In finding our place in the story for this Holy Week and this service in particular, I want to help you know some of what to expect in the experience. Though it’s the same old story, we approach it freshly as time goes by. Jean and Fred Loichinger have a different view of marriage, I’m sure, celebrating their 64th wedding anniversary than when they were first married. Cubs fans enter this baseball season unlike the past 108 seasons. And this Holy Week centered on the same story is not the same for us as it was a year ago. I’m not going to enumerate what has changed, but to press ahead with this brief introduction, offering a little roadmap, a guide, to illustrate the frame we set around the story this year.
The overarching lens for us is that “Jesus incarnated God’s passion to liberate the oppressed.” That indicates a specific moment of God always striving to overcome bonds of captivity, to break the yoke of burden, to address our afflictions, to repair the breach, and bring light to dark places. That should be obvious standard framework of our faith; when some say “God helps those who help themselves” or that wealth is a blessing or troubles are part of God’s plan—those are fundamentally lies. They may fit our human imaginations, but aren’t the shape of things for followers of Jesus.
Still, although we might observe that liberating from oppression is the story of scripture and is God’s desire, God’s will in our lives and much more broadly in the world, it remains to continue addressing how exactly that might be lived out or achieved, what God does to unshackle from tyranny.
So as we live into the story this week, the very core in the faith of Jesus, we will be focusing on the fact that God’s passion to liberate the oppressed involves risk. Most truly it means risk for God. It isn’t easy. It’s messy and complex and dangerous and so, so heartfelt. “Passion” is the term not only for eagerness, but for an arduous love, and most specifically in suffering. God’s desire, this yearning, is embodied in a story of emotional impact. And since it’s com-passion, it’s catchy. It begins to sweep you up into further embodying the passion, sharing the risk.
In that way, the story approaches us today with the risk to confront power. Fredrick Douglass understood in struggling against slavery that “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and never will.” If Jesus was—and we are—meant to live in resistance to the oppressive and destructive powers controlling this world and our lives, then we have to face them, own up to them, understand their warped influence, have to have an intervention, have to risk confronting power. That is where our story begins as Jesus rides up into Jerusalem, moving from his lakeside homebase for an incursion against the temple and the military headquarters, against the high priest and the governor, in the face of rulers, as this cannot be done from afar.
Yet, also for our sake, today reminds us it isn’t just scary or intimidating to confront persecutors. Faith is also…fun. With exuberance and the humor of satire, with a parade and multitudes cheering hosannas, with our delights in being together around rousing music, with practice offering and reconciling, with eco-palms that insist on collaboration and refuse exploitation, with little children who shall lead us by their example, we catch the wind of God’s passion, and—we hope—are caught up in the risk for good.
God of liberation,
we confess that we too often strive against you as captors, because we are captive to ways that are easier, are convenient, to self-serving benefits to our way of life.
When we think we’re in charge,we forget our neighbors, your creation.
We offer ourselves to oppressive human powers rather than risking our trust in the freeing power of your love.
Encourage us. Reinvigorate us with your passion, for our own wellbeing and that of all life around us. Amen
In the gift of baptism, you have received the spirit of the Lord GOD upon you. The LORD has anointed you in Jesus’ name; sending you to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor; to comfort all who mourn—to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. You are blessed to be a blessing. For freedom, + Christ has set you free. Amen!
Raising voices of resistance in prayer
Each petition ends with a shout of “Hosanna!” (“God save us!”) as we wave our palm branches in confronting powers.
From the Mount of Olives, dear Jesus, you wept over Jerusalem,
lamenting that the city knew what would make for peace
but instead chose to keep killing the prophets.
Awaken us to confront the powers of violence,
risking our own sense of safety and security
on behalf of others who live in fear and danger.
Near that same Mount of Olives in these days,
you visited Bethany to confront death in the community,
weeping at the death of Lazarus and calling him to life.
Call us out to confront the powers of illness,
to risk contagion and sorrow,
to fight on behalf of health care and the wholeness of community.
The following day, you gathered at a communal meal,
celebrated Mary’s extravagant devotion in anointing your feet,
and reminded us that the poor are always with us.
Anoint us for confronting the powers of greed,
even when it means risking our own money and resources
so that we may share extravagantly with those in need.
When the authorities sought a distracting scapegoat
and declared it was better to kill one man than to face an uprising
you prepared to challenge them and lose your life.
Encourage us for confronting divisive powers of prejudice,
to risk the renewing and transforming of our minds
that we may see our connections and inclusion in your family.
You rode a donkey down the Mount, prayed underneath ancient olive trees,
held children in your arms,
and announced that the stones themselves would shout good news.
Enliven us to confront the powers of abuse and destruction
to risk standing on the side of life
for the sake of all creation, now and in generations to come.
You set your face to Jerusalem to rouse your people
against the injustice of an oppressive government
and the complicity of a religious establishment.
Rouse us to the risk of confronting powers
and seeking to reestablish your kingdom of compassion and mercy.
Amid these prayers for your will of resisting evil in our world,
we hold prayers also for our daily lives together in this place,
for our vocations in family, in work, in volunteering.
We pray for MCC members …
We pray for those who have been hospitalized or are ill . . .
We rejoice in new births among us . . .
We rejoice in well-lived lives . . .
And we gather all these prayers for your embrace, as a mother hen gathers her chicks, as we pray the words you taught us in these words or the language of your heart.
Our Father/Our Mother, who art in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen