Summary: A sermon for Palm Sunday 2020 exploring how being in Corona Virus Lockdown may mean we have to reinvent worship but does not mean we have to stop it - and how that worship can actually be good for us and lift our spirits.
2500 year ago a bunch of refugees were living in squalour in camps in what is now Iraq. They had been forcibly deported against their will by the Babylonian Empire - much the same as Stalin forcibly deported Cossacks from the Crimea, or parts of the British Empire such as Australia and Canada took the children of indigenous people and had them adopted by white couples. It was a deliberate attempt to destroy the ethnic identity of these people and create a single Empire wide culture across the Babylonian expanse.
Among those forced refugees were Hebrews deported from Israel. For them their culture was associated with their faith in God Yahweh. And their worship was centered on the single sanctuary of the Temple in Jerusalem
Psalm 137, written at that time expresses that pain -
1 By the waters of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?
And yet - despite the awfulness - adversity was the mother of creativity. Much of what people in the time of Jesus took for granted about their faith was developed during that awfulness 600 years earlier when people had no choice but to do things differently. Much of the Old Testament was written down for the first time. Poems and Prophecies and songs and stories and sayings that for generations had circulated orally now had to be written down to make sure they were not lost under the yoke of the Babylonian oppressor. Synagogues were invented - if you could not go to the Temple to offer sacrifice at least you had to have somewhere to pray. The Sabbath and keep kosher became extra important - clinging on to the details became a way of marking yourself out as God’s people when you were surrounded by people who thought nothing of your God.
Worship was reinvented to cope with the unusualness and awfulness of the situation. You probably see where I am going. We are locked up in our houses unable to go to church, with frightening news circulating around us. “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land” What are we meant to do - just hang up our harps and say “That’s it - worship is over for three months” Apparently one church warden wrote to the Daily Telegraph suggesting that all clergy should be furloughed because there was nothing for them to do at this time.
Well I can assure you that as well as funerals and pastoral care there is plenty of worship going on - even if like the refugees by the waters of Babylon, we have to reinvent it. And it’s good that worship is still going on- because worship is such a special thing
Today is Palm Sunday - a week before the Cross, Jesus and his followers arrive at the edge of Jerusalem -
Matthew 21:1-11 (The Message)
21 1-3 When they neared Jerusalem, having arrived at Bethphage on Mount Olives, Jesus sent two disciples with these instructions: “Go over to the village across from you. You’ll find a donkey tethered there, her colt with her. Untie her and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you’re doing, say, ‘The Master needs them!’ He will send them with you.”
4-5 This is the full story of what was sketched earlier by the prophet:
Tell Zion’s daughter,
“Look, your king’s on his way,
poised and ready, mounted
On a donkey, on a colt,
foal of a pack animal.”
6-9 The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They led the donkey and colt out, laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted. Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!” “Hosanna in highest heaven!”
10 As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going on here? Who is this?”
11 The parade crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.”
I love Palm Sunday. On a normal year we will be out there on the streets walking down the Fairway, singing loudly as our music comes out of our portable speaker. Colourful robes. Every one waving Palm Crosses. In some churches they even have a donkey. It’s a joyful celebratory occasion. The heart of worship. I do miss the fact that we are not doing that this year.