselves that God is present and the messaging of the federal government is in direct opposition to the message of Love Jesus embodied.

In some ways Holy Week comes at the perfect time for those among us who are feeling hopeless. We can celebrate with songs of praise on Sunday and not resist the move into the Passion. Think of those who have died and will die because of the broken systems in this country and the power of organizations like the NRA… This is betrayal on par with what Judas did to Jesus. When we tell this story on Thursday with broken bread and a cup poured out, the pain of betrayal won’t be imaginary. And when we move into Friday with the bleakness of Jesus’ death, maybe we will be able to bear witness to the injustice in the deaths around us. When Saturday comes and the world is still and silent and grieving we might feel the emptiness of despair more deeply than in years past. Easter, too, will be a different experience for us. I wonder what we will hear in the good news of resurrection…

For now, I continue to wrestle with my thoughts and feelings. I want to join the celebration on Sunday and journey through the week unhindered. Yet, this journey from life to death to new life feels all too real and far more serious this year than in any I can remember. Wherever you are as Holy Week approaches, let’s remember together that we worship a God of life and love, a God who seeks to bring hope to the hopeless and wholeness to the broken places. Let us all stay awake and keep watch…

RCL – Year A – Palm Sunday – April 5, 2020
Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

Photo: CC0image by Samuel DYKSTRA

Musings Sermon Starter

Make a Choice


Most years when Palm Sunday arrives, I’m ready for the parades and the hosannas and the choice the day implies. There’s no need for the stones to cry out; I’m there. This year? Not so much. Sunday’s parades seem like they are far off and maybe Pilate’s war horses and shiny armor will overpower Jesus’ colt and cloaks. Who’s really paying attention this year? Who has palm branches at the ready and hosannas to spare?

When I talk about suicide prevention and the steady rise in suicide rates, people always ask why are so many dying by suicide? The answer to that is complex, of course. But there is no denying that there is a pervasive sense of hopelessness. Many people feel trapped in lives that seem not to have much of a future with poverty and racism and injustice all around. Others feel isolated and alone without a place where they are known and have a sense of belonging. Every day there are more reports of immigrants, refugees, and other vulnerable people being mistreated with fear and ignorance fanning the flames of dehumanization.

It’s no coincidence that a rise in hopelessness, a continuing increase in suicidality and suicide, is happening at the same time faith and involvement in faith communities is declining. Jesus didn’t ride a donkey through the back streets of Jerusalem to preserve the status quo. Jesus rode to demonstrate that true power comes with humility and a willingness to serve others. He also rode to invite people to change, to recognize that God calls us to new things, new understandings, new practices – then and now.

Jesus dared to oppose the powers of his day with his words, his actions, his life. He did not sit back and allow the ways of the Roman Empire to separate, isolate, and disempower people. He did not remain silent when the Temple Authorities sought to maintain peace by serving Rome and silencing the people, particularly those without resources. Jesus spoke truth to power. He challenged the emptiness of religious practices by those who cared more about accumulating Roman money than serving God. He actively reached out and re-membered people who lived on the margins. He restored life to those who had been cast out. He spoke hard words of hope to a people accustomed to oppression.

Miraculously, some heard Jesus’ words. Some recognized him. Some dedicated their lives to following him, learning from him, trying to live as he lived. I wish I knew how many people witnessed his humble parade on that first Palm Sunday. I’ll bet more chose to pay homage to Rome, enamored by the display of power and the promise of safety implied by war horses, armor, and spears. I’ll bet even more stayed home to avoid the chaos all together. It is easier to stay home, not make an active choice, and pretend that it is someone else’s problem than it is to decisively attend one parade or another.

Some would choose Rome simply because they were afraid, and the Roman armies had power. Others chose Jesus because he spoke of love and freedom and made them feel hopeful under the weight of Roman oppression. The rest who stayed home, these are the ones that capture my attention today. The large numbers of people who didn’t believe their lives, their actions, counted for anything. The ones whose hope had long been extinguished by the oppressive weight of empire have me wondering if they ever made a different decision. Their decision not to choose was a decision in support of Rome, whether they knew it or not. Inaction preserves the status quo and sustains the oppressors.

That’s where we are today. There is so much ambivalence and apathy that comes from hopeless and isolation. The empire of any age will seek to divide, dehumanize, and disempower. The more we give in to our fears and remain inactive, the more despair and hopelessness thrives. People are literally dying for want of human connection, human care, a place to belong.

Church, we have a choice to make. We can continue as we are and support the oppressive empire that seeks to divide, dehumanize, and disempower by valuing our traditions more than the people outside our doors. Or we can choose the way of humility and acknowledge that in order to live the Good News, we need to re-member, re-connect, and serve the vulnerable among us, those who have been cast out.

God is still inviting us to a new thing. No matter how tired we are or how ill-prepared we feel, the day of choosing is close. May we all make a choice for new life, renewed hope, and re-membered community as we journey through Holy Week. Let’s not give the stones a reason to cry out.

RCL – Year C – Palm Sunday – April 14, 2019
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Luke 19:28-40

Photo: CC0 image by Slovenčina

Musings Sermon Starter Uncategorized

Palm Sunday: Time to Choose (Again)


What did Jesus see when he went into the Temple on that day he returned to Jerusalem? He’d just been welcomed into the city with shouts of “Hosanna!” and waving of branches. It wasn’t a spectacular parade as parades go, but it was an enthusiastic welcome to be sure. From the excitement of the small crowd he goes to the Temple. Mark tells us he goes in and looks at everything. Then he goes to Bethany to spend the night, presumably with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

Maybe I’m still caught up in last week’s image from John’s Gospel of Jesus and his troubled soul. I imagine Jesus looking into the future and seeing the bleak reality of what he faced. He knew that Roman officials and Temple authorities alike wanted him dead. He probably hoped that God would provide another way for him, for the people of God. After that slow donkey ride with people shouting, “Help me!” or “Save me!” They believe him to be sent by God to claim the throne of David. Jesus rode a donkey, not a big white horse, and the people still thought this humble man would free them from Roman oppression.

Did Jesus go into the Temple to look for God’s presence? Did he go looking for an affirmation that there was something worth saving? Did he hope to find sanctuary in that sacred space? Who knows? He walked in, looked around, and left. Was his heart heavier or lighter when he went back to his donkey? If he was looking for sanctuary, he didn’t find it. Did he what he saw confirm that he was doing the right thing by risking his life?

So many unanswerable questions! I wonder if it would be any different today. Would Jesus find what he was looking for in any of our churches? Would he find friends embracing him with Love? Would he find hallowed ground, protected at all costs from humble people like him? Would he see the fullness of life or empty, outdated spaces holding echoes of the glory days of the past? Would he find holy space for a quiet prayer and silent affirmation of his call? Would he see evidence of a faithful people, a people worth risking his life for?

While Jesus is looking around inside the Temple for whatever his troubled soul needs, the crowds outside disperse. The ragtag group that followed Jesus wandered off toward their own homes, celebratory branches dragging on the ground. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, the remnants of the Roman parade linger. Speeches about safety and the power that Rome has to rule with authority and quell any revolution people might be whispering about, reach desperate ears. It isn’t likely that people shouted, “Hosanna!” as the Roman contingent entered Jerusalem in numbers. However, they likely hoped that mighty Rome would save them from despair, poverty, and violence. I suspect too many people were there that day, witnessing the wrong parade with misguided longings.

Perhaps today as well. With all the people enamored with the glamorous promises of “Rome” do enough of us shout “Hosanna!” for us to be heard? Is it possible that over the years our churches might be too much like that Temple was on that first Palm Sunday. What do we need to do, or be, or change, so that Jesus might be less troubled? Are we, as church, the embodiment of Christ? Would Jesus see in us an affirmation of all that he taught, lived for, and died for?

Maybe our hosannas will ring truer this year. Maybe this year Jesus will hear us genuinely asking for help, asking to be saved from our own human frailty. Maybe this is the year that we will finally see that Jesus is the One who comes in the name of God to free us all from oppression, not with a sword like that first crowd thought, but with Love…

RCL – Year B – Palm Sunday – March 25, 2018
Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

Photo: CC0 image by Stefan Schweihofer

Musings Sermon Starter

I Don’t Love a Parade


I’m not a big fan of parades. I associate them with being hot and crowded and uncomfortable. Each summer my mother would take us to the Fourth of July parade in her hometown of Oswego, NY. It was a big deal. People would go early to “get a good seat.” I suppose some people brought chairs, but as a child I was expected to sit on the curb. It was always hot and the parade seemed loud and long. Sure, every few floats there’d be someone throwing candy into the crowd or a clown on the edges juggling something. But, there’s only so many times you can get hit in the head with a Tootsie Pop before it’s not fun anymore and clowns were just something I did not understand.

These early memories cloud my judgement when it comes to Palm Sunday. I try to picture the day we now celebrate with palm branches and hosannas. I envision it as being as hot as those July 4ths in New York. I doubt Pontius Pilate’s parade was quite as loud or long as the Oswego ones, but I’m betting it was something to see. Maybe a full Roman Century with bright, shiny armor and flashy spears? Maybe a few horses bedecked for the occasion. Maybe decorated chariots and other blatant displays of wealth? Whatever it was, I’m sure there were crowds pressing in for a glimpse of the powerful and mighty entering the city. Given a choice, I wouldn’t be there.

I would like to say that I’d be at the other parade that was happening across town. You know the one I mean, the one with Jesus riding on a donkey with a colt trailing along. The crowds would be smaller and less noisy. Palm branches and cloaks placed on the ground to honor the One who comes in the name of the Lord rather than polished armor glinting in the sun. I wish I could say with certainty that I’d be here, at least until this small crowd started to mingle and merge with the larger one. The choice seems obvious enough…

Or does it? That’s my problem this year. The choice seems so obvious, yet how many of us are actively making it?  I can say with certainty that I will be among those shouting hosannas and welcoming Jesus with great enthusiasm. This year, there is no other parade to consider. If I don’t follow Jesus on this walk from death to life, nothing changes. Of course, if I don’t follow Jesus down the streets of my own city, nothing will change then, either. This is where it gets real.

When Jesus rode that donkey into town it was a political and prophetic act. Jesus demonstrated that he was against the Temple Authorities who worked for Rome as much as he was against Rome. He wasn’t making a religious statement. He was inviting the powerless to journey with him as he went to face the powers of this world that will do anything to further their own interests while stomping all over anyone who gets in their way. Jesus made a conscious choice to confront the oppressors of his day. We must make the same choice if we call ourselves his disciples.

Following Jesus isn’t just about the good times. It isn’t just about Sunday morning worship and kinship and weekly Bible study groups. Being a Christian really is about politics and being prophetic. The reason so many of us falter is that it is hard to stay on the path that leads to life. The work for justice and liberation for all people is endless. It would be easier to fade into the crowd that will turn ugly in a few days. It would be easier to forget about Jesus for the rest of the week and show up next week for the alleluias. But easier isn’t necessarily faith-filled. And easier leaves the world in the hands of the oppressors. There is no possibility of resurrection when we remain death’s captives.

People are dying in Syria, in Sudan, in your neighborhood and in mine because we have remained silent, unobserved, in the space between Rome’s parade and Jesus’parade. Isn’t it time to renew our commitment to follow Jesus all the way from death to life? We can’t afford to be part of the fickle crowd who shouts hosannas now and screams for crucifixion in a few days. We can’t afford to be disciples who whisper about the Messiah to one another and then deny having anything to do with Jesus when the personal risk gets too high. We must be ready to go through it all, including betrayal and death, so that we can fully proclaim resurrection. This is more than just a spiritual journey; this is the difference between life and death.

This year I will make the choice to follow Jesus once more and pray for the courage to face the oppressors and remain on the path that leads from death to life. No one needs to make the journey alone, though, because we’re all invited. I’m not a fan of parades, but this one, this one that proclaims the politics of justice and pronounces prophetic love, this is one that I can’t afford to miss. I hope to see you in the crowd. Palm branches are optional.

RCL – Year A – Palm Sunday – April 5, 2017
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Matthew 21:1-11

Photo: CC0 image by Igor Saveliev

Musings Sermon Starter

Choices, Choices, Always Choices

fan-palm-418141When Jesus first walked into my life, I didn’t notice. There was no parade, no palms, no shouts of hosanna. I just started going to Sunday school. A couple of years later, I felt my first call to ministry but I didn’t recognize that for what it was either. I had read a book of missionary stories and was enthralled to the point of telling my mother that I wanted to be a missionary. I was nine and she was not thrilled. A few years later, I started to think about being a minister when I grew up and I still didn’t really notice Jesus’ presence.

Then came the dark years. Years of depression and struggle. Years filled with sadness, self-loathing, and self-destruction. I was certain that God was not present in my life and doubted that God ever had been. The uncertainty remained through college and, yes, into seminary. There were times when I felt close to God and times when I felt an almost insurmountable distance. Yet, I kept choosing to follow Jesus. I had no family support and not a lot of friends who understood my call to ministry. Even though I recognized my call and the choice to pursue it, there still wasn’t much by way of celebration on my part.

Truth be told, I made a lot of wrong choices along the way. There were times when I was content to blend into the crowd that celebrated Rome, promised security, and drew me in with its image of normalcy. These choices to “blend in” or do what was expected never led to good things. Mostly, they stirred up feelings of inadequacy and sometimes triggered bouts of depression. I experienced these as times of God’s absence. In hindsight, I see these times as a result of my choosing the far more popular parade. I desperately wanted to be “normal” more than I wanted to be myself.

In more recent years, I’ve tried to pay more attention to those times of decision making. cathedral-square-592756Which parade do I want to follow? Do I want to make the easy, expected choice and follow Pilot as he rides in on his big white horse, with his show of power, promises of protection, and the continuation of normative oppressive systems that seem to cost nothing? Or do I want to make the harder, less acceptable choice of following Jesus as he rides in on his donkey, toes dragging in the sand, with his humility, safety, and freedom that come with obvious risks?

This year on Palm Sunday I feel the pressure of this kind of choice. It bears down from the political arena for sure. Then there are the everyday decisions of how to pastor this particular congregation, how to be fully present in my relationships, how to live into the person God created me to be. I have a long history of only seeing these choices when I look back. When that happens, I miss the opportunity to celebrate Jesus, to sing praises, and welcome him with extravagance as he leads me somewhere I would not go on my own. Sometimes it means that I make the decidedly wrong choice and it takes a while to recognize that Jesus is down another road waiting for me to notice.

What choices do you face this season? Where are you drawn to blend into the crowd when Jesus would rather you make the riskier decision to follow a path that would lead you to healing or embracing your authentic self more fully? I want to be more aware of these choices and my tendency to be drawn into the more popular crowd. Maybe you do, too. Palm Sunday isn’t just a once a year choice. Raise the palm branches, shout, “Hosanna!” and embrace the fullness of life Jesus invites us into.

2014-09-18 10.24.44

This is God’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.

This is the day that God has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

RCL – Year C – Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Luke 19:28-40

Top Photo CC0 image by skeeze
Middle Photo CC0 image by Hans Braxmeier
Bottom Photo CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

Bidding Prayer Emerging Church

Palm Sunday Bidding Prayer

church-window-579059_1280Come, let us pray for all those who wave palm branches and shout “Hosannas” today.
(people may quietly voice their prayers)

God who welcomes our praise and comforts our sorrow, unite us with all who celebrate Jesus’ return to Jerusalem today. May all your people be joined together in shouts of praise that cross barriers of language, culture, and doctrine.

O give thanks to God;
God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Come, let us pray for the United Church of Christ gathered here and elsewhere.
(people may quietly voice their prayers)

Incarnate God, today we remember the great love you have for the whole of creation. Jesus lived among us, experiencing joy and enduring suffering. As “Hosannas” tumble from our lips today, we are mindful that we can easily be swayed to join the crowds who will shout “Crucify!” in a few days. We see divisions in our churches that you did not create. You would have us be one in bringing about your reign of justice for all creation. Be with those who lead us, especially our clergy, Shari Prestemon our Conference Ministry, and Geoffrey Black our General Minister and President. Remove from us all the barriers we build that prevent us from living as you taught.

O give thanks to God;
God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Come, let us pray for all the peoples of the world.
(people may quietly voice their prayers)

God of mercy and love, as we enter into this Holy Week, open our eyes and our hearts. All around us there are strangers who would become neighbors and foreigners who would become friends. We divide ourselves by race, creed, and culture. Yet, it does not matter to you if a life lost is Christian, Muslim, Jew, Wiccan, Buddhist, Hindu or followers of any other religion. You have breathed life into us all and claim us as your children. Fill us with the peace that passes all human understanding that we may share the joys and pains of all your people without prejudice or preference.

O give thanks to God;
God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Come, let us pray for this nation.palm-leaf-233282_1280
(people may quietly voice their prayers)

Patient God, you have set before us the ways of life and death, inviting us to choose the way of love or the way of power. The mistaken belief that there is only one right way to be religious has distracted many from building a system of justice for all those who live within our borders. Be with all those elected to public office, especially Barak Obama, granting them the wisdom to see human need in the midst of all conflict. May the palm branches we wave today pave the way to systems of justice for all.

O give thanks to God;
God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Come, let us pray for all those in need of healing.
(people may quietly voice their prayers)

God who knows how fragile life is, enter into all the hidden and dark places of the world. Even in times of celebration, keep us mindful of those who struggle for health in body, mind, or spirit. This week we will be challenged to walk with you through betrayal, abandonment, and death. Keep us mindful of those around us who are having these experiences now. Give us the strength and compassion needed to follow you and accompany others who suffer. You are the Great Healer and we put our trust in you.

O give thanks to God;
God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Come, let us pray for all those who are grieving.
(people may quietly voice their prayers)

Eternal God, you have experience life and death, hope and loss. You know the pain of grief – the grief we feel when we lose people, jobs, homes, pets anything that helps us to know who we are and where we belong. None of us escapes the pain of loss. As we begin this week of holy remembrance, we remember those who are overwhelmed by loss, especially parents who have lost children to suicide, murder, war, mental illness, or addictions. Shine your light in the painful, empty places in our lives and grant us the grace to hold hope for those who can’t hold it for themselves.

O give thanks to God;
God’s steadfast love endures forever.

palm-618002_1280Come, let us give thanks for all of our blessings.
(people may quietly voice their prayers)

God of abundant life, you have claimed us as your own beloved children. You invite us to follow you to new life every day and call us to share your abundance. Hear our thanksgiving and praise for all the ways your love touches our lives. May the gratitude we feel in this moment, guide us through this week of betrayal, sin, and death into the promise of new life and deeper relationship with you.

O give thanks to God;
God’s steadfast love endures forever. Amen.

RCL – Year B – Palm Sunday – March 29, 2015
Mark 11:1-11
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

All photos from Used by permission.


A Pastor’s Palm Sunday Prayer

2013-09-21 11.53.58

How long, O Lord, will your steadfast love endure for a people still in in turmoil. Amidst the shouts of “Hosanna!” there are many who are still asking, “Who is this?” We wave our palm branches and fail to understand just what all this really means—no different than that first crowd. You returned to Jerusalem long ago, and some hailed you as a king, thinking that you would set them free. You would not rule in such a worldly way. Many still long for the simple clarity of one who rules with a sword.

Even with a palm branch in hand, I can barely whisper Hosanna, let alone shout it out. I hesitate, not because of what you have done so much as what happens in this world. My heart breaks for a world that has yet to live in your love. Just down the street refugees from war-torn countries try to scrape out a new life for themselves. Instead of unabashed welcome, they are often greeted with hatred, fear, and rejection and I seldom speak a word to make a difference. A walk downtown will have me plotting a route to avoid those who are homeless and desperate and asking for what I don’t know how to give. The news spits out stories of stabbings and shootings and senseless death, and the need to blame someone to make the world seem safe again. This is the world you came to save, O Lord; how long before we know that your steadfast love endures forever?

In this holiest of weeks, I want to walk with you. I want to understand more deeply what happened. You did not endure the fickle crowd shouting “hosanna!” one day and “crucify!” the next, betrayal and denial by your closest friends, and the pain and abandonment of the cross for yourself. No, you did these things for all of us who would follow after you. That, we, too might discover the magnitude of grace given with an empty tomb. Grant me the courage to walk with you, watch with you, wait with you… Your great love for the world endured all this and more for me, for my neighbors, for those refugees, for those who are homeless, for the victims and perpetrators of violence, for those who have mental illness, for the hopeless, for the whole world…

Open my heart to the triumph of this day that it may remain open in the days to come. Remind us all that you need us to bear witness to your presence as we experience anew all that is to happen in this next week. Mudslides, tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, and droughts may make us question you when we ought to question ourselves. Even in those moments of misplaced blame, your love endures. Let those of us who follow you now, shout our “Hosannas!” with joy, a statement of gratitude for the way in which you offered yourself for us.

2012-10-05 15.51.05Grant me the grace to follow you this week, even when I am reluctant. Accept no excuses from me this week. Let me see only your great love for the world that endures to this day. Let the wonders of your love flow through me into the world full of people seeking to be set free.

Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord! Amen.

RCL – Palm Sunday – April 13, 2014
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Matthew 21:1-11

Musings Sermon Starter

Make Them Stop

small-img-rock-balancing“I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

For some reason this verse from this week’s gospel reading won’t let me go. It’s such a startling statement. Christ’s return to Jerusalem was so essential to all the world that the stones would cry out if the people did not.

My question for this celebratory day is: Who or what shouts out the triumph of Christ in your life and how do you respond?

RCL – Year C – Palm Sunday – March 24, 2013

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Luke 19:28-40


Palm Sunday

RCL – April 1, 2012 – Palm Sunday

Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16, Psalm 118:1-2,19-29

I am on vacation this week, so I am sharing this poem with you. It is from my book, Negotiating the Shadows: Daily Meditations for Lent, Eugene, OR: WIPF and Stock, 2010, pg 113-117.

Palm Sunday

Two parades cross town

giving onlookers a simple choice

between Pontius Pilate

and Jesus of Nazareth –

between power

and humility.

One rides into town

on a big white horse

with shouts of acclamation

and a full Roman guard –

breast plates shining,

spears gripped, at the ready (no offense) –

securing peace.

Who would not be tempted?

The Other rides quietly

on a young donkey

with little fanfare

and a few lowly disciples –

dusty clothes and dirty feet,

hands empty, accepting all (without defense) –

questioning security.

Where is the temptation here?

Roman rule is safe and sure

no risk

no change

no choice.

Jesus’ way breaks rules

risks everything

changes everything

challenges everything.

If I choose the big, fancy parade

just for today

will it shift the course of this week?

Not likely.

Jesus will ride to the temple if I am not looking

and turn toward Bethany with his friends.

He will gather for Passover in an upper room

wash feet

break bread

sing hymns

go to a garden to pray.

If I turn to Rome even for a moment

Jesus’ disciples will still fall asleep

leave him alone

until the soldiers come

and Judas betrays him with a kiss

and Peter follows his impulses…

If I fall for the glamour

Jesus will still be arrested

found guilty without trial

Pontius Pilate will wash his hands

(as if he could cleanse his own sins)

the whip will crack and blood will flow

the innocent condemned.

What difference will it make if I am not there

just this once?

No one will notice if I turn away

from the humble man who rides

with his toes dragging in the sand.

I do not need to see prophecy fulfilled

with branches and cloaks

tossed to the ground –

a poor pavement for the Son of God.

Will it matter if I don’t wonder

why he rides up and looks at the Temple

before heading off in another direction?

If I step away from the crowd before

brokenness and betrayal,

darkness and denial,

will any difference be made?

If I am not there today,

I don’t have to hear the cries for crucifixion

or see the tears of anguish in his mother’s eyes


One day, one parade, one person

One less Hosanna

One less cloak on the ground

One less face in the crowd.

On the other side of town,

cheers and shouts

instruments and song

proclaim power and presence.

The white horse and the Centurion stir up dust

and put on a show.

Echoes fade fast and the crowd stands lifeless,

waiting for more

in the oppressive heat.

Who would know if I went there?

One more to wave and sing

covered in dust

awed by power

blinded by the glare of empty promises,

marked by the shadows of Roman spears.

One more face in the crowd.

If I avoid the triumph of today,

the quiet cleansing of Thursday

the deep silence giving way to deeper darkness

in the garden and on the cross,

If I do not witness

the fickle crowd shouting “Save Us!” today

and “Crucify him!” tomorrow

the hope cracking wide open

into abysmal despair,

What else will I miss?

Rome changes nothing with its finery;

it always rules in falsity and illusion

securing obedience with fear

and peace with force.

Jesus rides through the city

asking for nothing

but for us to have courage

to bear witness

all the way through to the early morning

on the first day of the week

so our eyes will be opened


Ride on!

Take me with you (feet dragging and all)…