THIS LENTEN ROAD The Bethany Road
Call to Worship.................... The Journey Begins
L Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
C Come, let us turn to the Lord, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.
L “I will lead the blind by a road they do not know. I will turn the darkness before them into light.”
C You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
L “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”
C He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
L “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”
C Oh, send out your light and your truth; let them lead me. In the path of your judgments, O Lord, we wait for you.
L Who is this who enters the city? Who is this riding into our lives in humility but with all the authority of good?
C It is the Christ who comes among us in grace.
L Who is this who dares to ride toward our life, facing us in determined truth, and refusing to bow to our compromises?
C It is the Christ who comes among us in truth.
L Who is this who will not wear the garb of power, who simply stays in open-armed humanity,
while those who are confronted plan their deathly responses?
C It is the Christ who comes among us in costly love. Let us bring our praises.
Palms to the front of Sanctuary
*Hymn of Praise Hosanna, King of Kings
Invocation (the Lord’s Prayer) Ride into our lives in gentleness, brave Jesus. Come through the center of our gathering here, so that we may see in our midst the grand hope of your courage. Awaken in us echoes of your amazing life, that we may leave here as different people. Come, gracious Jesus, come.
Turn to the Lord ... Abide With Me
Turn to the Lord; repentant, seek his face,
For God abounds in steadfast love and grace.
They shall not perish who in Christ believe,
But everlasting life they shall receive.
Choir All Glory, Laud, and Honor
Responsory Psalm ... Psalm 130
L Out of depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!
C Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
L If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
C But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
L I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.
C My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.
L O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.
C It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.
Take Up Your Cross
Take up your cross and walk, believing,
This Lenten road our Savior trod,
His help and steadfast love receiving,
The blessings of the Son of God
Freely and graciously bestowed
On all who walk this Lenten road.
Take up your cross, your burden bearing.
This road you need not walk alone.
Christ is beside, the burden sharing;
His yoke is light, his mercy known.
Your Savior eases ev’ry load
Of those who walk this Lenten road.
Take up your cross and follow Jesus;
This is the way your Savior leads,
Where from our sin and guilt he frees us;
His blood for sinners intercedes,
Opens the way to heav’n’s abode
For all who walk this Lenten road.
Our Offering to God Let us join the cheering crowds of long ago and bring our offerings before the passage of the Christ. Your gifts will now be received.
Prayer of Dedication Just as you were thankful for the gifts of people as you traveled to Jerusalem, O Christ, so receive our gifts now, we pray. Amen.
*Hymn of Prayer # 150 My Lord Has Garments So Wondrous Fine
Pastoral Prayer Lead us to the cemetery, Lord Jesus Christ, and weep with us there. Console everyone who mourns. Send us to be, in any way we can, agents of your comfort.
And move us to use the gifts and opportunities we have to honor you, Lord Christ, in all the ways in which you make us capable. Receive the offerings of all who give, however they give, and sanctify our giving as you have sanctified our grieving.
Lead us now through this Holy Week. Help us to meditate on the full message of your suffering and death, that it may be for us the good news of our redemption.
Receive the glad praises we offer you, even in this solemn season. Help us look forward to even more full-throated praise when the fast is done, and to welcome you into our midst always as the One who comes in the name of the Lord.
Even as we await that glorious day when, with all the company of angels, you will welcome us who approach your throne in your name and lead us into the new Jerusalem.
Hosanna, Lord Jesus Christ! Hosanna in the highest!
Living God, there are many places around the world that long for the strong, glad entry of justice and love. Come into the streets of our cities and towns, we pray. Ride along them toward all who would oppress. Gather as you go, all who cannot believe that they could be loved,who have never been able to stand near to kindness and acceptanceor see it travel by surrounded by applause.We bring before you our special concerns now. The people pray. Give us the strength to face all who would destroy your dream for creation, O God. Make pathways of your courage for our feet, lay carpets of green for our greater growing in hope, and sound cheering voices in our ears as we dare to venture forth in your name. Go with us, loving Jesus; lead us on, Holy Spirit. Amen.
*Hymn of Praise # 134 Hosanna, Loud Hosanna
Scripture Reading John 12:1-19
1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” 9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus. 12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord — the King of Israel!” 14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: 15 “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. 17 So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. 18 It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. 19 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”
Message THIS LENTEN ROAD The Bethany Road
The Bethany Road begins with a trip to the cemetery, and ends with a parade.
“Lord, if you had been here,” Martha said to Jesus at the Bethany cemetery, “my brother would not have died.” – “But I am here,” Jesus replied in effect. “Your brother will rise again.” “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day,” Martha said. “I am the resurrection,” Jesus replied emphatically, “and the life. And I am … here … in the cemetery … with you … for you.” That is where this Lenten road had led him.
A similar conversation took place with Martha’s sister Mary when she learned Jesus was in Bethany: “Lord, if you had been here,” she replied, “my brother would not have died.” But before Jesus could reply, as he had with Martha, Mary broke into tears. The wonderful thing about this part of the story is that when Mary broke into tears, so did Jesus. “I’m here,” he was saying in effect, “and I share your grief.” I hope Mary took comfort in that, because I know I do. It helps to know that the Lord Jesus Christ, “the resurrection and the life,” is that much here with us when our road leads to the cemetery, that he joins us not only in paying respects but also in sharing our sorrows. So much here that he shares our tears.
And soon he will share our grave. But that will not be permanent, any more than was the grave of Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s brother. “Why are you at the cemetery?” we may want to ask Jesus. Or maybe Martha’s question would have been, “Why are you at the cemetery now, when it’s too late? If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But Jesus’ response is clear: “Didn’t you hear me, Martha? I am the resurrection and the life.” For resurrection to happen, death has to have occurred. For Jesus’ resurrection to happen—that joyful Easter victory we wait to celebrate—he first had to die. After his resurrection he will explain that to his disciples: “It was necessary for the Son of Man to suffer, and so enter into his glory.”
From the cemetery, the Bethany road led to the dinner table. He who was “here” for Mary and Martha—and Lazarus—at the cemetery, was also “here” with them in the more ordinary aspects of life. “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest,” many of us have been taught to pray at mealtime, acknowledging his gifts to us.
“Martha served,” it says, offering culinary gifts of her own; she was the perfect hostess. And Mary served too, but in a different way, with different kinds of gifts—by anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. Two different ways of serving the Lord, and the Lord accepted them both. It is significant that the one person who did not accept Mary’s gift was Judas, consumed as he was with a passion for money. He would not accept Jesus’ gift either.
Jesus, meanwhile, having raised her brother from the dead, looked upon Mary’s gift as somehow preparing for his own burial—something the disciples would not have understood right now, but would later, when Jesus was revealed to be “the resurrection and the life.”
“Behold, your king is coming to you, “the prophet Zechariah had foretold, “humble and riding on a donkey’s colt.” And now, at the end of the road from Bethany, greeted by a palm-waving crowd, Jesus says to the world what he had said to Martha and Mary, “I am here.”
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” So he was acknowledged on Palm Sunday; so we welcome him into our midst even today … for we know today what that first Palm Sunday crowd didn’t—that he was coming to die for the life of the world. Zechariah had foretold that as well, that the king coming humbly on a donkey was coming to bring peace.
So where in heaven was God while his Son hung there between heaven and hell; between life and death? Between the hosannas and the hallelujahs - the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, the not so triumphal exit come Friday - and Jesus' triumphant return to life on Easter - where was God?
The simple, straightforward, orthodox answer is this: Right there in front of everyone. Right there; riding on a donkey, receiving the adoration of an expectant crowd. That's where God was. Standing before the Roman Governor receiving the third degree.
Scorned by the powers that be, for whom his activities meant a change in the status quo and in the equation of political power.
Beaten barbarically by soldiers who were "just following orders." Paraded through the streets of the City a second time, this time not on the back of a donkey, but with a big piece of wood on his back. Put upon, spat upon, and finally hung upon a cross, a deadly cross, the only purpose of which was to kill as deliberately and demonically as you or I could imagine.
That's where God was that week. That week we call "holy," because of what happened - but a week more ghastly than good. That week that begins hopefully today, descends to the depths of hopelessness by Friday, and ends with a new beginning and new hope as the first day of a new week became the eighth day of this "Holy Week," with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God was there. For everyone to see, on the back of a donkey, in a politically charged situation that finally demanded his death, on a cross. That's where God was.
We need to pay attention to that before we get to next Sunday with its emphasis on where Jesus wasn't. He wasn't in his grave. Come next Sunday.
But that's next Sunday. This Sunday, called "Palm Sunday" because they waved palm branches as he came into Jerusalem; this Sunday we need to ask where God was while Jesus was "descending into hell." Where is God when my life is hell? Where is God when I need him? We need to ask that, and pay attention to that, because otherwise we end up with what I call "pogo stick" theology. Boinging down on Palm Sunday long enough to enjoy the parade, and then bouncing over to Easter long enough to enjoy the flowers and the fun; without ever coming down to that other reality in between.
Miss the mess in which Jesus quickly found himself, and you miss the meaning of Easter.
Just about everyone missed it the first time around. And we still do. The crowd missed it that Palm Sunday. They celebrated the way we celebrate: in anticipation of getting what they wanted - in their case, a "messiah." One who would take up the role of king and lead them to freedom from the rule of the Roman Empire. Here was someone they would follow into battle, to fight the "evil empire" of the Roman government, to free themselves from tyranny.
If Jesus had gotten off the donkey and yelled, "Charge," many of them would have. They'd have charged the governor's headquarters with its cohort of Roman soldiers, and died for the right to be free of Roman rule. They were remembering, perhaps, as only the Jews can remember, events of just 150 years before when a revolt had been led by one "Judas Maccabeus." the ideal Jewish warrior - one who prays before battles and gives thanks afterward, always careful to observe the Sabbath and other Jewish rituals."1 The crowd was curious. Could Jesus be like him? The crowd was hopeful. Maybe he will be like him. When it became clear that he wasn't like him, the crowd deserted Jesus for someone else, asking, instead of mercy for Jesus who had healed their sick and held out hope of a new way of living with friends and enemies, for the freedom of one called Jesus Barrabas. God was there, from donkey to death, but few could see it. What they would soon see clearly was that the Jesus on the donkey would not "save them" the way they wanted to be saved - would not lead a military revolt, or a mob-based uprising against Rome.
They crucified him! Something most political pundits of the day could no doubt have predicted. Jesus was up in the polls on Palm Sunday, but down in his grave on Friday. They crucified Jesus- called the Messiah - the Christ. They crucified him. Death by being nailed to a cross, that has come to mean in our day political or social death by being nailed, - by being persecuted and accused of things unfairly. /// Back to my original question. Where was God in all that? More importantly, where is God in all that? Things are not all that different today. Where is God now? God is where he's always been: with us in all that. In the midst of all our hopes and dreams, even when they turn into despair and nightmares, God is still with us in Jesus Christ. As surely as God was present on that donkey that first Palm Sunday, he is present with you and me on this Palm Sunday, and is ready to go with us into the week to come.
The story of Holy Week is not about God waving a magic wand, but about God walking the walk - the via dolorosa, the way of sorrow, the way of life, with you and me. This week is about God's presence in your life and mine, assuring us, and when necessary reassuring us, that whether it's hope that dies, or one we love who dies, or even ourselves who must die, death does not defeat life in the end. For in the end, as in the beginning, God is there. God is here, to guarantee it.
And so, at the end of the Bethany road, we greet him even today, “Have mercy on us” (which is what “Hosanna” means) “and grant us peace.”
*Hymn of Response # 366 My Faith Looks Up to Thee
Palms to the Back of Sanctuary
(Proverbs 4:11-12; 1 Peter 2:21; Matthew 16:24)
L “I have taught you the way of wisdom,” says the Lord. “I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered; and if you run, you will not stumble.”
C Christ himself suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow in his steps.
L “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Closing Stanza ... Abide With Me
Turn to the Lord; repentant, seek his face,
For God abounds in steadfast love and grace.
Trust in the Lord, however fierce the strife:
“I am the resurrection and the life!”
Get your Palm branch
We don’t have an original source for this little parable, but it illustrates well the concept of being a “Christ-bearer.”
The donkey awakened, his mind still savoring the afterglow of the most exciting day of his life. Never before had he felt such a rush of pleasure and pride.
He walked into town and found a group of people by the well. “I’ll show myself to them,” he thought.
But they didn’t notice him. They went on drawing their water and paid him no mind.
“Throw your garments down,” he said crossly. “Don’t you know who I am?”
They just looked at him in amazement. Someone slapped him across the tail and ordered him to move.
“Miserable heathens!” he muttered to himself. “I’ll just go to the market where the good people are. They will remember me.”
But the same thing happened. No one paid any attention to the donkey as he strutted down the main street in front of the market- place.
“The palm branches! Where are the palm branches!” he shouted. “Yesterday, you threw palm branches!”
Hurt and confused, the donkey returned home to his mother.
“Foolish child,” she said gently. “Don’t you realize that without him, you are just an ordinary donkey?”
Just like the donkey who carried Jesus in Jerusalem, we are most fulfilled when we are in the service of Jesus Christ. Without him, all our best efforts are like “a filthy cloth” (Isaiah 64:6) and amount to nothing. When we lift up Christ, however, we are no longer ordinary people, but key players in God’s plan to redeem the world.
Clarence Jordan was the founder of the Koinonia Farm near Americus, Georgia. It was set up to be an interracial community before anyone knew what civil rights were all about. Jordan himself was a pacifist as well as an integrationist and thus was not a popular figure in Georgia, even though he came from a prominent family. The Koinonia Farm, by its very nature, was controversial and, of course, it was in trouble. In the early ’50s Clarence approached his brother Robert Jordan (later a state senator and justice of the Georgia Supreme Court) to ask him to represent legally the Koinonia Farm. They were having trouble getting LP gas delivered for heating during the winter even though it was against the law not to deliver gas. Clarence thought Robert could do much through a phone call. However, Robert responded to Clarence’s request:
“Clarence, I can’t do that. You know my political aspirations. Why, if I represented you, I might lose my job, my house, everything I’ve got.”
“We might lose everything, too, Bob.”
“It’s different for you.”
“Why is it different? I remember, it seems to me, that you and I joined the church on the same Sunday, as boys. I expect when we came forward the preacher asked me the same question he did you. He asked me, ‘Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ What did you say?”
“I follow Jesus, Clarence, up to a point.”
“Could that point by any chance be — the cross?”
“That’s right. I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.”
“Then I don’t believe you’re a disciple. You’re an admirer of Jesus, but not a disciple of his. I think you ought to go back to the church you belong to, and tell them you’re an admirer, not a disciple.”
“Well now, if everyone who felt like I do did that, we wouldn’t have a church, would we?”
“The question,” Clarence said, “is, ‘Do you have a church?’”
— Stanley Hauerwas, cited in “When we don’t ‘carry’ Jesus far enough,”