Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Cliff Reed (adapted)
As the true prophets of God have always told us,
the Divine will is for mercy and compassion,
love and justice.
May we never suppose that vengeance and cruelty,
hatred and murder, serve the Divine purpose.
In the spirit of human solidarity and oneness,
we join in worship.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point. I will be lighting my chalice for worship at 11.00 am on Sunday morning) words by Cliff Reed
We kindle this light to be for us
The light of God that shone in Jesus;
The light of hope that shines in every human soul;
The light of truth the guides each loving, free, and open mind.
Spirit of Life and Love,
Be with us as we gather for worship,
Each in our own place.
Help us to feel a sense of community,
Even though we are physically apart.
Help us to care for each other,
In this world in which Covid has not yet gone away,
And the clouds of war hover.
May we keep in touch however we can,
And help each other,
However we may.
May we remember that
caution is still needed,
that close contact is still unwise.
Help us to be grateful for the freedoms we have
and to respect the wishes of others.
May we hold in our hearts all those
Who are grieving, lost, alone,
Suffering in any way, Amen
Reading from The Gospel of Mark Chapter 11: 1-11
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
Alternative Lord’s Prayer
Spirit of Life and Love, here and everywhere,
May we be aware of your presence in our lives.
May our world be blessed.
May our daily needs be met,
And may our shortcomings be forgiven,
As we forgive those of others.
Give us the strength to resist wrong-doing,
The inspiration and guidance to do right,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
We are your hands in the world; help us to grow.
May we have compassion for all living beings,
And receive whatever life brings,
With courage and trust. Amen
Reading Acknowledgement of Limitations by Calvin O Dame
We come into one another’s presence seeking some part of ourselves, knowing that we do not live alone, knowing that we cannot live fully if we are for ourselves alone.
We come as ordinary people, each with strengths and each with weaknesses, aware of our shortcomings. Our lives set before us many tasks. We are not always equal to them.
Too often we fall short of our best expectations of ourselves; we do not know enough, we are not always patient, we fall into anger, we cannot find strength, we do not wait for wisdom, we lack vision. It hurts. It hurts to acknowledge our shortcomings.
And yet, here we are, not always perfect, not always wise, but always human, gloriously and miraculously alive and breathing, wondrously and mysteriously human.
Prayer by Rita Capezzi (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
No matter how far we travel,
No matter if we don’t travel at all,
We are on the cusp of a new life.
People will have expectations of us.
People we love will have expectations of us, both spoken and unspoken.
This we already know.
May we know, too, that we carry within us a spark of the universe creating itself.
That spark connects us to all that is—to all that was and all that will ever be.
That spark is always there in us:
always there, bringing us into being;
always a force of creativity and possibility, especially when the expectations of others overwhelm or disappoint us.
When we doubt ourselves or feel afraid;
when we fail, as we all do at times,
May we remember that spark—always there, sustaining and revitalizing us, like the love we find in this religious community.
We are always a home for each other. Our community is here for us.
May it be so always, Amen
Reading The Risen Christ by Cliff Reed, from Carnival of Lamps
‘… it is not Jesus as historically known, but Jesus as spiritually arisen within men and women who is significant for our time…’ Albert Schweitzer
Jesus didn’t want to be worshipped, he wanted to be listened to.
He called men and women to follow on the path he trod, not to build shrines and idols wherever his feet fell.
Jesus didn’t work miracles to prove he was divine; he did works of love to show that we can do them too.
Jesus didn’t say, look at me; he said look to God and help me build the Kingdom in this world and in the human heart.
Jesus didn’t go to the cross to buy back souls with blood; he went to the cross because the path of love sometimes leads that way. And when it does, we must take it, as he did.
The risen Christ was neither corpse revivified nor spectral counterfeit. He is the community where compassion dwells, with justice, truth, and loving fellowship.
Time of Stillness and Reflection This Day of Hope: A Prayer for Palm Sunday by Cliff Reed (adapted)
On this day of hope we remember, O God, the ride of your servant, Jesus. Sharing his spirit we come into your loving presence.
May all your names be hallowed.
He rode against the evils and corruptions that invade our souls. With him we seek a better way to be human.
May your Rule come among us.
We would, like him, living according to your love, citizens now of the Kingdom he proclaimed.
May your will be done on earth.
We acknowledge our dependence on your Creation and repent the arrogance with which we have blighted it.
Give us this day our daily bread.
We haven’t loved you as you would have us love. We haven’t set aside our prejudices and selfishness.
Forgive us the wrongs we have done.
Cleanse us of all bitterness and resentment. Open our hearts to the way of reconciliation.
We forgive those who have wronged us.
We know our weakness. To follow Jesus on Palm Sunday is easy, but what if we must follow him to Gethsemane and Calvary?
Do not bring us to the test.
The world’s people yearn for peace and healing. We pledge ourselves to that cause.
Save us from evil.
We take our stand with Jesus and with all who do your will in every age and faith. Not for our glory, but for your saving truth – or so we pray.
For yours is the Kingdom,
And the power and the glory,
Musical Interlude Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
If the Gospel accounts of what is called ‘Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem’, which Christians now commemorate on Palm Sunday, are to be trusted, it seems that the expectations of the people were high. They had been oppressed by the Romans since 63 BCE, when the Roman General Pompey had conquered Jerusalem. Just over 20 years later, in 40 BCE, Herod the Great was installed by the Roman Senate as a nominally independent king, but in reality, subject to Roman rule himself. According to Wikipedia, “In 37 BC, the Herodian Kingdom was established as a Roman client kingdom and in 6 CE parts became a province of the Roman Empire, named Judaea Province.”
Like many oppressed peoples, the Jews hung on to a dream – that a Messiah would rise up and save them, making them a free people once more. So when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, which as Matthew tells us, “took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey’” and they realised that he was of the lineage of their most famous king, David, is it surprising that they spread palm leaves and cloaks in front of him, and cried out, “‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’”?
In Jewish tradition, the Messiah would be a future Jewish king from the Davidic line, who is expected to save the Jewish nation and rule over the Jewish people. So like I said, their expectations were high. They expected Jesus to overthrow the hated Roman rule and to establish a new independent kingdom.
But of course, that wasn’t what Jesus was about at all. In all his preaching and teaching, his one aim was to make his hearers understand that the Kingdom of God was here, now, if only they would stretch out their hands to grasp it. That it would come through their own actions as they learned to love their neighbour as themselves. Of course, Christians believe that his coming to Jerusalem was the beginning of what is called “Christ’s Passion”, which led ultimately to a disgraceful and painful death by crucifixion. They believe that he died to reconcile humankind with God the Father, to “save our souls” through his own sacrifice.
Which is not what the vast majority of Unitarians believe. Even Unitarian Christians would, I think, agree with Cliff Reed, when he wrote, “Jesus didn’t go to the cross to buy back souls with blood; he went to the cross because the path of love sometimes leads that way. And when it does, we must take it, as he did.”
I believe that Jesus was crucified, that the crowd chose Barabbas over him to be freed, because he had not lived up to their expectations. They had expected a strong military leader, who would, as I said, overthrow the Romans and set them free. What they got was a prophet and a mystic, who chose (for whatever reason) not to defend himself, but to allow Roman “justice” to take its course. And according to Mark, the chief priests had “stirred up the crowd” to call for Barabbas instead. I also think that disappointed expectations are a big part of the reason why Judas betrayed him.
When Pilate presented Jesus to the people, bloody from a whipping and with a crown of thorns on his head, he must have been a pitiable sight. Yet the sharp disappointment the people felt in having their hopes of a few days’ before dashed trumped any pity in their hearts. “Crucify him” they shouted. And so he did.
It is in the nature of humankind to build our leaders up, to have high expectations of them. And when these leaders, who are actually frail, faulty human beings like ourselves, fall short of those expectations, we can be fierce in our condemnation. I remember vividly what happened when Margaret Thatcher fell from power. I didn’t like the woman, never voted for her, and believe she did untold harm to this country, yet I was disgusted by all the baying for blood that went on at the time. Some of you may remember the footage of her leaving Downing Street for the last time, the Iron Lady in tears.
My point being, we have a nasty habit of building up people, then scapegoating them if they fail to live up to their promises, to our expectations. It is perhaps a natural human tendency to want to cast around to find someone to blame, when our lives are not going so well. But it so easily leads into judgement and hatred, not all (or perhaps not much at all) of which is justified.
And the modern glut of information hasn’t helped. It is only too easy for us to make snap judgements about what we read and see, rather than going deeper. Let me give you an example. There was a television advert for The Guardian newspaper, many years ago, which made a deep impression on me. Imagine the scene, if you will… First the viewer sees a picture of a little old lady walking down a city street. Then the camera cuts to a young man running along the same street. And the mind instantly jumps to the conclusion that the young man is up to no good – perhaps he is planning to attack the old lady…. Then the viewer sees him jump at her, grabbing her. An instant later, the viewer realises that the young man has saved her from serious injury, if not death, as a piece of falling masonry lands where she was standing.
And of course, the moral of the “story” was that we should not judge by appearances, but investigate what is happening more carefully, by reading The Guardian. I cannot remember what the slogan was, but I do remember the sense of revelation – that we should never judge on first sight. We should also cut other people some slack – take the time to use not only our physical senses, but also our intuition, our intellect and our compassion, so that we see their actions whole.
My daughter bought me a book for Christmas called So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by an investigative journalist called Jon Ronson. It was painful reading. He talks about how people are vilified and condemned on Twitter and other social media for fairly minor transgressions. As it says in the blurb on the back, “But when their transgression is revealed, collective outrage circles with hurricane force and they’re torn apart, demonised, sometimes even fired from their job. Do they deserve it? Are our actions justified? Or are we using shame as a form of social control?” I think we all need to reflect on these questions, next time we are tempted to join the Twitter storm and condemn the actions or words of someone else.
I believe that “collective outrage” was what the crowd in Jerusalem was whipped up into, all those centuries ago, when their expectations of being saved from oppression were dashed. And yet, it seems to be our go-to reaction whenever something (or someone) goes wrong (or we think they do). Look at the recent storm about Gary Lineker, who spoke his truth to power about the state of the NHS. Even if the powers that be had to climb down afterwards, it must have been an unpleasant couple of days for him. Which could have been avoided, if people had stopped to think, stopped to consider.
I believe we all need to be kinder, more compassionate, to ourselves and to each other. We need to manage our expectations, both of ourselves and of others. We need to try to love each other unconditionally, not subject to how the loved one pleases us or performs well, according to our standards.
We live in a “celebrity culture”, in which every action and word of anyone in the public eye is picked over and judged, both on social media and in magazines. That can’t be right. It can’t be fair. It can’t be compassionate. I believe we can be better than that. That we should lead by example, by stepping back out of judgement and standing on the side of love.
In the words of Calvin O Dame, which formed our second reading, “We come as ordinary people, each with strengths and each with weaknesses, aware of our shortcomings. Our lives set before us many tasks. We are not always equal to them. Too often we fall short of our best expectations of ourselves; we do not know enough, we are not always patient, we fall into anger, we cannot find strength, we do not wait for wisdom, we lack vision. It hurts. It hurts to acknowledge our shortcomings. And yet, here we are, not always perfect, not always wise, but always human, gloriously and miraculously alive and breathing, wondrously and mysteriously human.”
May we be so, Amen
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we stop and think before we condemn,
and may we manage our expectations,
so that we do not expect the impossible from others,
and then overreact when our hopes are dashed.
May we return to our everyday world refreshed,
May we share the love we feel,
May we look out for each other,
And may we keep up our hearts,
Now and in the days to come,
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley