The Lord is with Us!
Photography by Don Blais
Palm Sunday, April 5th
More or Less
This is the first time while leading a church as a pastor that I haven’t been in church on Palm Sunday. I suspect that it is unusual for many of you too. I have a question, does it seem that Palm Sunday feels less meaningful because you were not in church today? If that is true, what makes it feel less meaningful?
Traditionally, Sunday church services are called “worship services”. But what makes it a worship service? To me, a Sunday church service includes scripture readings, singing songs of faith, a sermon, and it is something a group of people does together. But is a gathering of people that includes those things always worship? Is attending a church service always worship?
When I was in high school our church choir was entirely made up of high school students. I loved to sing so I enjoyed the midweek practices and singing the anthem in four part harmony in the Sunday service. Most Sundays I sat through all the rest of the service, bored. I was in church hundreds of times during those years but confess that I wasn’t aware of experiencing it as worship. That is not why I was there. I went to church to sing. I wasn’t seeking to learn more about God, faith, or how any of it was relevant for my life. I now understand worship as an intentional act of reverence toward God.
Yes, this Palm Sunday we, like hundreds of thousands of believers around the world, are not in church. But does that mean that we cannot worship? We can experience this Palm Sunday as “less” because we are not together or I suggest we can experience it as “more” by taking time in our own homes to revere God. He is with you! You don’t have to go to a church to revere and worship Him. You don’t need a preacher, pianist and choir. Many times I have had people tell me that they don’t need to go to church to feel closer to God. Now is your chance to see if that can be true for you.
Matthew 21 records the events that provides the basis for our observance of Palm Sunday. “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, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 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!”
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
The word “hosanna” comes from two Hebrew words meaning save I pray. Those events are also called “the Triumphal Entry”. That day, many people believed their Savior, the Messiah, had come to save them.
The reason we are not in church is because our world is struggling to deal with a global virus pandemic. People are getting seriously ill and many are dying. Eternal salvation is a constant need for all of humanity and now our attention is also called to more immediate needs for a Savior. In addition to praying that Jesus save us from coronavirus, there are still other life threatening health challenges, violence, automobile accidents, and the list goes on.
The story of Jesus coming into Jerusalem on that day is a precursor to His coming into our world each and every day. A portion of worship you can participate in is being intentional to recognize that Jesus is with you today. Will you join with countless people over the years who have voiced this prayer, “Jesus, save us we pray”. Are you willing to acknowledge the fact that Jesus has come into your home today? Can you believe that Jesus has triumphantly to you to conquer your anxiety?
Truly worshipping God requires faith. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Worship of God requires first of all that we believe He exists. Secondly we must trust that God does indeed reward and answer the prayers of those who earnestly seek him. Notice it says earnestly seek; meaning consciously, intentionally, spend time thinking about and listening to him.
Part of worshipping Jesus is recognizing that he is the one the Bible is referring to in John 1:4-5 “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”. As we are going through this time it is very important that we remember that Jesus is life and is the light that shines in this present darkness. And as John tells us, the darkness had not overcome the light that is Jesus.
Another act of worship is choosing to not just consider but to actually dare to believe that what the Bible says is true. Isaiah 26:3 says, “…[God] will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.”
In John 14:27 Jesus himself gave us this promise, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” At that time he was speaking to his disciples who, like us now, were facing difficult times. He promised that his peace would be with them during the uncertainty that was coming. He also told them to choose to not let their hearts be troubled and to not be afraid. Looking to Jesus today and through the days ahead as the reason to not be troubled or afraid is also an act of worship.
Colossians 3:15 encourages us to, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.”
Finally, Proverbs 14:30 says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body…”
There is no denying that we are living in a challenging time and social isolation is only one part of it. From a faith perspective, we can choose to let it be a time of “less” because of the things we aren’t able to do and the people we aren’t able to be with for a while, or we can experience it as a time of “more” as we fill our time with a greater awareness of our Lord’s love that constantly surrounds us and the life he is giving to us.