In Luke 19.28-42 Jesus enters Jerusalem to joyful acclaim. The human resistance of the Pharisees is met by the support of all Creation (“these stones would cry out”). Verses 41-42, in which Jesus laments over Jerusalem, are not included in the lectionary but I highly recommend including them. (They never appear in the lectionary!)
Psalm 118 is a festival Psalm (probably from an ancient worship service) proclaiming trust in God’s kindness and protection despite the onslaught of enemies.
Isaiah 50.4-9 speaks of God’s servant who is treated unjustly, and yet who trusts in God, listens for God’s voice, and proclaims God’s truth.
Psalm 31 cries out for God’s help amidst suffering, especially the judgment and hate of others. Even in such deep sorrow, the Psalm expresses profound trust in God.
Philippians 2.5-11 celebrates the incarnation, or embodiment, of God’s presence in Jesus. Christ, though divine, came among us as a humble, vulnerable, suffering human, in order to be present with us in all things.
Luke 22.14 – 23.56 tell the story of Jesus’ last days: his final gathering with his beloved community, his arrest and trial, and his death and burial.
The Palm and Passion service
Because few people attend Good Friday services, if we celebrate Palm Sunday one week and Easter the next worshipers completely miss the story of the cross—the second most important story in our faith! Easter becomes a punchline without the joke. That certainly sits well in our shallow, happiness-addicted, pain-avoidant culture. But not with our faith. It completely avoids our facing our pain and our sin, particularly the consequences of our sin—people get hurt—and we miss witnessing God’s mighty compassion in accompanying us though both our crucifying and our own crucifixion. This is one Sunday in which there is particular power in experiencing the wide narrative sweep of the gospel story instead of the little bits we usually hear on Sundays.
The passion story is intense drama. It takes a while to experience. It deserves more than a brief drive-by viewing. But it’s a along story to read in Sunday worship. It helps to break it up. By God’s grace the arc of a worship service provides the structure for telling the palm-passion narrative. The service outline provided here follows the whole gospel story through the liturgical movements, more as a dramatic reading than a typical worship service—and more engaging of the congregation than an extended reading.
For people not familiar with the palm-passion structure it can feel jarring to suddenly turn from waving Palms to shouting “Crucify him!” It’s supposed to unsettle us. Our sin ought to. That’s the story we’re telling. The abrupt movement from the praise and confidence of the Service of the Palms to the dark, confessional Service of the Passion follows the Gospel story of Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem, from the festal procession to the awful reality of the cross and the tomb. This progression also reflects God’s presence with us and for us not just in the happy, triumphant times but also in our suffering. And it invites our humility: our praise easily turns to sin, our loyalty to betrayal. (So, in the traditional manner, the palms we wave today will be burned to provide the ashes for our Ash Wednesday worship next year.)
Most importantly, witnessing thew story as a whole helps us experience the movement of the Gospel: Christ confronts the violence of our social, political and religious systems as its victim. He exposes the evil of our violence, and meets it with nonviolence, forgiveness, healing and community, setting us free to renounce all violence and live in his spirit of mercy and love. It is only in the cross—in the context of our suffering and our evil—that the grace of God’s life-giving love and forgiveness can honestly promise resurrection.
The New Exodus
Jesus’ Last Supper with the disciples was a Passover meal. The Passover is the great celebration of Israel’s liberation from slavery in Egypt. The feast gives thanks for our freedom, and honors God’s will to liberate all people from oppression and injustice.
Jesus is the new Passover. Note the parallels between the passion story and the Exodus. Instead of being slaves to Pharaoh, we are enslaved to sin. God Godself suffers the plague of the death of the first-born. Jesus is the slaughtered lamb whose blood marks us for freedom, and saves us from the power of death. As Moses leads the people through the Red Sea to freedom, Jesus leads us through death and Resurrection (symbolized in the Red Sea of the baptismal waters).
The Exodus story is about our liberation. We are those Hebrews. But what we usually completely miss in our White American churches is that it’s also a story about our sin. We are also those Egyptians. We Whites are a dominant group that benefits from the enslavement of blacks which, even though it legally ended 150 years ago, is still at at work today. White Supremacy is the new Egypt. As we celebrate the Exodus we are also called to notice our racism, and our willingness to impoverish certain populations. Pharaoh’s command to slaughter male Hebrew children has a parallel in the targeting of young blacks in our incarceration rates and the police murder of unarmed black men. Many of the “liberties” we celebrate in this country are not available to African Americans. We’re not out of Egypt yet.
The Exodus is God’s will not just for the escape of some slaves, but for the abolition of slavery. It’s God’s judgment against all oppression. The Exodus and the resurrection are God’s nonviolent overthrow of the forces of evil and oppression. Baptized into Christ, we are not only grateful for our own liberation; in the words of the Methodist baptismal rite we “resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”
In that work we are not only convicted but also empowered by the cross. The cross is God’s nonviolent resistance to our sin: God exposes and overcomes our violence and our separation from God. When we hurt others, even for “righteous” reasons, we make God our victim. But God does not retaliate or punish— instead, God forgives us and reunites us with God. We are set free from the power of sin and fear of death to control our lives, free to live by the power of love alone. Jesus’ dying and rising is a new Exodus for us.
To take up the cross is to continue Jesus’ work of identifying with the suffering and the victims of violence and injustice, and changing unjust political, economic and social structures—beginning with confessing our own part in them. The cross of Jesus is not just a focus for personal piety. It is also a rallying point for God’s command to change this world on behalf of the poor and oppressed. This is the Great Passover, the New Exodus, a journey that we are still on.
Call to Worship
Leader: Blessed is the ruler who comes in the love of God.
All: Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!
Amid the powers of this world, Christ comes humbly, riding on a donkey.
Christ alone is our savior and our sovereign.
Christ, we thank you. We honor you. We follow you.
God of love and justice, we worship you. God, save us!
Creator God, we praise you, for your Love rules over our lives with grace and beauty, creating us anew each moment. We thank you, for your Christ rules over us in humble tenderness, healing and redeeming us. We open our hearts to you, for your Spirit rules us from within with power, filling us with compassion. Grant that we will always turn to you alone for our salvation, and for the gift of life. Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in your name! Peace on earth, and glory in the highest! Grant us your salvation, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
We praise you and thank you, O God, for the great acts of love by which you have redeemed us through your son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Sovereign. Grant that we may ever hail him as ruler of our lives, and share in his obedience to your will, in joy and confidence. Blessed is the one who comes in your name! Peace on earth and glory in the highest! Grant us your salvation, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Prayer of Confession
God, in our fear and distrust we have betrayed you.
In the failure of our love we have denied you.
In our selfishness we have crucified you.
Forgive us, heal our hearts,
and set us free to love,
in the name and the gentle grace of Christ.
We wave our palms at the foot of the cross.
We sing of our delight, and our despair.
Joyous, we are grateful, and we worship you.
Brokenhearted, we confess we have crucified you, and we repent.
We clutch our palms as you bear the cross.
Swept up, we join the procession.
(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)
See all songs with tags for “Cross,” but especially these:
Kyrie (Original tune)
Kyrie Eleison. Christe Eleison. Kyrie Eleison.
Grant us peace and mercy.
Behold the Lamb of God (Original song)
Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
Come, let us follow, come let us follow
the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
O Jesus, Wounded Sovereign
(Tune: O Sacred Head Now Wounded)
Dear Jesus, you who suffer and walk among the poor
whose hearts and lives are broken, whose faith is still unsure:
despised, accused and battered, you do not say a word.
So powerless, yet loving!— you are my Sovereign Lord.
You bear no arms but loving, no threats nor flags unfurled.
You wear no kingly robes, but the sorrows of the world.
Yet your forgiveness conquers each worldly rule and reign,
and rises, whole, undaunted, from evil, death and pain.
While emperors abuse you, and people shrug or stare,
and dark injustice troubles the ones for whom you care,
your mighty grace arises, and hidden from our sight,
enfolds all living beings in your triumphant light.
O Jesus, wounded Sovereign, I pray, give me the nerve
without this world’s armor to love and bless and serve.
My master and companion, rule all eternity
with grace and deep compassion, and, Love, begin with me.
Oh, Jesus (Original song— an acapella solo)
Oh, Jesus, what have you done?
Carried my burdens, every one,
All of my sorrow, all of my sin,
Like a mother gathering her children in.
Now I’m left with nothin’ at all but love,
Nothin’ but your tender, tender love.
Oh, Jesus, what have I done?
Crucified my precious one.
I didn’t want to bear the pain or loss,
So I left you alone to carry the cross.
Now I’m left with nothin’ at all but love,
Nothin’ but your sufferin’, sufferin’, love.
Oh, Jesus, what will you do?
Forgive me like you always do.
With not a word of wrath or blame,
You died with love gently sayin’ my name.
Now I’m left with nothin’ at all but love,
Nothin’ but your precious, precious love.
Oh, Jesus, what will I do?
Give me the courage to follow you,
To give my love if I live or die,
And never again to crucify.
For I’m left with nothin’ at all but love,
Nothin’ but your dyin’, dyin’ love
This Is the Passover (Original Song)
This is the Passover you have desired to share
as you deliver us out of our slavery and fear.
This is the new living covenant sealed in your blood.
Grant that it may be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.
Stripped in our suffering of all but our need for your grace,
join us to you in your dying and rising, O Christ.
Come, Holy Spirit, and grant us new life in our Lord.
gather us into your Body, made new by your Word.
Woeful Cross (Original song)
Woeful cross, saddest wood, death in me of all that’s good,
I confess. Mother/Father, bless. Mercy.
Holy cross, mystery, love from fear of death set free.
Sin’s dark lie. Here I die. Mercy.
Gentle Christ on the cross, for our life your own life’s loss.
You forgive, and we live. Mercy.
Our own cross calling us to your love and gentleness:
may we live, as you give, mercy.
You Feed Us, Gentle Savior (Tune: O Sacred head Now Wounded)
You feed us, gentle savior, the bread that makes us whole,
the wine of your compassion poured out into our soul.
the food of your own presence, your spirit, strong, within,
the grace that heals us deeply and overcomes our sin.
You bind us, gentle savior, and weave us into one,
one flesh and blood, made holy, the Body of your Son.
We gather here in hunger, one hunger, all the same;
and with one grace you bless us together in his name.
You call us, gentle savior, and send us in your name.
You teach and heal and show us how we can do the same.
So strengthened by your Spirit and nourished by your grace,
we go to be your presence in love, in every place.