It all starts with a parade...

Throughout Lent, at LNPC we are exploring the Biblical Stations of the Cross.  We have the stations up in our sanctuary, and the congregation is doing a Lenten Worship Project, bringing in images that we find in media, our lives, art, etc. and helping to construct one of the stations during worship each week.  This week, our project continues, and all the pieces come together as our Palm Sunday Prayer.

(Australian tree fern, photo by Ann Scull of Mustard Seeds)
Lenten Worship Project: Palm Sunday - Ashes & Cross

It all starts with a parade.

We used to live in Pasadena, and every year, we would wake up early on New Year’s Day, walk a few blocks from our apartment and stake our spot along the curb to watch the Rose Parade. Now THERE was a parade. People camped out all night for the good seats – youth groups did fundraisers to hold spots for people who would arrive the next day just in time for the parade to start. When the sidewalks were full and people were all settled on their balconies the whole thing would kick off with fighter jets leaving a trail of smoke overhead, and the floats would begin to appear.  Stunningly gorgeous floats that took years of planning, covered in bright flowers, beauty queens and cowboys waving at the crowds, marching bands and acrobats, and all streets swept clean and homeless people kicked off their corners and hidden away for the big event.

So for Jesus' big visit to Jerusalem, his last week on earth,  this is how it begins. With a parade.
Really? A parade?
And his was no Rose Parade either; this soirĂ©e sounds like it was pulled together at the last minute.  People lining the street with their cloaks and yelling as he passed by, Jesus atop a borrowed donkey, waving to his fans.  Coming to the end of the road and stopping; everyone dispersing and heading home for the night. 
Makes me wonder, what’s the point?

What is God up to here? Why in the world would God let this pageant happen, this poor man’s version of a royal procession, this frivolous show which seems inappropriate to kick off such impending misery as the cross, but also just as unsuitable for announcing such an important cosmic event as the Resurrection that follows it?  What is God saying here with this Palm Sunday nonsense?

For our 40 days of Lent we’ve been living in Holy Week.  
We’ve been lingering in the dark moments with Jesus that come after this day we reach today.  We enter Palm Sunday already smudged with ashes,
from dust we came, to dust we shall return, blessed be the name of the Lord.

Unlike the passersby who have to pass their question down the line of gathered friends and strangers, who is this guy? Why are we celebrating? What’s the hoopla about?  
Unlike them, we know who he is.
But we’re also unlike the disciples who raise their voices in celebration, who wave their palms in expectation.  They love him desperately and have pinned their hopes on this moment; unlike them, we know what’s coming.

When they say, Hosanna! They say it with a naive hope, untested, untrusted - they say it with all the desire in the world for things to be made right and the belief that it soon will be. 
Or they just say it because it is what everyone is saying and they’ve no inkling whatsoever what they’ll end up shouting at him in a few short days.

But when we say Hosanna today we say it as people who have lingered in Holy Week.  We say it knowing what lies ahead, as it all seems to unravel before their eyes in the coming days – we’ve immersed ourselves in those moments these past weeks. Even as they stand with their palms in the air and their hearts on their sleeves we know what they’re about to walk into:
- The pleading and sorrow of Jesus praying in the garden, tasted in our own pleading that things be fixed, that we be spared, that pain pass us by and hardship avoid those we love.
- The shame and regret that floods Peter when he denies having even known Christ, mirrored in our own shame that locks us in moments of betrayal, regret that defines us forever by our failure that make us feel alone and condemned. 
- The hopelessness and despair of the thief on the cross in his last conversation on earth, touching our own despair at the impossible burdens that we carry with us, pain for the world and ourselves and the things we can’t control.  
- The crosses we bear and the crosses we share, like Simon of Cyrene, shoved into this terrible story without warning, they way life sometimes thrusts upon us or those dear to us a sentence never anticipated or asked for, and we bear it together.
- And, finally, the way his own mother and close friend are joined together in Christ’s last moments, and how we too are given to one another in his death, family to each other and the world, responsible for one another as a burden and a gift.

This is where we’ve already been when we wander into this carnival scene with our palms in our hands, and this is where they all are about to go.  So we can’t help seeing that this journey that starts with a silly parade ends with the death of God.  And there is no more final, or terrible, thing in all of time and possibility – then the breath of life leaving of the one that breathed all of life into being. 

When Luke tells the story, he says:
 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:    “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”  “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
The words that the angels proclaimed at his birth, when the God of the cosmos was just entering the world as a squalling, shivering newborn, coming to share the life the Word breathed into being with the ones made in his image, those angelic messengers’ words are echoed in the cries of the clueless crowd – “Glory to God in the Highest, Peace in heaven!”  and blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!

Tell them to be quiet! They don’t know what they are saying!  Ah, it doesn’t matter if they know what they are saying. It is so profoundly true, and so must be said, that if they don’t say it the very rocks themselves will shout it out. 
It is so profoundly true, and so must be said – that this one before us, dragging his feet in the dirt on the back of a baby donkey, this one before us that looks nothing like the kings we’d recognize, is, in fact, the God of all creation, the king of highest heaven itself who shaped this very dirt into human form and set this very earth on its course in space -  It is so profoundly true, that no matter what comes next, no matter what lies ahead, nothing, not even death itself, can silence the sovereignty of this One we hail right now.

It must be said. No matter who says it, or even if they know what it is that they are saying.
The people didn’t know, they called him a prophet and enjoyed the parade. The disciples didn’t know, they loved their teacher and thought this was his moment to lead. 
But if the rocks had shouted, oh then, if the earth had proclaimed its tremulous praise, and the wind had held its breath in delight, if the trees themselves had been allowed to bow down their branches and touch their tops to the ground as he rode by, all of nature would have hailed her King, with vibrant quivering joy greeted her Creator, then the power of this moment may have overwhelmed them all.

As it was, the people shouted their innocent optimism and the rocks remained silent.  As it was, Creation’s King went incognito, disguised as a peasant disguised as a king.

So when we shout Hosanna today, we do it differently than they did. 
We do know what it is that we are saying. 
Our king has come, riding on a donkey, sure, born in stable, yes, but the king nonetheless, and the staggering grace of what he is about to do does not pass us by, the enormity and significance of what is about to happen does not go unnoticed by us, and it will not go unspoken.

We know the cross is coming.  And we know it is our hope.  As inconceivable a thing as this is, as terrible a twist, and as much as we would never ask for it and can barely accept it, it is the way God chose to do things… Death is part of God’s story now, just like it is each of ours.  And all these things we bear: sorrow, pleading, shame, regret, hopelessness, despair, impossibility – these are God’s story now and God bears them all the way into death. With us. For us.  As far as the east is from the west so far have you separated our sins from us…

Today we wave our branches in defiant hope, because the promise of the Resurrection rides by.  We know that even as we watch him pass, eternal events are set in motion and the End’s end is rapidly approaching. 
We will look in on these things that threaten to tear us apart, these terrible and insidious things that break down our world and shred our very souls, and we will wave our palms at them in reckless celebration and say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Glory to God in the highest heaven! Peace on earth and HOSANNA!”

Easter is coming, people, and we will celebrate with eyes open. We know the journey from here to there, we have seen that the path between mindless celebration and true hope is paved with the stones of death, and we walk it with him as he walked it with us; we couldn’t come to resurrection without it.
But in God’s way of doing things, it all starts with a parade…

And so today, with hope tested and trusted, and with all the desire in the world for things to be made right and the belief that it soon will be, we celebrate.
Salvation is coming, and don’t you forget it.
Thanks be to God!
Hosanna in the Highest!

We come here smudged in ashes and holding our pain in our hands right next to our palms, symbols side by side of anticipating the resurrection, yearning for it with both honest anguish and audacious hope. 
So as we go into our prayer time, I would like to invite you to pass the ashes from Ash Wednesday, those made from the burning of last year’s palms, the ashes that mark us as mortal, that remind us that death still has a hold on us and we see it and feel it every day.

I invite you to take them when they come to you and to smudge some on the palm of your hand.  And as we proceed into our prayers, I invite you to look at and touch this spot marked with ashes as a reminder of this journey we’re on, the one we step into again this week as we move toward the resurrection. I invite you to consider the places in your own life, and in the world, that need resurrection, the places that need life spoken again, that need hope and healing.

For five weeks we’ve carried into this space images of suffering that we’ve pulled from the news, from our lives, from the world around us, faces, stories, situations and reminders that reflect our need for a savior. And today we bring them all to the cross.  Today they are answered with the hope that salvation is coming, that God comes and bears all of these things for us.

As we bring forward each piece, we will pray for what it represents.  I will introduce each piece and pause, inviting you to find within yourself the prayers this piece represents for you, and to hold them in silence as we pray together, and then we will end each piece with our prayer response, God in your loving mercy, hear our prayer.

Loving God, we bring before you all the places within our own souls of yearning and deep grief…
We bring before you those people we know and love who find themselves in heartache and pain, or filled with fear...

Christ Jesus, in those places of gutwrenching sorrow you show us that that real prayer is sometimes shameless pleading, sometimes it’s wide open, helpless honesty, just like you prayed when you faced the fear of what was ahead.   
Give us the courage to pray that way. 
Jesus, you needed people beside you in those places, and we do too.  Help us invite others to share our sorrow, and to stay alongside others through their own.

God in your loving mercy, hear our prayer.

Forgiving God, we hold before you those places within ourselves of betrayal, where we’ve sold out someone we love… 
We lift up the places where we’ve turned on what we’ve believed in, become something we despise, and found ourselves drowning in the darkness of our own making…

Christ Jesus, in those times of crushing shame and unbearable regret you show us that God covers our shame, and meets us in our regret, and when we dare to live in our brokenness, the Holy Spirit moves with astounding grace, restoring us piece by piece to wholeness.
Give us the bravery to live honestly in our brokenness, and the strength to wait for you there.

God in your loving mercy, hear our prayer.

God-with-us, we hold before you the places within ourselves and in the world where we despair of things ever being made right…
We lift up the relationships we cannot fix, the people we cannot help, the circumstances that seem beyond all hope…

Christ Jesus, in those places of utter hopelessness and despairing impossibility, God joins us in our suffering, and in the most lost of situations, you are right here.  You show us that despite everything we’ve done, we don’t get what we deserve, and this is not the end, not even close.
Help us to trust you.  Help us to see you, as your Spirit moves even in the places of impossibility, bringing life out of death.  May we always seek to join you there.  Please let us be part of your ministry on earth.

God in your loving mercy, hear our prayer.

God of all, we belong to you.  You made yourself one of us, and gave yourself to us; and you draw us to you by drawing us together.  You’ve given the world to us and given us to one another.  In Christ, we are connected. 
We lift before you now those we love and cherish, those we feel inextricably connected to, whose burdens and joys we carry as our very own…
We lift before you those for whom our hearts ache, those who feel kindred because of their suffering…
We lift before you those we feel disconnected from, those we don’t understand and can’t relate to, the people we’re divided from by distance, politics, generations or culture…

Christ Jesus, by connecting us to each other you give us a place to see and encounter you.  We belong to you. And so we belong to one another.
Give us the openness to stand by one another in times of suffering and in times of joy. 
May we sense, ever deeper and stronger, this connection we have, that we are family in Christ.
And may your Spirit work in between and through our bonds, that barriers would be broken down and chasms closed up, that people would be brought together in love and healing.  Bring healing to our world, Oh God.  And let us be part of that.

God in your loving mercy, hear our prayer.

God of the journey, we lift up to you the place we find ourselves, the path before us… the choices we have and the ones we don’t choose, the things we plan for and those that surprise us and knock us off course…
We hold before you the hopes and worries we have for those we love, and the places their own journeys may take them…

Christ Jesus, in the crosses we bear and the crosses we share – you are with us, you have joined your journey to our own and we are never forsaken, never left alone.  Help us to bear one another’s burdens, and to walk alongside each other wherever our journeys may lead.

God in your loving mercy, hear our prayer.

CROSS - (all the pieces have snapped together to form a raised cross in the center of them)

Almighty God, we cannot begin to understand your love so great that would carry all of this for us. That you would meet each of us in all of these places and draw us always and again to yourself.

Thank you for your grace so abundant and forgiveness so complete, that we can live in the promise of wholeness, and be part of your inexhaustible healing of the world that you made and love and came to save.
Thank you for your life and death and resurrection that sets us free.

As we stand before your cross, with our hands dirty and our hearts open, 
we remember again, that Great is the Mystery of our Faith.
Christ has died
Christ has risen
Christ will come again.

And from within this mystery, we will raise our voices in defiant hope and audacious celebration to our God, Hosanna in the highest!  
And Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord. 
Hosanna in the Highest!

 (photos to come!)

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