Liturgy Lessons: April 14, 2019 (Palm Sunday)
Call to Worship: Psalm 118:14-16, 19-29
Prayer of Invocation
Procession of Palms – “Hosanna”
Opening Hymn: All Glory, Laud, and Honor(#235)
Confession of Sin: The Convicting Spirit (from Valley of Vision) and Trisagion
Assurance of Pardon: Revelations 19:11-16; Hebrews 2:9-10
Hymns of Response: Hosanna in the Highest; There is a Redeemer
Reading of the Word: Matthew 21:1-11
Gloria Patri (#735)
Sermon: Rev. Shiv, “God on a Donkey”
Tithes and Offerings: “Hosanna” – CPC Kids Choir
Supper: At the Lamb’s High Feast (#440); There is a Higher Throne
Closing Hymn: Rejoice, the Lord is King (#310)
This week we celebrate Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week. The content of our service will be similar to last year. Because of that, I’m devoting this Liturgy Lesson to the broader topic of Palm Sunday, particularly through the use of poetry. If you are a new subscriber, or would just like to refresh yourself on a few of our hymns for this week (including some helpful info on the word “Hosanna”), then I invite you to read the Liturgy Lesson from Palm Sunday last year, which can be found here. But for now, I’d like to talk about poetry.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture comes from the second chapter of Ephesians:
“For we are God’s workmanship (poema), created in Christ Jesus for good works…”
This passage affirms the reality that God’s workmanship in us—his sanctifying and redemptive work through the blood of the Cross and the power of the Holy Spirit—is not merely functional or useful, but it is beautiful and well-crafted; in essence, it is poetic. This work is consistent with the character of God, who seeks to transform us into the likeness of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). Indeed, all those whom He has chosen, He has predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son (Rom. 8:29), Jesus Christ, who is the very “perfection of beauty” (Ps. 50:2). Those who are in Christ are slowly and steadily being stretched and struck, tuned like so many strings on the piano, so that we may sound a grand and beautiful chord to His glory.
This means that, for the Christian, beauty is always and everywhere a pathway to devotion and praise. All works of art and beautiful things are a testament to the Master craftsman and composer God. He is the author of all beauty who reveals himself in allusive and artistic ways through the things he has crafted (Gen. 1), and the people He is sculpting (Is. 64:8). As such, when God speaks, he often speaks in poetic ways. It is not too much to estimate that at least one-third of the Bible is in the language of poetry. Leland Ryken has this to say about the poetic nature of scripture:
“Whole books of the Bible are poetic: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon. A majority of Old Testament prophecy is poetic in form. Jesus is one of the most famous poets of the world. Beyond these predominantly poetic parts of the Bible, figurative language appears throughout the Bible, and whenever it does, it requires the same type of analysis given to poetry. That is a lot of poetry—language that is chosen and structured differently from ordinary prose. God can raise the dead by any means he pleases. He can awaken dull hearts to the reality of his beauty any way he desires. And one of the ways he pleases to do it is by inspiring his spokesmen to write poetry.”
As we approach Holy Week, I think that poetry can help us enter into the narrative in fresh ways and get inside the truth. Samuel Coleridge, the great 18th-century poet said that he hoped his work could…
“…awaken the mind’s attention to the lethargy of custom, and direct it to the loveliness and the wonders before us; an inexhaustible treasure, but for which, in consequence of the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude, we have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand.”
It would be a grievous error for us to approach Holy Week with only the “lethargy of custom.” We should pray that the poetry of our liturgies this coming week would open our eyes, ears, and hearts to the wonders before us in the person of Jesus Christ.
There is so much that is inexpressibly beautiful about the narrative of Christ’s journey from Palm Sunday to Easter morning, especially the passion that unfolds from the Garden to Golgatha. It is the greatest story ever told, and one that has shaped the entire imagination of Western culture. Indeed, this is the most transformative week in all history. The events of this week are so profound in importance, they sometimes seem indescribable, unutterable, ineffable. It is at such an impossible juncture, the place where mere language fails, that the artist gets to work. The musician attempts to give audible voice to inexpressible emotions. The painter takes up brush to help us see spiritual realities which are otherwise invisible. And for the poet, the limitation of language does not render him silent. Rather, it inspires his architectural creativity as he attempts to shape verbal cathedrals, sacred places for the reader. All of these works of art can be tiny theophanies (“the appearance of God”), through which the Holy Spirit can illuminate the truth, love, and beauty of Christ.
And so, rather than give you more prose for this week, I would like to just share some poetry. We will start with poems specifically designed for Palm Sunday. The following four cherished poems are listed in chronological order. Take your time with them. Inhale deeply and read deliberately. You don’t even need to read them all at once. Poetry invites us to slow down and savor. May the Lord speak to you through these beautiful expressions of faith.
by Henry Vaughan (1621-1695)
Come, drop your branches, strew the way,
Plants of the day!
Whom sufferings make most green and gay.
The King of grief, the man of sorrow
Weeping still, like the wet morrow,
Your shades and freshness comes to borrow.
Put on, put on your best array;
Let the joyed road make holy-day,
And flowers that into fields do stray,
Or secret groves, keep the highway.
Trees, flowers and herbs, birds, beasts and stones,
That since man fell, expect with groans
To see the Lamb, which all at ones,
Lift up your heads and leave your moans!
For here comes he
Whose death will be
Man’s life, and your full liberty.
Hark! how the children shrill and high
Their joys provoke the distant sky,
Where thrones and seraphins reply,
And their own angels shine and sing
In a bright ring:
Such young, sweet mirth
Makes heaven and earth
Join in a joyful symphony.
The harmless, young and happy ass,
Seen long before this came to pass,
Is in these joys an high partaker
Ordained, and made to bear his Maker.
Dear feast of palms, of flowers and dew!
Whose fruitful dawn sheds hopes and lights;
Thy bright solemnities did shew
The third glad day through two sad nights.
I’ll get me up before the sun,
I’ll cut me boughs off many a tree,
And all alone full early run
To gather flowers to welcome thee.
Then like the palm, though wrong, I’ll bear,
I will be still a child, still meek
As the poor ass, which the proud jeer,
And only my dear Jesus seek.
If I lose all, and must endure
The proverbed griefs of holy Job,
I care not, so I may secure
But one green branch and a white robe.
by John Keble (1792-1866)
Ye whose hearts are beating high
With the pulse of Poesy,
Heirs of more than royal race,
Framed by Heaven’s peculiar grace,
God’s own work to do on earth,
(If the word be not too bold,)
Giving virtue a new birth,
And a life that ne’er grows old—
Sovereign masters of all hearts!
Know ye, who hath set your parts?
He who gave you breath to sing,
By whose strength ye sweep the string,
He hath chosen you, to lead
His Hosannas here below;—
Mount, and claim your glorious meed;
Linger not with sin and woe.
But if ye should hold your peace,
Deem not that the song would cease—
Angels round His glory-throne,
Stars, His guiding hand that own,
Flowers, that grow beneath our feet,
Stones in earth’s dark womb that rest,
High and low in choir shall meet,
Ere His Name shall be unblest.
Lord, by every minstrel tongue
Be Thy praise so duly sung,
That Thine angels’ harps may ne’er
Fail to find fit echoing here:
We the while, of meaner birth,
Who in that divinest spell
Dare not hope to join on earth,
Give us grace to listen well.
But should thankless silence seal
Lips that might half Heaven reveal,
Should bards in idol-hymns profane
The sacred soul-enthralling strain,
(As in this bad world below
Noblest things find vilest using,)
Then, Thy power and mercy show,
In vile things noble breath infusing;
Then waken into sound divine
The very pavement of Thy shrine,
Till we, like Heaven’s star-sprinkled floor,
Faintly give back what we adore:
Childlike though the voices be,
And untunable the parts,
Thou wilt own the minstrelsy
If it flow from childlike hearts.
by G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
By Malcolm Guite (b. 1957)
Now to the gate of my Jerusalem,
The seething holy city of my heart,
The saviour comes. But will I welcome him?
Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start;
They raise their hands, get caught up in the singing,
And think the battle won. Too soon they’ll find
The challenge, the reversal he is bringing
Changes their tune. I know what lies behind
The surface flourish that so quickly fades;
Self-interest, and fearful guardedness,
The hardness of the heart, its barricades,
And at the core, the dreadful emptiness
Of a perverted temple. Jesus come
Break my resistance and make me your home.