Prayers of Approach
We look for an all-powerful king, but Jesus confidently comes among us as an ordinary commoner.
Wonderful God, we thank you that you meet us right here where we are sitting – in the ordinary stuff and activities of this day. As we journey through Holy Week, may we recognise you in Christ Jesus, be empowered to live like him – to live into the preciousness of the life that you sustain in us. Amen.
Living God, we bring you our ‘hosannas’ – for you are an almighty God. We bring you our ‘alleluias’ – for you are a wonderful God. We bring you our dreams – for you are a faithful God. We bring you our discipleship – for you are an encouraging God. We bring you our hearts – for you are a loving God in whom we can trust.
Lord of power and humility, the crowd roared, their spirits soared – for you were a king. Their king. They longed for your rule, though you rode on a mule – for you were a king. Their king. And here today, as we worship and pray, we adore you as king. Our King! Amen.
Hymn Make way, make way, for Christ the king (R&S 141)
Readings: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Psalm 118 was one of the processional psalms used at all the major festivals and sung by pilgrims on the way up to Jerusalem to the Temple. This noisy mobile festival fits perfectly with events on the day that Jesus enters the city.
The story of Palm Sunday is full of clear signs that Jesus is the Messiah. Yet in the passage there are also signs of the tensions that would unfold over that week. The Pharisees’ protests point to their opposition, while the crowd’s chants suggest it is expecting a different kind of Messiah. However, amid these tensions, Jesus states a dramatic truth: that if the crowd was to fall silent, the stones would cry out. It is a powerful sign that he is supremely worthy of our praise.
The powerful emotions and actions involved lead the way to the cross. Joy, fear and anguish are intermingled. Coercive power, authentic power, powerlessness, and self-giving are all exhibited.
Hymn You are the king of glory (R&S 271)
At major festivals it was usual for pilgrims to arrive in Jerusalem a week before the start of the celebration to ensure that there was time to make any necessary arrangements and to perform the purification rituals before the feast began. As a sign of humility it was also customary, no matter how rich a pilgrim was, to make the final approach to the city on foot. Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem was therefore an extremely dramatic statement, deliberately fulfilling the words of Zechariah 9:9 – ‘Look, your king is coming to you! He comes triumphant and victorious, but humble and riding on a donkey…‘ – words which were widely regarded as a Messianic prophecy. And the crowds were not slow to take the hint, interpreting Jesus’ actions as a sign that he is indeed the Messiah for whom they have been waiting.
Jesus’ procession, however, would have been in stark contrast to another which would have happened at about the same time. Jesus entered the city from the east, climbing the hill from the
Jordan valley. On the other side of Jerusalem Pilate, the Roman governor, would have entered the city from the west, from Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast. Major religious festivals were always unsettled times with the possibility of demonstrations and riots or even uprising against Roman rule. Pilate therefore would have come with a display of force on a great warhorse, accompanied by large numbers of troops, to head off any possible trouble before it could start. Between these two contrasting displays the tensions would have been palpable so it is no wonder that the Pharisees urged Jesus to quieten his disciples.
Some of you may remember when, after 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela was freed and travelled straight to Cape Town to address a rally of maybe 100,000 people who had gathered to hear his first words. The atmosphere was very tense and some riots and unrest broke out even before his motorcade reached the rally. What did he say? ‘My fellow South Africans, I greet you all in the name of peace!’ If he had called for bloodshed at that moment, his supporters would have surely obliged. Perhaps Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was a similarly tense moment that could have led to violence and revolution.
Jesus’ actions certainly greatly disturbed the religious authorities of the time, who saw him as a threat to their power and authority. Throughout his ministry Jesus had taken charge and stood firm against injustice and mistaken beliefs and ideas but in the last days of his life and ministry, he allowed himself to be handed over. He allowed himself to be no longer the one taking the initiative, but the one ‘done unto’. This began when he was handed over to the authorities by Judas, and then by the religious authorities to the Romans, and then to the verdict of the crowd. It ended with his crucifixion on the cross.
To be faithful to God there comes a time when we have to let go, and to hand over influence. The challenge for those ‘living in Jesus’ way,’ is to discern – at any particular moment – when is the moment to take up, and when is the moment to lay down. Both take courage. Both are difficult. For both, we can be very reluctant and feel our resistance. Both require God’s power and guidance.
Hymn Ride on, ride on in majesty (R&S 209)
Prayers of Intercession
For all those who, tonight, will go to bed hungry; for those who rely on food banks; for those whose harvest has failed; for those whose family members are too ill to work we pray –
gracious God, mercifully hear us.
For all the places in the world where there is war, where people have to leave their homes because of violence; for families and friends separated by the trauma of conflict and migration, that they may soon be reunited we pray – gracious God, mercifully hear us.
For all the different communities within the Church throughout the world; that they may have vision to serve in imaginative ways offering compassion and hope to those to whom they relate we pray – gracious God, mercifully hear us.
For us; for those we love easily and those who challenge us; that we may be strengthened and supported – gracious God, mercifully hear us. Amen.
Hymn All glory, laud and honour (R&S 208)
May God grant you exuberance of the Palm Sunday crowd, and the humility of Jesus riding a donkey; the energy and excitement of the crowd, and the calm holiness of Jesus; the expectation of the crowd, and the understanding heart of Jesus who journeyed to Jerusalem for love of us all. Amen.
Prayers © Roots for Churches Ltd. Used by permission.