Palm Sunday Worship, March 28, 2021

Processional Gospel

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 11:1-10

When Jesus and the disciples were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus 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!’

The Gospel of our Lord.

Isaiah 50:4-9a

The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.

The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backwards.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.
The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
It is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?

The Word of the Lord.

Philippians 2:5-11

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.

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.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark chapter 15

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, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You say so.’ Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the festival Pilate 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 Pilate answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ For Pilate 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, ‘Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’ They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him!’ So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

Then the soldiers led Jesus into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed Jesus in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They struck Jesus’ 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. 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, ‘The King of the Jews.’ 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, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘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.’ 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, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to Jesus to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’

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, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Life is full of all sorts of unexpected twists and turns – isn’t it?

Life has a way of handing us surprises we never saw coming.  Surprises we didn’t ask for . . . surprises we really and truly do not want!

Sometimes life can still shock even the most jaded among us.

Far too often life can leave us feeling broken and battered.  One moment everything can seem fine and dandy and the next our lives have been turned upside down and inside out.

One moment it feels like everything is right in your world and the next you find yourself standing over the wreckage of your former life wondering what on earth just happened.

This past year has been that way for so many of us.  Most of us never saw this wretched pandemic coming.  And we certainly never imagined it would last for such a very long time or the shocking toll it would take on so many precious human lives.

The toll Covid-19 is taking is staggering.  Almost 550,00 Americans and more than 2.7 million people across the globe have died from Covid-19.  These numbers are heartbreaking.

Of the people who have recovered from Covid-19 – we are learning almost 1/3rd of these folks continue to struggle with serious – ongoing health problems like fatigue – breathing problems and chronic pain.  I doubt – these people consider themselves to be recovered from Covid-19.  Chronic fatigue – pain and breathing problems just wouldn’t feel like recovery to most of us . . .

And then there are the loneliness and the isolation.  The lost jobs and the lost learning.  The missed opportunities and the separation.

We are over 1 year into this pandemic and it still holds our world and our lives in its grips.

This is hard.  So very – very hard.

And we didn’t see it coming.  We were unprepared for a global pandemic of this magnitude.  Covid-19 seemed to come out of the clear blue sky.  With its suffering and sorrow and pain and hurt and loss and grief.  Covid-19 made a huge mess of our lives.  Covid-19 has left so many of us reeling and longing for the good old days of 2019 . . . Our world has been turned upside down and inside out!

The disciples experience something very similar in our Gospel readings for this week.

In our first Gospel reading for Palm Sunday – the disciples are part of a glorious celebration.  At long last people have moved beyond curiosity to belief!  Finally – after 3 years of grueling hard work – people are recognizing Jesus for who he really is!  Jesus is being welcomed as the Savior of Israel.  Finally – Jesus is getting the welcome and recognition he deserves.

People are singing Jesus’ praises and shouting his name on high!  People are boldly declaring Jesus is their Lord and Savior and the one who will deliver them from their Roman oppressors!

The people of Jerusalem have a great – big – wonderful celebration!  They hold an impromptu parade and spread palm branches and their own coats on the road to welcome Jesus.  They cheer and shout and cry out “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

The disciples were probably high-fiving and fist-bumping and woo-hooing and grinning from ear to ear.  Life was good!  So very – very good!

But then – well then – we heard the rest of our Gospel reading.  Things changed so quickly – it must have given them whiplash.  It must have felt like the rug was pulled out from under them.  Like a punch in the gut.

Their world came crashing down around them.  Everything went from gloriously awesome to terrifying horrible in the blink of an eye.

In less than a week the people who were singing Jesus’ praises were now calling for his death.  One day they were declaring Jesus to be their Lord and Savior and later that week the very same people were demanding his life!

Talk about a shocking turn of events.  To go from singing Jesus’ praises to demanding his crucifixion in just days . . . . This was incomprehensible.

This certainly wasn’t what the disciples had been hoping for at all!  This was hard – too hard.  This was terrifying.  This was crushing.  And yet – this was exactly where they found themselves.

What were they supposed to do or to think?  Where were they supposed to turn?

What did all of this mean?

Even though this turn of events seemed so very shocking – Jesus had known it was coming.  And Jesus had tried to prepare them.  In fact – Jesus had been preparing them for this moment for years.  Jesus had been telling them it was coming.  That his entire earthly ministry was leading up to this very moment.

Remember – not too many weeks ago when Jesus declared to his disciples and to all of us – “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me?” (Mark 8:34)

Or when Jesus declared that “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, the scribes, and be killed and after 3 days rise again.” (Mark 8:31)

Jesus said the exact same thing just a few days later (Mark 9:31).  And again while Jesus and the disciples were on the road walking into Jerusalem (Mark 10:32-34).

Jesus knew he had to die on that Roman cross.  Jesus knew this was coming.

But why?  What did this mean?

This meant that Jesus’ death on the cross had a purpose.  Jesus’ death had meaning.  It was a sacrifice – freely given.

The words we heard today from the Gospel of Mark are about a sacrifice freely given. About a choice.

This story is about Jesus and his disciples.  And it is also about us.  It is about our own broken sinful selves and our desperate need for salvation.

This all happened to Jesus – not because of his sins – but because of our sins.  These events took place because of us.

All of this was for you.

And know this too – Jesus underwent all of this for you willingly.  No one – not even God the Father– forced this upon Jesus.  Jesus chose this path – because of you – because he loves you.  The trial – the mocking – the beatings – the pain – the suffering – the crucifixion and even Jesus’ death were for you – because he loves you.  Amen.

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