ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Call to Worship – Rev. Val & Congregation
- Hymn: We Sang Our Loud Hosannas
- Opening Prayer – Rev. Val & Congregation
- Gloria Patri (UMH 70)
- Pastoral Prayer – Rev. Val
- Peace Prayer – Rev. Val
- Peace Hymn: Hope of the World (UMH 178)
- Scripture Readings – Rev. Val
- Hymn: What Wondrous Love Is This (UMH 292)
- Message: Into Your Hands – Rev. Val
- Hymn: It Is Well With My Soul (UMH 377)
- Offertory Prayer – Rev. Val
- Doxology (UMH 95)
- Benediction – Rev. Val
Open the eyes of our understanding and prepare our hearts by the power of Your Spirit, that we may receive Your scriptures with much joy and rejoicing and may leave today having a deeper understanding of who You are and who You would have us to be.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
John 19:28-30 – After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Luke 23:44-49 – It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having aid this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly, this man was innocent.” And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Psalm 31:1-5, 9-15, 21-22 – In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me. You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God …
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.
I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become a broken vessel. For I hear the whispering of many – terror all around! – as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.
But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors …
Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was beset as a city under siege. I had said in my alarm, “I am driven far from your sight.” But you heard my supplications when I cried out to you for help.
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Into Your Hands
Parts of this message are adapted or cited directly from “Seven Words: Listening to Christ from the Cross,” by Susan Robb (Abingdon Press, ISBN: 978-1 7910-0781-2). All other citations are included in the transcript.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.
I’ve been wrestling with myself over this week’s service. It seems like a contradiction in terms. Here we are at Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’s triumphal ride into Jerusalem, the day the crowd sang Hosanna … but my message is the final in our Seven Words series and the last thing Jesus said before he died. Then I read something that our friend from Dancing Faith wrote:
on his way to Jerusalem, weeping
on his way to Jerusalem, pondering deeply
the sins of the world
ankle-deep in the dust
ready to begin the long week’s journey into eternity
riding on a donkey
the cheers of the crowd bouncing off of his grief
entering the city
into celebration and chaos
misunderstanding and conflict
it was a long passage from Bethany
down the Mount of Olives
up to another hill
down to the garden tomb
and then up again to the Mount of Olives
it is always a long journey to reconciliation
for there is much we must deal with
between the beginning and the beginning
the dust is deep
and we must walk through much
that is painful and confusing
there are valleys and hills
and more valleys
but we cannot avoid the questions
we cannot dodge the cacophony of voices in our heads
the turmoil in our hearts
the doubt and fear
the sense that we are, perhaps, alone
and in the end, we must lay everything down
die is perhaps not too strong a word
until powerless and at our end
we are lifted up
out of cold darkness into the light
It’s not unusual when we think about Jesus’s procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to picture it as if it were a parade. Smiling faces, disciples tossing candy to the kids, a couple local marching bands, Jesus riding on the donkey doing that homecoming royalty wave to the crowds … well … okay … not a parade like we know it, but still … we tend to imagine it as a joyous occasion.
But here’s the thing. Jesus knew what was coming and I think Rev. Stephen that wrote that opening poem had it right … Jesus would have been quietly smiling for the crowds, but I think he would also have been mentally weighing everything that was about to happen. And Hosanna isn’t a form of “hallelujah.” Hosanna means “Save us.” It is a cry for help. I think it’s important to sense the tension of the moment … excitement at the arrival of the Messiah combined with a desperate need for rescue from oppression.
I think that’s where we’re all at, isn’t it? Excitedly seeking joy wherever we can find it, celebrating each time we see God’s hand in anything, all while waiting for the other foot to fall.
Rev. Ron McCreary of the Florida Conference of the UMC seems to be where I’m at in terms of wrestling with the tension of simultaneous expectant joy and hesitant frustration. Recently he wrote, “I find my soul to be saddened and afflicted this morning as I read the news. It feels like the people in power, growing ever stronger, are out to destroy the world that I was formed in. And that after the mid-term elections they may succeed.
Despairing of any chance of persuasion I’m inclined to do one of two things: to withdraw entirely from this damaged world, as the desert fathers did; or to react with rage bordering on violence.
But I’m preparing to lead worship on Palm/Passion Sunday. And what does the story tell me that Jesus did? In a situation more desperate than mine, he neither withdrew nor resorted to violence. According to Matthew he could have called down an army of angels to stop what was happening, but did not. According to Luke, when in the garden his disciples produced swords for defense, Jesus angrily demanded that they put their weapons away.
In the middle of the crushing weight of empire, Jesus pressed on to the cross. Because he believed that the cross, and not the power and violence of empire, was the way of the reign of God. And we Christians claim to believe that he was right.
The New Testament pictures the early Church as a faithful minority in their world, leaven in the lump. I find myself called to put aside my rage and depression and to hold to the ongoing hope that the reign of God has already broken in and is still a latent mustard seed in the world as we find it. And I find myself called to find a community in which we uphold each other as we live out the gospel and support each other in hope.”
When I read it the first time, I completely empathized with Rev. McCreary except for one thing. Where he is feeling called to find a community in which we uphold each other, I have, for a long time now, felt called to build a community in which we uphold each other. A community where upholding one another is as natural as breathing. A community in which we work diligently to live out the gospel. A community where no one is afraid to turn to another in hope. A community where each other means any other. A community that is as close to what Jesus intended as any group of humans can possibly get.
Pensive, introspective, sad … Jesus smiles his way through that parade and goes on to sit on the Mount of Olives and weep for Jerusalem because he knows what’s coming. Before Friday comes, he will chastise and chase the money changers from the Temple courtyard, pray an intercessory prayer for the disciples … and us … you can find it in John 17 … have a last meal with his disciples before which he will wash their feet … even the one who he knew would betray him, make a new covenant with them using bread and wine, issue a new commandment that they … and we … love one another as he has loved them … and loves us … go to the garden to pray about his doubts … chastise his disciples for drawing swords when the guards came to arrest him, heal the guard Peter injured with his sword, and surrender himself to his destiny.
We’ve heard about the previous six words and now, today, as we remember his ride into Jerusalem, we come to his final word.
In her book, Seven Words, Susan Robb introduces this final statement or word by telling the reader about the island of Iona off the shore of Scotland. For centuries, Iona has been considered a “thin place,” a place where heaven and earth come o close together that there is almost no boundary between them. Now, there’s no map of all the thin places on earth. The truth is what is a thin place for some may not be a thin place for others, and if we were to take ourselves to someplace quiet and free of distractions to think about it, we’ve more than likely all experienced a thin place at some point in our lives. For me personally, Union Grove is a thin place and so are the Tetons, especially in the Gros Vaunt area.
Robb’s purpose in telling the reader about thin places is because today, in this last of Christ’s statements from the cross, we come to the thin place where God’s love for us was defined in the ultimate act of self-giving, by Go who became a human being, on behalf of all mankind. I think this moment in Christ’s story isn’t just a thin place where heaven and earth or close. I think this moment is where heaven and earth actually touch, actually connect in a way that they have never connected before.
According to Luke, Jesus was crucified between two criminals. His crucifixion began at about nine o’clock in the morning. He has been awake all night long. He’s been interrogated, appeared before the Sanhedrin … the council of religious leaders, has endured the physical pain of a severe flogging, has been forced to carry the cross from inside the city to Golgotha … a distance of not quite a half a mile, has been mocked, spat upon, and betrayed … all of which took place before they held him against that cross and drove seven inch iron spikes into his hands and feet and lifted up the cross.
According to Luke, Jesus hung on the cross for six long, excruciating hours … did you know the word excruciating literally originates from the pain of enduring a crucifixion? … It’s doubtful anyone there witnessing all this would have felt they were anywhere near a thin place. Almost everyone there was still waiting for Jesus to save himself, to magically teleport or levitate or somehow escape his situation, grab up a sword and army and save them from Rome … and as those six hours wore on and on and on and no such miracle happened, they must have begun to feel like God was anywhere in the universe but there in that moment.
According to Luke’s account of that day, after the first three hours, around noon, the whole sky turned dark, and the darkness covered the whole land for hours before Jesus’s death. Robb wrote, “It was as if the entire cosmos, or God’s own self, was mourning the impending death of the Son of God.”
For Jesus and those who followed and loved him, it was not just dark, it was the darkest hour ever. Their hopes and dreams for a great future in Jesus’s kingdom, that he was the Messiah, the one to save Israel, seemed to have completely vanished.
And there, in the midst of that literal and spiritual darkness, just as Jesus breathes his last breath, Luke tells us that “the curtain of the temple” … the curtain that separated the inner sanctuary of Jerusalem’s temple … the Holy of Holies where the ark of the covenant was kept … a space where only the High priest could go and then only once each year … the curtain that separated God’s Mercy Seat there on the ark of the Covenant from the people … tore completely in two from the top to the bottom. It was such a vitally significant event that not only did Luke report it in his gospel, but Matthew and Mark included it in each of theirs as well.
The tearing of that curtain, the veil between the presence of God and the people of God, was one of many symbols for what Jesus’s self-sacrificing death accomplished on the cross. There, Jesus became our high priest to offer us direct access to God’s own presence, for forgiveness of our sins once and for all. With the curtain torn, now there was no veil separating us from the love and mercy of God in Christ Jesus. By laying his life down for his sheep … for us … for all of humanity … God and humanity are reconciled, and all the earth becomes a thin place through Jesus Christ.
It was as that curtain tore that Jesus spoke his final words, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” These were not just any words. This was Jesus’s final prayer. His entire life was fashioned and formed by prayer. There are more than 22 references to Jesus praying in the New Testament. He would often go away to be alone with and pray to God. He prayed all night before choosing those who would be his disciples and later lead his church. He taught his disciples … and us … to pray. He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane just the night before that fateful day. In his beautiful and intimate intercessory prayer in John 17 … made that same night while they were gathered for that last supper, he asked that through him his disciples … and we … might come to know the one true God, be protected, have Jesus’s joy completed in them, see his glory, and that his love that the Father has given him might be in them, and he might be in them. He prayed that the Father, Son and disciples … we … might all be one.
His first words on the cross had been a prayer on our behalf that God forgive us, he cried out a prayer in his darkest moment when his humanity made him feel as if God had forsaken him and now his final word was also a prayer … a prayer of Psalm 31. He only had enough breath left to speak one verse of that Psalm out loud, but he would have mentally been praying the whole Psalm.
The words of that psalm spoke to his situation and ended with a note of hope and even triumph … “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.”
Jesus waited and God heard. Jesus understood that, when he commended his spirit into God’s hands, he was announcing not the end of a failed mission, not a victory by the earthly powers of violence and death, but a triumph by God that is expressed in that psalm: “You have redeemed me.”
“Into your hands a commend my spirit …” Those last words he prayed to his heavenly Father are words of hope, faith, and complete trust … trust that was developed through a lifetime of living in an intimate relationship with God, from living a life formed by the ingrained habits of prayer, worship, scripture reading, and loving and serving others. In John Wesley’s words, by the “means of grace.” Things that can bring us closer to God.
Are you thinking that, knowing he was God With Us, he had literally spent his whole life living righteously and wishing you would have known and understood sooner, but it’s probably too late now?
You’d be wrong. Because today is the first day of the rest of your life and the rest of your life is the lifetime you have to focus on. And you’ll stumble and fall and stray off course occasionally, but if you keep pulling back to right here and right now … and if you commend your spirit to God … you’ll be all right.
You won’t be alone. You’ll be well in your soul.
Let’s turn back to page 1 of the bulletin and pray that opening prayer one more time, this time with feeling.
God, we give our thanks that the precious invitation that was open to Israel to come and drink of the waters of life freely and without cost is still open to thirsty souls. We give our thanks that Your promise continues for all who believe. We give thanks that in Christ we have free access to the Bread of Life and can drink deeply of the Living Water. We give thanks for the salvation that is give freely to whosoever will come. We give our thanks in Jesus’ name, AMEN.
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