Lent 2018 – Week 6 – the palm branch

Reading: Matt 21: 1-10.

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.’
The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’
‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’
‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

19th March – Monday

Singing the Faith 262
Psalm 111 (StF 826)

Palm branches – how exotic! But not to the people who were spreading them on the road for Jesus to ride on. They were just branches from a hand tree.
Rolling out the red carpet would be our equivalent.
We do that for Royalty, as a statement of honour and prestige. When they give out awards to film stars and ‘celebrities’ they put out the carpet from them to walk on, too.
Jesus was and is Royalty of the highest order. But perhaps the people saw him more as a celebrity. He was talked about everywhere he’d been, and his teachings were repeated in gossip and reported to the Sanhedrin. Stories of his healing and feeding were the subject of conversation around the bread oven and at the Synagogue. He was the latest teacher or revolutionary (depending on which version of the talk you’d heard) that everyone wanted to see and hear – that they all wanted to meet.
And so, they joined in the parade and got swept along with the party atmosphere. They hoped to catch a glimpse of him, to hear one of his famous stories – or maybe even see a miracle.
What a spectacle! What excitement! What colour and fun on a hot and dusty journey!
So, keep up with the crowd. Run on ahead to see him coming down the road. He’s in there somewhere, this Saviour of the Jews.
What does he look like? Much the same as the other men with him. It’s not very grand – this parade. He’s just riding a donkey – nothing more spectacular. It’s not very stately or extraordinary – bit of a let-down, to be honest.
Still, make the most of it. Cheer and shout along with the crowd. Repeat the chant ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ whatever that means.
It’s what they are all saying.
‘Hosanna to the son of David!’, ‘Hosanna in the highest!’

Pray…FOR OUR COMMUNITY We pray for all of those who are called to lead worship in our church through being local preachers. We thank God for their dedication and for the way in which He uses them to share His word with all of those who attend our services.
FOR THE WORLD We pray for all of those people who are called to preach God’s word in so many different languages, cultures, countries and situations. We pray that their messages may be those of love, compassion and forgiveness rather than of judgement and condemnation.

20th March – Tuesday

Singing the Faith 263
Psalm 113 (StF 827)

‘Hosanna’ that’s what they shouted. It means ‘Lord, save us’ but it seems to have been a sort of praise chant.
But it was the right thing to shout for the Saviour of the world.
He was and is our Lord – if we choose to live under his Lordship.
He came to save God’s people – not from the Romans, but from themselves.
He came to save all who believed in him from the power of sin – the power that holds onto us and becomes a vicious cycle of wrong thinking and actions, guilt and worse thinking and actions.
He came to save us from the consequence of sin – our estrangement from God who is perfect and holy.
He came to offer us a way back into the relationship with God that Adam and Eve had before it all went horribly wrong.
He came so that we could call on his name and so that God would forgive us and reinstate us as his children.
He came to save – that is so true.
And the people shouted ‘Lord, save us.’
Did they mean it?
Did they believe that he could?
What did they expect to be saved from?
They shouted it for all they were worth. And they shouted ‘crucify’ with the same gusto just a few days later.
What did they want? What did they mean? What were they expecting?
What did they think was going to happen to him, to them?
Did they think at all?
Or did they just what they heard others shout – what seemed to be the popular thing to shout?
Did they just follow the crowd?
Lord, thank you for saving me.

Pray…FOR OUR COMMUNITY Pray for worship leaders in our church community. Thank God for their willingness to plan and lead in our varied worship services. Pray that they may be encouraged and strengthened in their work and that new worship leaders may be encouraged and supported in their training.
FOR THE WORLD We all have ministries to fulfil, whether that be as a worship leader, an encourager, in services such as flower arranging or hospitality, or in listening. We pray that we may be open to hear and understand the ministry that we can each fulfil.

21st March – Wednesday

Singing the Faith 264
Psalm 116 (StF 828)

The Sanhedrin had been ominously quiet. Groups of Pharisees gathered to mutter and debate, but somehow the sound of speech seemed to evaporate in the atmosphere of foreboding. The message from the street was of a disturbance and a few had been dispatched to investigate. When the messengers returned, however, the whole body of men erupted in indignant cries and livid shouts.
How dare he come into the city this close to Passover and whip up such enthusiasm and support? The crowd were shouting what? ‘Lord, save us’? Who did they think he was?
Who did HE think he was?
At last, the noise was hushed and the story was repeated for all of them to hear.
He was riding a donkey. Not exactly as statement of war or of delusions of grandeur.
His followers seemed to be encouraging a crowd to gather. But then the road was crowded anyway. Half the Jewish nation was on it’s way into Jerusalem.
People were throwing down their garments and tearing down branches and leaves for him to tread on. That was worrying – that they should be honouring him in this way.
Was he preaching? No.
Was he saying anything? Was he inciting the crowd in any way? No.
Was there any evidence of him calling himself ‘Messiah’ or ‘King’ or anything else that would help to condemn him in Mosaic Law? No.
They looked to the High Priest. His face was grave. Something would have to be done.

Pray…FOR OUR COMMUNITY We pray for those who lead our groups for children and young people each Sunday morning. We thank God for the work Kathryn has done in Sunday Live and pray for Julie as she continues to lead this group. We pray, too, for the new team running Bubbles, and thank God for their energy and enthusiasm.
FOR THE WORLD We pray for all of those who are called to teach children and young people about the love of God. We pray especially that teachers may have access to Bibles so that children and young people all over the world may be enabled to hear and read the stories of Jesus in languages and in ways that they understand.

22nd March – Thursday

Singing the Faith 265
Psalm 119 (StF 829)

Nicodemus was troubled – and not for the first time. He paced in the Court of the Priests, as far from the alter as he could, where it was quiet, and he could reflect on the events of the day.
Ever since he’d had his private conversation with Jesus of Nazareth under cover of night, he’d been trying to reconcile his knowledge of the man with the anger of his brother Pharisees. They wanted him out of the way. They could not, would not believe that he had come from God.
Nicodemus wanted to do the right thing, make the right choice.
He was loyal to the Sanhedrin. He wanted more than that to be loyal to his God. As the days wore on, being both seemed to be getting harder.
He dreaded having to make a choice. But time only seemed to bring that unpalatable choice closer.
If only Jesus would keep his head down. If only he would keep out of the lime-light and stay away from the City until after Passover. What did he think he would achieve by leading the crowd there in such a public display?
At least he’d not chosen an aggressive and military mode of arrival. At least he hadn’t ridden in on a war horse, brandishing a sword! It was hard enough keeping the Roman’s happy as it was, without the threat of a rebellion.
And at least the Sanhedrin couldn’t complain that he had come seeking status or claiming that kind of leadership.
If only he could get that verse of Zechariah out of his head.
‘See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
Surely it was just a coincidence ….?

Pray…FOR OUR COMMUNITY We pray for all of the families who come to our Messy Church, that they may receive a warm welcome and that the stories, songs, games, crafts and friendship may teach them more about God’s love. We pray for the team who run Messy Church, that they may be filled with energy, and creativity.
FOR THE WORLD We pray for the growth and development of Messy Church. We thank God for the inspiration of all those who created Messy Church, and pray that it may continue to enable children and young families to hear the Christian message of love in a way that is accessible, meaningful and fun.

23rd March – Friday

Singing the Faith 278
Psalm 121 (StF 830)

It was no coincidence. Jesus didn’t do anything on a whim, but did everything as his Father had ordained. And so, when he rode into Jerusalem (or Zion as it was also known) he chose his mode of transport to have the deepest meaning.

His fellow Jews, all conversant with their Holy Scripture would know – if they chose to think about it – the significance of the donkey. They would have remembered the words of Zechariah who prophesied about the king returning to the City:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
They should have understood – even if it’s a bit lost on us – that riding in on a donkey was the clearest declaration of his kingship. It meant far more than any war-horse or chariot would have meant.

Because the Jews would remember that Zechariah goes on to say:
Then the Lord will appear over them; his arrow will flash like lightning.
The Sovereign Lord will sound the trumpet; he will march in the storms of the south, and the Lord Almighty will shield them.
They will destroy and overcome with slingstones.
They will drink and roar as with wine; they will be full like a bowl used for sprinkling the corners of the altar.
The Lord their God will save his people on that day
as a shepherd saves his flock.

And he did – and he does save his flock, not through Jesus starting a war, but through Jesus’ death on the cross.

Pray…FOR OUR COMMUNITY We pray for those struggling with their physical health. We thank God for all of those who can offer help and support ,such as our local GP practices and our hospital. We pray for God’s comfort and compassion for those who are suffering pain.
FOR THE WORLD We thank God for the work done by the National Health Service in our country. We pray for countries in our world where there is no access to even basic healthcare, and pray that through the work of charities such as a Red Cross we may find ways in which to show our compassion.

24th March – Saturday

Singing the Faith 338
Psalm 122 (StF 831)

God of the unexpected.
The God of the unexpected sent his Son to Jerusalem on a donkey.

The God of the unexpected doesn’t do what we might think he should.

The God of the unexpected chose to live among his people – and still more unexpectedly, was born to a humble and ordinary woman with few prospects and not even a roof over her head.

The God of the unexpected led his Son into an empty wilderness and allowed him to be tempted. He led him back out of the wilderness and set him a task to teach and heal and lead.

The God of the unexpected guided his Son to choose a rag-bag of common men (and some women) to be his followers – to carry on his work once he was no longer with them.

The God of the unexpected guided his Son to choose a betrayer and to choose a coward, a taxman and a handful of fishermen to be his future church leaders.

The God of the unexpected handed his Son over to the very people he had come to save – the very people who wanted an end to him.

The God of the unexpected allowed his Son to be humiliated, battered and killed.

The God of the unexpected saved us through that instrument of torture and execution – the cross on which his Son died.

The God of the unexpected did all that because he loves us.

The God of the unexpected loves me.

Pray…FOR OUR COMMUNITY We pray for those in our community who are struggling with their mental health. We pray that we may be a community that offers support, not only to those who are suffering, but also to those who care for them.
FOR THE WORLD We pray that as a society we will continue to work to combat the stigma of mental illness. We pray for all of the support services who work in mental health.