Liturgy Lesson: April 5, 2020, Palm Sunday
Call to Worship: from Psalm 118
Prayer of Invocation
The Triumphal Entry: Mark 11:1-10
CPC Kids Choir (pre-recorded): “Hosanna”
Hymn of Adoration: All Glory, Laud, and Honor (#235)
Prayer of Confession: adapted from Valley of Vision
Assurance of Pardon: Col. 1:18-22 and Eph. 1:14-19
Hymn of Assurance: O the Deep, Deep Love Jesus
Reading of the Word: Col. 3:23-24; Gal. 1:10-11
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
The Lord’s Supper: Be Thou My Vision
Closing Hymn: Hail to the Lord’s Anointed (#311)
Postlude (video): Blessings from the Elders
“How lonely sits the city that was full of people!…
The roads to Zion mourn, for none come to the festival…
Jerusalem remembers in the days of her affliction and wandering
All the precious things that were hers from days of old.”
– Lamentations 1:1,4,7
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you during this season of homebound exile. What massive changes we have all endured in the last few weeks. COVID-19 has circled the globe clockwise (counter to the eastward rotation of the earth) with such force that the world has stopped spinning. And that is not just hyperbole. With one third of the world’s population under virus lockdown, seismologists are reporting that the earth is measurably more still. “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).
In my own small world, however, this halt feels like a hard pull of the emergency brake while doing 70 mph on the highway. I confess that the sudden stop has left me with whiplash, the kind that is more than just a pain in the neck. But the good thing about having your neck in a brace is that it actually helps your posture and forces you to look straight ahead. The idea is to minimize movement so you can heal. Judging by the clear skies in Los Angeles and clear canals in Venice, it seems as if nature gets this point better than I. Perhaps this time of suspension and stillness is a gift, and it may be perfect timing for us as we enter Holy Week.
Some churches have considered postponing Easter celebrations because of this pandemic. But the commemoration of Holy Week, which starts this Sunday, is not something we should shift for present circumstance. Rather, I would argue that because of the narrative power of the dramatic days ahead, the stage is set for this to be the most meaningful Holy Week many of us have ever experienced. The dark days ahead may be the perfect time for us to follow the heavy footsteps of our Savior, to walk beside him through prayer and song as we recount the climactic days of his earthly journey. And, in a season of isolation, it is comforting to know that we are joined in this via dolorosa (way of grief) with our brothers and sisters from every tribe and tongue.
The liturgical calendar unites churches and Christian worshipers across the globe in devotional rhythms that echo the human heartbeat of Christ. After our long march through the Church calendar year, we arrive at Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday. During Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we join the festive throng crying out:
“Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matthew 21:9, 15)
“Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9, 10)
“Hosanna!” (John 12:13)
I can remember no other Holy Week in my lifetime where this word was more appropriate. “Hosanna” comes from a Hebrew phrase “hoshiya na” (found in Psalm 118:25), which means, “Save, please!” It is a cry to God for deliverance. However, in the psalm it is followed directly by the exclamation “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The cry for help, “hoshiya na,” is answered immediately after it leaves the worshipper’s lips. All at once the desperate cry becomes a shout of hope and exultation. The word moves from plea to praise, from cry to confidence. It is a powerful double-edged holler of “Help!” and “Hallelujah!”
“Hosanna!” Father God, our days feel empty. You answer our emptiness with Christ, “in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col. 1:19). Fill us with his love (Eph. 3:19).
“Hosanna!” We despair in the face of the enemy and fear the curse of death; show us the radiant beauty of Christ, “the image of the invisible God, and the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15).
“Hosanna!” Our world is falling part. Yet our hope is in you, Jesus Christ. In you “all things hold together” (Col. 1:17) and “you uphold the universe with the word of your power” (Heb. 1:3).
Blessed is he who has come to save us. This Son of David has come to suffer on our behalf. When he entered the city, he was headed to the cross. And so, on Passion Sunday the curtain goes up again on the dramatic retelling of those climactic final steps for our Savior. This Sunday he comes and next Sunday he conquers. “Salvation belongs to our God and to the Son! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!”
All Glory, Laud, and Honor
Text: Theodulf, Bishop of Orleans (c. 820)
Tune: ST. THEODULPH, Melchior Teschner (1615)
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is the opening chapter in the Holy Week chronicles. These final days for Jesus are filled with more caliginous beauty than any Rembrandt, more pathos than a Shakespearean tragedy, even more (dare I say it) poetic layers of meaning than anything Bach ever wrote. The march from crown to cross and then from grave to glory is literally out of this world. It is an endless source of inspiration for songwriters and storytellers throughout history. Compared with the brilliant revelation of Jesus, even Rembrandt, Shakespeare, and Bach are nothing more than cover bands…albeit really good ones that I would pay to go see.
Our opening hymn this week is a poetic retelling of the triumphal entry, which has been used in the churches for fourteen centuries. The medieval liturgy actually re-enacted the story of Palm Sunday, something that I encourage you to try from home this week (more on that in a bit). Using this hymn as a procession, the priests and people would start outside the city walls and march toward the gates, waving branches and casting flowers, all the while following a living representation of Jesus seated on a donkey. Before the gates were opened, a choir of children would begin to sing, then in Latin: Gloria, laus et honor, with that refrain often echoed by the crowd. Once the song was over, the gates were opened and the procession made its way to the cathedral for the celebration of the Mass.
Taking our cue from these middle-agers, we can find creative ways to honor Palm Sunday. Here are two ideas. First, display Northwest palm branches (a.k.a. “Ferns”) on your doorpost (see this story here) as a witness to your neighbors. Also, if you have little ones at home who are going stir-crazy, then before worship try processing up and down your street with sword ferns. Let the kids shout “hosanna” and then gather around your screen for our livestream, during which you will hear a virtual version of our CPC kids sing “Hosanna” as they (just like their medieval counterparts) lead us into our opening hymn.
If you decide to undertake a suburban pilgrimage on Sunday morning, you may want to try singing a verse or two of this hymn. If your journey around the block is a longer one, then you will have plenty of material to draw on since this hymn originally consists of 78 lines (39 couplets). It was written by St. Theodulph while he was in prison. The first line of text directs all praise to the “redeemer King,” which is a bold statement considering that Theodulph was imprisoned for suspected treason against the king of France. The tune was not originally composed with Theodulph’s text in mind, but it did not take long for the two to be matched. The pairing became so popular that the tune is now named after Theodulph himself. This marriage of tune and text results in some unintended theological brilliance. The melody consists of four four-bar phrases. The first eight measures are a repeated melodic phrase that is rising and hopeful. In contrast, the last two musical phrases are mostly descending lines, resulting in each verse ending on the lowest note in the entire phrase. The effect is one of a grand, melodic arc that lifts and then lands back where it started. Settling and satisfying in its structure, the melody mirrors the expectations and experience of those who greeted Christ with shouts of “Hosanna!”. It is not the big high-note finish that we would expect from the start. Rather, it is a melody fitting for a servant King who brought hope through humility, took up a cross before a crown, and gained deliverance through death.
Words and music by Andrew Peterson
These strange times demand creative changes in every area of our lives. Some of these necessary changes have come in the content and format of our worship service. Usually we would have a time following the sermon for the giving of tithes and offerings, during which there would be a musical “offertory” played or sung. Because our tithe is an act of worship that rightly belongs within the context of our gathering, we decided to suspend that moment in our digital service. In its place is the unifying declaration of the Apostles’ Creed.
This week I have decided to adopt the orphaned offertory and give it a home here in the Liturgy Lesson. Technically, for me to call this the offertory, you should be completing the online giving form while listening to this. But to ask you to do that would feel contrived and awkward (BTW, you can find that link here).
This week’s “offertory” is a song by Andrew Peterson, author, singer-songwriter, and founder of The Rabbit Room. It highlights perhaps the deepest meaning of the word “Hosanna”. Here is Andrew on the song’s inspiration:
“Hosanna” is an old Hebrew word that means “Save us, now!”, which the Jews employed while they waved their palm branches and welcomed the Messiah into Jerusalem for the last time.
Only in God’s Kingdom is a cry for help equal to a shout of praise. Once, the Jews asked Jesus for a sign to prove his authority. He declared that he would destroy the temple and rebuild it again in three days, a statement that I’m sure set them gasping and fanning their faces and running in circles. Some of them probably fainted dead away. The Gospel writer tells us that Jesus was talking about himself. But Jesus of Nazareth has plans to wreck us, too, and leave not one stone on another—indeed, we should welcome it, because we know that Jesus has not just the power to lay waste, but to rebuild—even his own body. And we all need rebuilding. This song is both a confession and a praise. To say to Christ, “Save me,” is to admit that you need saving, and also to acknowledge that only God is man enough to do it.
Brothers and sisters, we have countless reasons these days to cry “Save us, Lord.” We are besieged by a contagion and the legion that follows in its wake. This sickness is a real and present threat, but we must keep in mind that the one disease that afflicts all mankind is sin, and for that there is a sure and certain antidote: the blood of Jesus. This holy week, let us come back to a place of healing repentance. May all of our songs and hymns be filled with the joy of our salvation. We have been given the cure for the curse that truly plagues all humanity. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we are now immune to a spiritual sickness that would most certainly bring death were it not for the saving grace of our heavenly Father expressed through his Son. Through his atoning sacrifice on the cross, Jesus Christ has secured for us an inheritance with the saints in light, which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. This is Christ in us, the hope of glory. So, we are not those who shrink back in fear and are destroyed; rather, we are those who have faith and are saved. Hosanna!