If I can be honest I’m not always excited about Sunday. There are times when life is just… Last week was a trying week and I wasn’t emotionally or spiritually in a great place to lead. So, I prayed before our morning rehearsal something like, “Hey God! I don’t really want to be here but I also don’t want to shortchange the congregation so this is all on You.” I’m suprised I couldn’t hear Him laughing up in Heaven, “It’s always on me.”
There are great Sundays and then there was this past Sunday. Great doesn’t even begin to explain yesterday. From the first note we played as a band in rehearsal I knew it was going to be a special morning. We saw six baptisms – three of which were spontaneous, the highest non-major holiday attendance ever, and tons of first and second time guests. God shows up in a huge way, despite me.
Let’s talk about the service.
Yesterday was Palm Sunday, which is a curious holiday to me. It’s so very… human. It’s a straw man holiday. People hear conflated rumors and attach all of their hopes to it.
During the Triumphal Entry the crowds were shouting praise to Jesus: “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Here was a subjugated people hoping for someone to free them from their oppressors. The expectation was for a king who be a 100% quality guaranteed, new and improved, shiny and better Rome. They heard rumors of a king – like the old one but not the old one – and attached their hopes to him. Jesus doesn’t meet their expectations and he doesn’t meet ours. So on Palm Sunday we sing “Hosanna!” and come Friday, “Crucify him!”
We opened service singing Paul Baloche’s “Hosanna (Praise is Rising)”
It’s a great tune with some awesome lyrics. I’m very intentional about how I order a service and the placement of this tune was, for me at least, a bit out of order. When sung first it assumes victory and glory before struggle and cross. I’ll explain more.
There’s a tricky lyric that I think is an awesome and difficult prayer:
Come have your way among us…
Maybe we think, like the people in Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, that finally we’ll be vindicated, “Jesus is going to take care of all of the bad stuff out there that’s happened to me! Hosannah!” We assume victory and glory before struggle and cross. We think he’ll be our new and better Rome. But, when Jesus comes to have his way among us he roots out the sin that we so desperatly cling to. He doesn’t come to fix the world, he comes to fix us. When asked what was wrong with the world G.K. Chesterton replied with this:
Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly.
My goal when planning a service is not that people will feel good when they leave (although if they do, all the better) but that they’ll know that God is good. We opened up our block of singing with a song that really doesn’t paint us in a good light. We announce in our singing that we are:
Our salvation, our rescue relies not on our sin management or the defeat of our enemies but rather on our God who reached down to us in the pit. It relies on Jesus Christ who laid down his life for us while we were still weak, despairing, broken, sinners, ungodly rebels. Our hope is that God doesn’t give us our heart’s desire but a God who dies. God is so good, even better than we could ever imagine. When we were lost and so far from God, wandering in darkness and covered in shame God came and found us.
Because of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who poured out his blood for us we’re forgiven forever – God in His great forgetfulness no longer remembers our sin, as far as the east is from the west… Which is a nice thought but so hard to believe. In the midst of life and all of our junk we doubt that Christ has once and for all put to death all of our death. On the cross he cried out his last and declared: “It is finished!“
But grace is terrifying. “Surely there’s something I can do to help you, God,” I say. We don’t want Jesus, we want Jesus and then some. Ryan’s sermon was about different sub-Christian religions that claim Jesus. These groups never claim too little of Jesus; it’s always Jesus and then some. It’s never JesusLite, always JesusPlus. It’s funny how these groups all found their origin in America. Because, that’s how we in the West do. We need to work for what we get. Grace feels like socialism gone bad, grace is the antithesis of The American Dream. America: Land of Opportunity! If you work hard you’ll get what you deserve! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! God helps those who help themselves!
Except he doesn’t. The cross is for screw ups like me. Grace is cosmic welfare and we’re all standing in line.
The sermon was about how these groups add to the gospel, so we wrapped up our service singing Hillsong’s “This I Believe (The Creed)” declaring, boldly, that we believe in the “name of Jesus.” We sang:
Our judge and our defender, suffered and crucified
No name but Jesus can save us. Not Joseph Smith, not Bringham Young, not Tommy Welty, not the name of our own efforts. No name can save but Jesus, only Jesus. He is our prosecution and our defense, when he cries “It is finished!” on the cross he acquits us ungodly rebels of all charges and we’re forgiven forever.