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Harbinger of Hope December 3, 2017- Advent 1 New Philadelphia Moravian – Rev. Joe Moore

Over the last two weeks, Worth has covered the topic of hope pretty well, actually he has covered it exceptionally well. So well that I am hesitant to delve into the same topic. But it just so happens that today is the first Sunday of Advent and, as I said to the kids when we were lighting the candle on the Advent wreath, the theme for the first Sunday of Advent is hope. So I don’t really see how I can avoid it. I hope that you are ready for one more sermon on hope.

I imagine that many of you were kind of expecting it. Because more than any other season, Advent and Christmas are times of tradition, times of expectation, times of anticipation. I’m sure that most of you came to church this morning anticipating that we would sing Hosanna because that is the tradition for the first Sunday in Advent in the Moravian Church. It’s just one of those things that we expect this time of year.

Among the many traditions and expectations of the season, there’s another event that happens every year about this time. Usually around Thanksgiving or the first Sunday in Advent, what I like to call the “Harbinger of Hope” appears. That’s a good word, isn’t it? “Harbinger”- it means a person or thing that announces or signals the approach of another. And that is what the “Harbinger of Hope” does. He comes to lay the groundwork for the big event, to get things ready for the major arrival, to signal the approach of one who is greater than he, to herald the arrival of the big guy, to “prepare the way.” But it’s not who you think. If you were paying attention to the gospel lesson, you are probably are thinking that the Harbinger of Hope is John the Baptist. But it’s not. However we will get to him later.

The Harbinger of Hope that I am talking about is the Elf on the Shelf. Have you seen these guys? They are elves who make an appearance in homes between Thanksgiving and Christmas to scout out who is being naughty and who is being nice. Santa’s “scout Elves” hide in houses to watch over events. Once everyone goes to bed, the elf flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa the activities, good and bad, that have taken place throughout the day. Before the family wakes up each morning, the elf flies back from the North Pole and hides.

We have one of these elves in our house. I wanted to bring him to church so that you all could see him, but one of the rules is that if one of the family touches him, he goes back to the North Pole and never returns. His name is Jingle and in addition to spying and hiding, he creates a fair amount of mischief. But he still qualifies as a Harbinger of Hope.

When Jingle, the Elf on the Shelf, appears, the hope and anticipation that Christmas is soon to follow, arrives with him. He signals the approach of one who is greater than he, he prepares the way, he gets us ready for the arrival of Santa Claus. When you see the Elf on the Shelf, you know that Santa Claus is coming to town. For all of those who have been good this past year, he is a sign of hope. And for those who maybe haven’t been quite so good, he is also a sign of fear. Because when you see the Elf on the Shelf, you had better hope that you are ready for who is coming next, for the one who comes after him. And if you are not, you know that it is time to get ready. It’s actually kind of nice to know what’s coming, to have the chance to get ready, to prepare for the one who is to come.

John the Baptist plays much the same role for Jesus as the Elf on the Shelf plays for Santa Claus. John is Jesus’ “harbinger of hope” He is the voice in the wilderness that Isaiah prophesied would come to herald the coming of the Lord, the Messiah. John the Baptist told the people, all the people who would listen, to get ready, to prepare the way of the Lord; to make a straight highway in the desert, to lift up the valleys and bring down the mountains, to level the uneven ground and smooth out the rough places. Because the glory of the Lord is about to be revealed, He is coming.

For the people that heard Isaiah’s prophecy and for those who saw John the Baptist as the fulfillment of that prophecy, the thought of the coming of the Messiah was a great cause for hope. They had long been persecuted, held captive, forced into slavery; their lives were defined by being oppressed, defeated, hated. They were waiting, they were longing, for the one who would come and save them and set them free. So they listened. They listened to that voice in the wilderness calling them to prepare the way of the Lord.

They listened to the wild man, clothed in camel hair, eating locusts and wild honey. They listened as he called them to confess, to repent, and to be baptized. They knew that it was necessary, they knew that it was what they needed to do to prepare, to be ready when He arrived. They knew it, but do we?

Confession and repentance aren’t really what we like to think about when we are celebrating Advent. We would prefer to save that stuff for Lent. Hope, peace, joy, and love- these are the things we like to think about, to focus on during this season of preparation. It’s much more fun, it’s much easier to prepare to receive those things that Jesus brings into the world than it is to look at ourselves, to confess our sins, to repent from our sins, and to go and sin no more.

It reminds me of a lost verse from one of my favorite Christmas hymns, Angels from the Realms of Glory. “Sinners wrung with true repentance, doomed for guilt to endless pains; justice now revokes the sentence, mercy calls you break your chains.” Doesn’t really fit the Christmas mood, does it? No wonder it’s a “lost’ verse that you won’t find in either the red or blue hymnals. It was in the old 1923 black hymnal but it has wisely been left out of the more recent versions. Who wants to sing about that on Christmas?

Yet they are an essential part of our Advent preparation. There are really two types of preparation during Advent. The first is physical- we decorate our homes and  our church, we buy and wrap gifts, we trim candles and hang stars. The second is spiritual preparation.  And it is something that we often overlook. That’s why it is good to have John the Baptist, the Harbinger of Hope, to remind us to prepare not only our bodies, but our souls as well.

We spiritually prepare for the coming of Jesus into the world and into our lives by first doing the thing that we don’t like to do- to consider our sins, our faults, our shortcomings, all the ways that we have failed and fallen short of God’s glory. Then we confess our sins, we acknowledge the wrongs we have done and the good that we have failed to do. Then we repent from those sins, we turn our backs on them and strive to  not do them anymore.

We need to remember that an equally important part of our spiritual preparation  is recognizing that we have been baptized with the Holy Spirit already. When  we confess and repent, we also receive the assurance that our sins have been forgiven. The penalty has been paid. Jesus has made recompense for our sins. In a way, he has prepared the way for us, rather than our preparing the way for him. At least when we are only focused on preparing the way for Jesus to enter into our own lives.

But our Advent calling as Christians is much larger than just preparing to receive Jesus in our lives. That may sound strange to hear, but I believe it to be true. As Christians we are called to prepare the way for Jesus to enter the world- not only our world, but the WHOLE world. This is where Hope, Peace, Joy and Love come in. These are not just the qualities that Jesus brings into the world, they are also the qualities that he expects us to bring into the world.

It may seem like a daunting task, bringing hope, peace, joy and love to the world. They aren’t things that we always have, or more accurately, they aren’t things that we always feel. Even during Advent and Christmas, when we are supposed to be filled with them, when they are supposed to be at the forefront of all that we do. Let’s face it, sometimes we are just going through the motions, doing what we are supposed to do, just because it is the “most wonderful time of the year.”

But it’s difficult to offer hope when you aren’t feeling hope, it isn’t easy to bring peace when you aren’t peaceful, it is impossible to share joy without being joyful, it is hard to give love when you aren’t receiving love. But do it anyway.

I’m not discounting those negative feelings. I’m not saying that they aren’t real or that they don’t matter. Because they are real and they do matter. Life is hard and pain is real. But you aren’t alone in your pain, you aren’t alone in your life. That’s what this time of year is all about. It is about welcoming God into our world and into our lives. It is  about welcoming God made flesh who dwelt among us, who felt the pain that we feel, who knows what it is like to feel hopeless.

Remember how Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” as he hung dying on the cross. Jesus knows what it is like to feel hopeless. Remember how Jesus was persecuted by the very people he came to save, he knows what it is like to not have peace. Remember how Jesus wept as he saw the lack of faith when his friend Lazarus died, Jesus knows what it is like to lack joy. Remember how Jesus was denied, not once, not twice, but three times by Peter. Jesus knows what it is like to not be loved. So if you are not feeling what you are “supposed” to be feeling this Advent, if you are struggling to find hope and peace and joy and love, remember that Jesus  knows how you feel. You are not alone.

But as difficult as it is when you don’t feel the way that everyone says you are supposed to feel, even when you know that you aren’t alone in those feelings, that you have a Savior who has felt the same way, it is essential that we do what he did. It is essential that we be who God has called us to be and and who the world needs us to  be.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, was profoundly influenced by the Moravians. As he struggled with his faith, he asked a Moravian friend, Peter Boehler, how he could preach faith when he wasn’t sure he had faith. Boehler replied “Preach faith until you have it, and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.” The same applies to us. We can bring hope and peace until we have hope and peace, we can share joy and love until we have joy and love. In other words, fake it until you make it. But not really. Because we do have those things, even if we don’t always see it or feel it or know it.

We have already received Jesus, we are recipients of the hope, the peace, the joy, and the love that he brings. They are part of our identity as his followers, they are part of who we are as Christians. We have them and we are called to share them. And this Advent and Christmas at New Philadelphia provide us with plenty of opportunities to prepare the way of the Lord, to make a straight path on which he may come.

The offerings and activities of the 12 Days of Service, as we feed the hungry and welcome the stranger, as we care for the sick and the prisoner, as we work and pray for and serve the least of these, are all ways of bringing hope and peace to our neighbors and community, to our world. Our wonderful Advent worship services and our Christmas lovefeasts share the joy and the love that we have with our friends and our families.

Like the Elf on the Shelf and John the Baptist, we are Harbingers of Hope. We are preparing the way of the Lord. We are the hope and the peace and the joy and the love. So let us use what we have and be who we are so that we can make straight in  the desert a highway for God, so that we can lift up every valley and bring down every mountain. Let us tell the world that their penalty has been paid, their debt is forgiven. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.

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There is a change in the air, a change in the season; it is a great time for us to have a change and start a new Bible Study. I have felt our Lord leading us in a study of the Book of James. My vision is reading a chapter each week and coming together and discussing what insights God will give us. We will have no student or leader guide you will just need your bible and a heart to want more, to learn more about Jesus and as we will see in James, how to put our faith into action.

I hope you will join me in the library on Monday mornings at 10:30 a.m. starting October 16 or in the banquet room on Thursday evenings at 6 p.m. on October 19.

This study is open to men and women we should be able to finish the study in five weeks.  

Blessings, Grace Shutt

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WE’RE ALL FULL!  REGISTRATION FOR VBS IS CLOSED! 

Vacation Bible School is offered each year during the summer months as a way to reach out to the children in our congregation, preschool, and neighborhood. The date for this year’s VBS is July 24- July 27, 2017 from 9am – 12 noon.   Children ages 4 years to 5th grade are invited to attend. Children will learn basic Bible stories through the ‘structured’ station model which will have Bible stories, games, snacks, music, and crafts.

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Sermon – June 11, 2017 – Rev. Joe Moore, New Philadelphia Moravian

Last Sunday was a two-fer (two special occasions in one Sunday). It was Confirmation and Pentecost. Today is also a two-fer. We are celebrating Graduation Sunday and Trinity Sunday. Actually today is a three-fer since it is also the installation of our new DCE. And that’s even more appropriate for Trinity Sunday, this day in which we consider God in three persons; one in three and three in one; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer; Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

It is joy to be able to gather as God’s people and celebrate. Last week, it was a true blessing to remember the birth of the church, when the Holy Spirit came upon the followers of Jesus and filled them with power that allowed them to become the Church. And it was a true blessing to see our young people confirm their belief in that same God- Father, Son, Holy Spirit. It was a true blessing to have them state their intention to be an active part of the Church, this church, as they live, love, and serve.

Today, we celebrate “comings and goings” as we welcome Evie Blum as our new Director of Christian Education and we say goodbye to our graduates, as they prepare to
go off to college and off to work. Both this Sunday and last Sunday have a surprising similarity. Our confirmands were marking a key transition in their lives and faith; our graduates are also marking a key transition in their lives and faith. Both come with much hard work, preparation, prayer; both come with lots of faith, lots of hope, and lots of love.

Our confirmation class last week and our graduates this week also have something in common with the disciples in today’s gospel lesson. We take a couple of steps back in the narrative from last week’s account from Acts, to the end of Matthew’s gospel. After finding the empty tomb and seeing the resurrected Jesus, Mary Magdalene took his message to the disciples that they were to return to Galilee, where they, too, would see him. So they did, they went to Galilee and found Jesus there. And they worshiped him, even though some doubted.

I’ve always found that interesting. “… but some doubted…” It’s almost a throw away line, getting overshadowed by the appearance of the resurrected Jesus and the “great commission” that he gives to his disciples. But it is too important to overlook. Far too often we, as Christians, feel ashamed when we have doubts. We don’t allow room for doubt, we are uncomfortable when do have doubt. This “throw-away” verse reminds us that it is okay to have doubts.

Even the disciples, who had been with Jesus, who had watched him die, who saw him Resurrected, even some of them had doubts. Faith without doubt wouldn’t be faith, hope without doubt wouldn’t be hope. Our faith is not a blind faith, but it is an examined faith, it is a studied faith, it is an educated faith. It is a faith that has been tested, questioned, and challenged. It is a faith that allows us to have considered all the reasons to believe, and all the reasons to NOT believe, and yet we still find ourselves believing. It’s okay to doubt, it strengthens our belief.

The eleven disciples meet the resurrected Jesus in Galilee. There they worship him (though some doubt). There Jesus says to them “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

These verses, the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel, provide a roadmap (or an action plan) for Christians. They tell us what to do as followers of Jesus, as members of the church. Whether we are newly baptized or have recently confirmed our faith, whether we are beginners or graduates, young or old, these verses in Matthew show us the way. They tell us what to do whether we are coming or whether we are going.

The disciples come to Galilee, they come to where Jesus tells them to come, to where Jesus wants them to be. We come to church, to where Jesus tells us to come, to where Jesus wants us to be. We come together as the church. The disciples worshipped God on that mountain in Galilee. They praised the risen Lord. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” We worship God in this church. We praise the risen Lord. “O Lord, we praise your name, O Lord, we magnify your name, Prince of Peace, mighty God.”

The disciples come and worship and listen to Jesus. We come to church and worship and listen to Jesus. We hear Jesus speak to us in the words of Scripture. We listen to Jesus speak to us as we pray. We hear Jesus as we listen to each other sing the songs of faith.

The disciples come and worship and listen to Jesus and receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Though not as explicit as it is in Acts, it is clear that the disciples receive the power of the Holy Spirit as they gather in Galilee to worship and listen to Jesus. Otherwise they couldn’t do what he tells them to do. If they didn’t have the power and authority of the Holy Spirit, they couldn’t baptize and teach and make disciples of all nations. And we know that they did do that. Because we are here today. Having been baptized and taught and made into disciples of Jesus. We, too, have received the power of the Holy Spirit. And we are called to go and do the same for others.

The disciples came to Jesus and Jesus tells them to go into the world. We come to Jesus, we come to church, and we are told to go into the world. We are called to go into the world and to do what the disciples did, to make disciples of all nations, to baptize and teach. We are called to go in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are invited to come, and then we are called to go. The first part is about us, it is about our needs. We need to worship because we need to respond to God’s presence in our lives. We need to listen to Jesus because we know the truth of his words, the power of his teaching. We need to be reminded of his love. We need to receive the Holy Spirit because we that is how we know God. It is how we feel his presence and experience his love. The first part, the invitation to come, is about our needs, our wants, our desires.

The second part, the call to go, is about others. It is about making disciples by sharing our knowledge of God. It is about baptizing them into the death (into the love) of Jesus. It is about teaching them through the power of the Holy Spirit about who God is, what Jesus did, and how the Holy Spirit does. We come in for ourselves and we go out for others.

However, sometimes we get stuck in the first part. We come in and we stay in. We focus on ourselves and on our needs. We can all understand the desire to stay where we are. Our graduates, as excited as they are about having graduated, I’m sure that they are also a little bit nervous and anxious about what comes next- about leaving the place where they are comfortable, where they are at home. But they know that they can’t do that. If they want to continue to grow, if they want to fully become who God has created them to be, they must go.

And we must go. We must go out into the world and make disciples. We must go and baptize. We must go and teach. As the church, we gather for worship, we come and listen to Jesus, we receive the power of the Holy Spirit. And now let us go. Let us go and share what we have- our faith in God our Creator, the love of Jesus our Redeemer, and the power of the Holy Spirit our Sustainer.

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Sermon – June 4, 2017 – Rev. Joe Moore

Today is Confirmation Sunday. At the 11:10 service, 8 young people will confirm their faith in God-Father, Son and Holy Spirit- and they will state their desire to follow God with faith, love, and hope. This year’s Confirmation Class has been meeting together for several months as we talked about who God is, what God does, and how God calls us to respond. It has been a joy for me to be with them and lead them in this part of their faith journey.

One of the things that I love about teaching Confirmation is getting to choose each kids Confirmation text. It is something that I give a lot of thought and prayer as I try to find the perfect Scripture to serve as their own personal watchword, as a passage that they can keep in their hearts and minds as they go through their lives. Hopefully the texts that I have chosen for this year’s confirmands will be as meaningful and memorable to them as my Confirmation Text is to me. On Palm Sunday 1983, Craig Troutman gave me Philippians 1:6 as my Confirmation text- I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

Over the years, as I have taught confirmation, I will often also choose a Confirmation Text for the class as a whole; a text that serves to capture the experience of the class as they came together and formed their own unique community, a text that really says something about them, about who they are and where they are in their life and faith as a group. I remember one class at Fries Memorial that left me no other choice for a Confirmation Text than that shortest verse in the Bible- John 11:35 “Jesus wept.” But that was all in good fun, they didn’t really cause Jesus to weep, at least they hadn’t at that point in their lives. It was also easy for me to choose a text for this Confirmation Class- “Be still and know that I am God.”

Now, you may chuckle and think that I choose that text for this class because they had trouble “being still” and while that may have been the situation at times, it is not why I chose that as the class Confirmation verse. One of the things that we did every week was to think about, and talk about, the ways that we had seen God at work among us, how we had experienced the presence of God as we went about our lives- moment by moment, day to day. We even had a group text message that we would use to share those times that we had seen and experienced God’s presence.

But it wasn’t always easy. It is often hard to be aware of how God is present and working in our lives. That is why we need to “be still” and pay attention to what is going on around us, to allow us to know that God is God and God is present with us. “Be still and know that I am God.” is one of God’s ways of telling us to “Pay Attention.” That’s what Pentecost is about. It’s about God telling us to pay attention. The followers of Jesus had gathered, after his crucifixion and death, after his resurrection and ascension, they were all together in one place. And God told them to pay attention. It wasn’t in a silent, peaceful, reflective, “be still and know” kind of way. But more like a shout of “Hey! This is important!” The sound of a rushing wind filled the place and tongues of fire appeared and rested over each one of them. And they were suddenly able to speak in languages that they had never spoken before.

And that was a pretty good way to get people’s attention. It was a pretty good way of letting people know that something important was happening. It was a pretty good way to let them know that the Holy Spirit was among them. I imagine that if the same thing happened here this morning- if the sanctuary was filled with a rushing wind, if tongues of fire appeared on each of us, if we suddenly began speaking in languages we had never spoken before, I think that we would pay attention.

Pentecost was when it all came together for those followers of Jesus, it was when they became the “church”. It was when they realized that God was with them- God the Creating Father, God the Redeeming Son, God the Blessing Spirit. It was when they knew that they had all that they needed to do what God was calling them to do- what God had created them to do, what Jesus had redeemed them to do, what the Holy Spirit would bless them as they did, it was when they knew that they had all that they needed to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Pentecost and Confirmation is when it all comes together for us, too. It is when we are reminded to Pay Attention, for the Spirit is among us. It is when we are reminded
to Pay Attention, for God is creating, God is redeeming, God is blessing — right here and right now. We are called to pay attention to what God is creating, to who God is redeeming, to how God is blessing. God creates in faith, God redeems with love, God blesses in hope. God’s faith is in us, God’s love is for us, God’s hope rests upon us. God is here- God is creating. God is here- God is redeeming. God is here- God is blessing. God is among us, God is calling us, God needs us. And God is blessing us with all that WE need- to be who He has created us to be, to become who He has redeemed us to become, to do what He has blessed us to do. God is here. So Pay Attention.

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“Ride On! Ride On…”
Palm Sunday April 9, 2017  
Pastor Joe Moore

Today has been a Sunday that I have been anticipating for a long time. I just love Palm Sunday. It is one of the most joyful days of the year. It ranks right up there with Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday. So I was all geared up to preach a resounding, upbeat, joyful Palm Sunday sermon today.

I mean, how could I not be? Just look at this place! It is amazing how it has been changed from our beautiful sanctuary into a beautiful prayer garden. It is the perfect place for us to celebrate the coming of our Lord and Savior. Today, of all days is a time to focus on the joy; the joy of Palm Sunday, the joy of welcoming our Savior, the joy of preparing the way of the Lord, the joy of singing Hosanna! Blessed is he that comes!

For weeks now, I have been ready to “rejoice greatly” and “shout for joy” as we welcomed our Savior into our midst. And up until now, throughout all of this service, I was really feeling it. From the band prelude gathering us for worship, to the music of our choirs, to praying our Palm Sunday liturgy- “Sing O heavens and be joyful O earth for the glory of the Lord shall be revealed!” Hail to the Lord’s Anointed!, to welcoming new members into our church family, right up to hearing that familiar story of Jesus’ triumphant, yet humble, entry into Jerusalem. I was really feeling that joy!

Until just a couple of minutes ago, as we sang that last hymn, Ride On! Ride on in Majesty! It is one of my favorites, I can’t imagine Palm Sunday without it. But it’s not exactly joyful. It’s melancholy at best, and maybe even a bit depressing. The tune is beautiful but certainly not joyful. And the words…

Ride on! Ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die;
O Christ your triumphs now begin o’er captive death and conquered sin.

Ride on! Ride on in majesty! The winged armies of the sky
look down with sad and wond’ring eyes to see the approaching sacrifice.

Ride on! Ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die;
bow your meek head to mortal pain, then take, O God, your power and reign.

As powerful and beautiful as they are, they make me, in the middle of this Palm Sunday joy, wonder about Jesus. I wonder about what he was thinking and feeling as he rode down the Mount of Olives. Riding on and seeing the crowds so excited by his arrival, so filled with hope and promise and anticipation and joy. Riding on and knowing that in order to meet their hopes and fulfill that promise, to live up to the anticipation and make their joy complete, it would require his death.

Riding on knowing that he would have to capture death (his own death) before he could conquer sin, the sins of the people around him and even the sins of all the world. Riding on knowing that even the angels in heaven couldn’t save him and sadly wondering why it was all necessary. Wondering why he must be the sacrifice for them, for all those following behind him. Riding on and seeing his cross and his death, his brutal and painful and humiliating death, and knowing that it was necessary before he could take his power and reign.

I wonder what that was like for him. It couldn’t have been fun or joyful, for Jesus knew where he was going. He knew where that procession would ultimately lead. But I wonder if he knew then what we know now. I think that he probably did. He told his disciples what would happen, that he would rise again after three days. But still I wonder if, riding on in majesty, riding on to his death, I wonder if his humanity got in the way of his divinity.

I wonder if he wondered, whether it would really happen, if he really would rise after three days. By then he knew that his death was inevitable but did he know that his resurrection was as well? Jesus was, as Paul wrote, in the form of God though he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Did he fully and completely believe that once he humbled himself, to the point of death, that God would then exalt him and raise him from death to eternal life? Riding on into Jerusalem could he see past the cross and the grave to the empty tomb? Could he see his Father on his sapphire throne awaiting him? Maybe he could. Maybe he had full and complete confidence that he would rise from death.

That confidence, if it is there at all, seems to falter as the week goes on, as he draws closer to the cross. Just before his arrest, Jesus prays in the garden, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” Certainly that request could be more about the fear of the pain of crucifixion than about any doubts of resurrection. Whatever it is about, it serves as a great reminder to us. It reminds us that Jesus was human, just like us; that he had doubts and fears, just like us; that he felt pain and sorrow, just like us. Yet, even though he was just like us, he rode on, rode on in majesty.

Jesus knew where he was heading, he knew where the journey would end. And he rode on anyway. In lowly pomp, he rode on to die. He rode on to approach the cross as the sacrifice, not for his sins, but for ours. He rode on and bowed his head to mortal pain. Despite his doubts and fears, despite the pain and sorrow he knew was waiting for him, Jesus rode on.

That is indeed reason for us to celebrate today, to celebrate with great joy. The fact that Jesus loved us, and all the world, so much, that he rode on is great cause to celebrate. For Jesus knew that everyone would desert him, betray him and deny him. And he still rode on! That is the paradox of Palm Sunday- that sorrow underlies the joy, that there is fear beside the hope, that death accompanies life. It is why the rest of Holy Week is so important.

We could easily go from the anticipatory joy of Palm Sunday to the overwhelming joy of Easter Sunday and miss all that comes in between. We could go from “Hosanna, Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord!” to “the Lord is risen indeed!” … just like that. However that would be kind of like reading the first and last chapters of a book or watching the beginning and end of a movie, while skipping everything that happens in between.

Doing so during Holy Week, we would miss out on some of the most important teachings, some of the most important events in Jesus’ life. It’s no accident that right after Jesus says “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites” and proceeds to tell them why they are hypocrites, it’s no accident that right after that, he tells them what they should be doing instead: feeding the hungry and giving water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked, caring for the sick and visiting the prisoners, doing for the “least of these”. It’s no accident that Jesus is sitting in the Jerusalem temple, just days away from his betrayal and arrest, his crucifixion and death, when he says that the greatest commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor. All of this is why Holy Week is important, it reminds us why we don’t want to miss out on all that happens in between Palm Sunday and Easter. The word “holy” means to be set apart. And the days of this coming week are meant to be holy and set apart. It is why we have set our sanctuary apart from its normal appearance and transformed it into this beautiful prayer garden. So that we can have a place to come as we set this week apart from our daily routines and schedules and we make time to come and worship. It is place that we can meet as we journey from Palm Sunday to Easter. It is where we can come and ride on with Jesus into all that lies before us- the sorrow and the joy, the fear and the hope, the death and the life.

Brothers and Sisters, let us set apart this holy week and ride on with Jesus. Let us be here, with him and with each other.

Ride on! Ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die;
O Christ your triumphs now begin o’er captive death and conquered sin.

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