More Than Palms – reflection and Palm Sunday litany

By April 10, 2019My Thoughts

As a child, Palm Sunday was one of my favorite Sundays of the year. I got to wave a palm branch and shout, “Hosanna!” It was one of the Sundays each year where the kids weren’t expected to be mostly quiet during the whole service. We were invited to participate. We were told to wave those branches with joy and to shout our hearts out. What’s not to love?

I didn’t know what “Hosanna” meant at that time. It sounded like a joyful word, and I thought that it must have been. Palm Sunday was a parade after all. It wasn’t until years later that I learned “Hosanna!” actually means “Save us!” Far from a jubilant shout, the crowd was frenzied with desperation. If Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, he was there to set the people free. Finally. And freedom was something they desperately needed.

They expected a warrior.

They expected a conqueror.

They expected a war hero to come into town in a triumphant procession fit for a king.

Instead, Jesus shows up on a donkey. He rides into town not to conquer it, but knowing he will be conquered by it. He came not to bring death, but to taste death himself. He came not with violence, but with peace and self-giving, even though the world around him could not abide either of those things.

The people flung their cloaks and palm branches before Jesus in a royal procession, but they did not lay down the one thing they needed to place at Jesus’ feet. They refused to let go of their expectations for how they thought God needed to operate in their lives. They did not want to be rid of the way they wanted to be saved. They came face to face with a plan that was not what they wanted. And so it is no wonder that after this, the crowds deserted Jesus.

I wonder how often I expect God to behave in ways that are totally not God at all. How often do I want God to hate all of the same people I do (oh, Anne Lamott, you get me)? How often do I refuse to let go of my anger because I have convinced myself God is angry at all those same things and people, too? How often do I ask God to save me from a situation of my own making when what really needs to be changed is me?

This Palm Sunday, I want to lay down more than my palm branches of joy that God is doing things my way. I want to lay down my way so that I can learn God’s way. I want to toss down my certainty so that I can take up a faith that holds things delicately and leaves room for questions and growth. This Palm Sunday, I don’t want to shout, “Save me, O God, my way and on my terms!” I want to open my ears and listen. “O Lord, save me from myself.”

Palm Sunday is about more than palms. It is about giving up what we think we know so that we can take up what gives life.

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This year, I have written a litany of Laying down our Confession/Taking up God’s Assurance to use for Palm Sunday. If this litany is meaningful to you, I invite you to make use of it, either at home or in your ministry context.

Laying Down Our Confession

Leader: Holy God, you promise that your yoke is light, but we burden ourselves with so many things. We heap on ourselves expectations, anger, worries, distractions, reluctance, fear, and busyness. We place a yolk of difficulty around our necks, and we pull with all our might. Lord, we lay these burdens down at your feet.

People: Take our burdens, O God, and give us your perfect peace.

Leader: Lord, you are the Prince of Peace, but we fill our hearts with so many other things. We take into ourselves division, anger, hostility, and mistrust. We stuff ourselves full with these things, and then they erupt out of us and into the lives of others. Lord, we lay these burdens down at your feet.

People: Take our burdens, O God, and give us your perfect peace.

Leader: Lord Jesus, you taught us to worry about nothing, but we so easily are overwhelmed by worries, anxieties, and distractions. We hold tight to our worries, and they distract us by day, and keep us awake at night. Lord, we lay these burdens down at your feet.

People: Take our burdens, O God, and give us your perfect peace.

Leader: Embracing God, you called us your children before we had done anything to earn it, and yet we so often expect ourselves to earn our place as your sons and daughters. We hold ourselves to expectations that are unrealistic and painful. Lord, we lay these burdens down at your feet.

People: Take our burdens, O God, and give us your perfect peace.

Leader: God, Jesus taught us to be intentional with our time. He knew his mission and his calling, and he lived it out every day. We can so easily become reluctant, or hesitate to do what you have called us to do. We let fear, or even laziness, stand in the way of doing what is right. Lord, we lay these burdens down at your feet.

People: Take our burdens, O God, and give us your perfect peace.

Leader: God of the universe, you created everything seen and unseen, and then you rested. You did this to set an example for us about the importance of rest and worship. We can so easily forget our priorities, or fall into the trap of believing that we must do all things at all times. You offer us the gift us rest, but we instead choose exhaustion and weariness. Lord, we lay these burdens down at your feet.

People: Take our burdens, O God, and give us your perfect peace.

Leader: We lift these burdens off of our shoulders and place them at your feet. Receive them, O Lord, as we continue in silent confession.

Taking Up God’s Assurance

Leader: We have placed our burdens at Jesus’ feet, and we receive from him a burden that is easy, a table where we can sit together, hearts and minds filled with peace, the assurance that we are God’s children, the discernment to do what is right when it is called for, and the rest and worship that restores our souls. We unburden ourselves here from what does not satisfy. We take up God’s perfect forgiveness and peace.

People: Here, now, in this place, we are set free and we are changed.

About April Fiet

April is a pastor, wife, mom, and lover of words. She finds inspiration under the big Nebraska skies, in the garden, in the yarn aisle, and in the kitchen. Learn more about April here, and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.