The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Prayers of the People for Palm-Passion Sunday, April 9, 2017 

Composed by Liz Bowyer for the people At Knox United Church, Vancouver

God of life and love, we give you thanks that we are made in your image.  The light of your love brings sparkle and warmth to our own lives.  Hear our quiet prayers now as we release into your care our thoughtless acts and the blinding light of our own self-absorption.  Holy One, we give thanks for the breath of life that brings the dawning of each new day and that brings us into relationships as friends, families, and as faith communities.  Hear our quiet prayers now as we lift up to you those relationships we share that are mutually life-giving and those we pray might know the balm of your healing touch.  Infinitely loving and compassionate God, we give thanks for our stories from scripture that shape and inform our thoughts and our actions as we struggle to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.  Help us to know that you are with us in our joys and sorrows, our sadness and our celebrations, in our living, and in our dying to all that separates from ourselves, from one another, and from you.  Hear our quiet prayers now as we give over to you the places and people in our lives, our communities, and in our world so badly in need of your peace.  Calling God, we give thanks for your relentless love for us in all our foibles, frailties, and our fearfulness.  Help us to find new ways to discover and speak our own truth, to risk courage in the face of misunderstanding, and to learn to trust in your abiding compassion in all situations and all circumstances as we give over to you all the realities in our own lives in need of the Spirit’s touch.  God of grace, these and all our prayers we bring to you in the strong and courageous name of Jesus as we sing together the Lord’s Prayer found at VU 959.

The Lenten way has become the way of the cross.  As our footsteps lead us into this new week called holy, let us remember and take solace in God’s unwavering and enduring love.  Amen.

 

Message for Palm-Passion Sunday, April 9, 2017

Based on Matthew 27: 11-56

 

Opening Prayer: How do we pray this day, God?  Caught between joy and despair, our stories from scripture bring us face to face with the world’s ills.  As it was in Jesus’ time and as it is also in our own times.

Gracious God, hear us as your words from scripture draw us into our own Jerusalem’s experiences of welcome and betrayal, our own experiences of being challenged to stand firm in what we believe, and our own experiences of being drawn in by the fears of others, our own experiences of taunting and being taunted, and our own experiences of needing to skitter away into the safety of the dark night until it feels safe to emerge once more.  Amen.

Our season of Lent this year began with readings about Jesus’ identity found in the gospel according to Matthew and they end with the same question hovering on everyone’s lips.

Who is Jesus?

For the first Sunday in Lent, we had an in-depth look at Jesus’ identity formation in the wilderness through the lens of Matthew’s gospel. 

For the next three Sundays, we considered the question of Jesus’ identity through the lens of the gospel according to John, first through his encounter with Nicodemus, then the Samaritan woman at the well, and the man born blind, his family, and the community who struggled with his power to heal and to transform. 

Last Sunday, we considered the story of the raising of Lazarus and the transformation of his sister, Martha as Jesus commands Lazarus to come out of the empty tomb.

In between those Sundays we have continued to consider the question “Who is Jesus for You?” with our five Lenten lecture presenters from a variety of local United Church settings.

This morning, as we are invited to enter into our Holy week vigil once more, I am reminded of a quote by biblical scholar, Barbara Brown Taylor who reminds us that though we live in a death-denying culture, the road to Easter runs right through Good Friday.

In keeping with it being Palm-Passion Sunday, our readings from Matthew’s gospel this morning bring us face to face with two key questions in our life as Christians:

Why did Jesus have to die?

And

Who killed Jesus? 

These are the key questions we are invited to carry with us through the coming days of this particular week, this week called Holy by Christians all over the world.   

Between now and next Sunday morning when we celebrate Easter and the good news that Jesus lives in a new and mysterious way, we have numerous opportunities to just sit with the discomfort of these questions.

Each day this week, there will be opportunity to experience the safety of our sanctuary for a time of personal mediation and contemplation. 

On Thursday evening my plan is to attend the Maundy Thursday service at Shaughnessy United and anyone who would like to come along is most welcome to do so.

On Good Friday, we will re-visit the story of Jesus’ passion as understood in the gospel of John right here in our sanctuary at 10am.

In the meantime, we have this morning’s readings with these four vivid vignettes from Matthew’s gospel to help us along the way. 

This is a most daunting task to be sure! 

But, then again, I am reminded that we are not alone, we have our prayers, our hymns, our shared stories of struggle and witness, and of course, we have each other. 

As I came to the challenge of finding meaning in the text through prayer this morning, I found myself drawn to the closing verses of the story that tell us this:

“Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him.”

This brought me back to the scene where Pilate questions Jesus at verse 11 and so it is that I offer you here the outcome of my own experience of praying over the text:

Pontius Pilate, Governor of Rome, the one residing at Caesarea Maritima with his wife, Claudia never much enjoyed the festival of Passover. 

You see, for him, it was a time of the year of some considerable ‘inconvenience”. 

This, because he was required to travel to Jerusalem to ensure that things didn’t get out of hand. 

This particular year, Pilate found himself face to face with this strange fellow, Jesus, named by some as the longed-for Messiah, by others as the King of the Jews, and by still others, as the very Son of God. 

Oh, yes, and what was it his wife, Claudia, had called him? 

“An innocent man”, she said.

Gazing at the man now opposite him, Pilate notes, ‘he looks innocent enough.’ 

And yet, there was something about his countenance that was in its own way ‘arresting’. 

There was something about him that spoke volumes-an unwavering steadiness of gaze, a certain calm and self-assuredness. 

This, even in the din of the gathered body’s shouts and accusations.

‘Who is this Jesus person?’  Pilate wondered to himself?

And, then he recalled vividly how his wife, Claudia had waxed eloquent at her own experience of Jesus on the mountaintop. 

How she had marveled also at overhearing some the stories of her servants! 

You know the stories that only women share only with women about being welcomed, about feeling safe, and valued, and about actually been seen for their own true selves as people? 

Pilate recalled Claudia’s stories of how her servant girls shared stories together of Jesus’ vision of a decidedly different reality- of an unfathomable kingdom, one nothing remotely like life as it currently was.

It all came rushing back to Pilate in a nano-second:

This Jesus fellow had got all those who had ‘ears to listen’ whipped up into a frenzied state as he waxed on about the needs of the poor for food, shelter, and purpose.

Jesus's call to a new understanding of relationship with God and between men, women, and children, the rich and the poor, the blind and the sighted, the educated, the privileged and the powerful, even the locals and the foreigners all striving together for a world where all might feel safe, welcome, and included were the very ones that had the whole community buzzing.

Bringing this awareness back to his own purpose in keeping the peace in Jerusalem at Passover, Pilate turned back to the task at hand in his mandated role as presiding governor of the court.

“Come, then,” he urged Jesus, “Have you nothing to say in your own defence of these charges about your true identity? 

“Are you, indeed, the King of the Jews?”

In the deafening silence that followed, Pilate was amazed at his own experience of feeling drawn into the something he could not begin to understand or even describe.

‘Why wouldn’t the man defend himself?’

Suddenly, Claudia’s words to not tarry too long in the court at Jerusalem came back to Pilate and he shuddered.

 “Have nothing to do with that innocent man”, Pilate’s wife had also hastily scrawled on a note just delivered to him by messenger.

‘Have nothing to do with that innocent man for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream I had about him” the note read.

And so, relying on his own ill-conceived sense of power and privilege, Pilate gave the decision for Jesus’ fate over to the raging crowds gathered for the festival of Passover. 

“Let him be crucified!” they shouted and so Pilate did just that.

Washing his hands of this innocent man some called Jesus and others the Son of God, King of the Jews, Liberator Healer, Teacher, Friend, Transformer of broken hearts and broken lives, Pilate handed over the longed-for Messiah to the courts in exchange for a common criminal named Barabbas.  

His day’s work now done, Pilate could head back to his home at Caesarea Maritima and his beloved wife, Claudia. 

Not so, Jesus, however.

We do live in a death denying culture.  Life is difficult.  Life is fragile.  And the road to Easter does run right through Good Friday! 

In anticipation of the days to come, let us turn now to the backs of the bulletins that we might pray together from Voices United 150, Prayer for Holy Week

                                     A Prayer for Holy Week: VU150

                                                  God of passionate and vulnerable love, 

                                                  whose body, broken on the cross

                                                  rebukes us still:

                                                  Save us, hold us, and forgive us,

                                                  that you as victor and victim

                                                  might lead us from death to life;

                                             through Jesus Christ, the Crucified.

Amen.