The following Call to Worship is from the United Church of Christ. God’s strong and loving hands are outstretched to all Creation. Let the world stretch forth and grasp God’s hands with joy. God’s open hands are as the gate of righteousness. Let us enter in to God’s abundant life and give thanks. In God’s hands are new life, strength, and salvation. Let us be thankful and sing unto our God with gladness.
The following responsive confession is from the United Church of Christ. But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. We anoint the death of our dreams, even before we allow them a chance to live. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. We give up on hope so easily, on the expectation that God will do something incredible. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them God speaks through the strangers we encounter, but we don’t hear, we don’t want to be challenged by a new word. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? Jesus is not here, but has risen.” We seek life from the death of the past. We hold to that which breathes only in our memory; to mistakes long past; to hurts long inflicted; to strings attached to forgiveness. “Remember how Jesus told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man, the ‘Human One,’ must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified and on the third day rise again.” Too often torn and scattered, we feel unworthy of the healing of God’s grace or the promise of restoration. Then they remembered Jesus’ words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. We forget the promises of God, even those whispered just moments ago. We want proof before we’ll believe, before we’ll be faithful. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. We don’t risk enough to trust the messengers in everyday appearance. We don’t dare ourselves to understand. But these words seemed to the apostles an idle tale, and they did not believe them. We think our problems too big for God! We act like frightened disciples, unwilling to allow God into our crowded lives, unwilling to make room for the One who creates and creates again. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. We are like Peter. We deny God; we fail to share the miracle; we keep the good news to ourselves.
Forgive us, God, for our disbelief—for seeing an empty tomb and thinking a cruel trick; for discovering a discarded burial cloth yet still holding to death; for hearing words of life but keeping them to ourselves. Restore us even in our unbelief. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon:
“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11 NRSV) Do not be afraid! Receive the good news with great joy! God’s promises are true. Christ has risen. Believe and be alive.
The following assurance of pardon is from the United Church of Christ. Sisters and brothers, the power of resurrection is at work in us and with us! Through the former things of our lives and in the new heaven and earth that God is yet creating, the Spirit of Christ leads us onto paths of victory over sorrow and death, disbelief and fear. Receive God’s grace in the secret place in your heart, where there are no words. For the forgiveness of God is too marvelous for words. Amen.
From the United Church of Christ. Loving God, at this time, we remember that going up to Jerusalem cost Jesus his very life. So we come before you, conscious of the way religious words and holy phrases can slip so easily from our lazy lips and our hardened hearts. What do we really know of your mountainous truth, your rock-hard integrity, the depth of your suffering for love of us all? Forgive us for the shallowness of our faith and the timidity of our following: forgive us for the ready excuses we make for going our own way and claiming it as yours.
Turn us round again, we pray, by your Holy Spirit, active within us and among us. Show us how to be open again to your faithfulness and to your freedom, that we may live new lives and be again bearers of the seeds of the realm of Jesus.
From the United Church of Christ. From the perspective of Jesus.... This time there will be no flight into Egypt. This donkey has too much to carry, and too far.
The shadows wait for me, around the table at Passover, among those in high places in the condemned cell, on the hill outside. Fear haunts my waking moments and I cannot sleep. Why has God forsaken me?
The crowd today is with me, but not for long. They are the powerless ones (the ones who matter). The ones who count are counting.
Time is running out. This time there will be no flight into Egypt.
The following is a benediction from the United Church of Christ. Before this week ends, the Palm branches will be drying on the roadside. The joyful crowd will become an angry mob, and Jesus will replace robes of victory with a crown of thorns. So then, go in the knowledge that whatever comes to you in this week, you are held in the hand of God, hugged tight, held close, and may God, the Three-in One, bless you, uphold you and give you strength for the journey ahead. Amen.
The following is a prayer from the United Church of Christ. For more ideas and liturgies for the upcoming Palm/Passion Sunday, visit their site here. We cast these gifts before you, O God, as palms were cast before Jesus long ago. We lay them on your altar in praise, thanksgiving, and joy. Receive them back from our hands, that they may become a greater blessing in your hands. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
From the United Church of Christ. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far away? I cry out to you by day, but you do not answer; and at night, I find no rest. I am scorned and despised, all who see me mock me and shake their heads. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Our ancestors trusted in you, cried out to you, and you delivered them. They enthroned you with praise. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Yet you took me from the womb, and from my birth you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near. My troubles surround me like lions ready to pounce. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? I am poured out like water, and all my bones are dust; my heart is like wax, melting inside; my tongue is dry and I cannot speak; my limbs are nothing, and my ribs are bare. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? My enemies encircle me; they stare and gloat; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? But you, O Savior, do not be far away! O my Help, come quickly to deliver me!