Monday, March 25, 2024

Upper Room Palm Sunday Liturgy, March 24, 2024 - Presiders: Kim Panaro and Phillis Sheppard

Palm Sunday

(Presider 1) Welcome and Theme:  Today is a special service because this week is unlike any other week in the Christian calendar. Today we celebrate Palm Sunday, Jesus’ joyous entry into Jerusalem. But we will also turn to the events that followed, walking through the moments that led up to Jesus’ arrest. We’ll do this as if journeying day by day, because just like our lives, holy week happened day by day.

In our service, we will incorporate the tradition of midrash. Midrash is an ancient Jewish tradition that weaves together the art of storytelling and the truth of scripture, inviting us to imagine and wonder about the details that exist between the lines. Today you will hear from five voices: a woman who witnessed Jesus flip the tables in the temple, a Pharisee, the woman with the alabaster jar who anointed Jesus’ feet in Bethany, Judas, and one of Jesus’ disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was arrested. As you hear these stories read aloud, we invite you to lean in. Imagine yourself there. Feel the truth of this narrative - for it was a holy week, and it was a hard week. Let us begin.

(Presider 2) Opening Prayer:  As we gather on this Palm Sunday, we recall the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem; the crowds waving palm branches and shouting "Hosanna!”  Yet, we also remember the unfolding story of that week, The same voices that praised soon turned to cries of "Crucify Him!" Help us, Spirit, to reflect on the different roles played in the Passion story:

For the disciples who struggled with fear and doubt, grant them courage and faith to follow Your will.

For the authorities who sought power and control, may they be guided by justice and humility.

For the crowd swayed by public opinion, open their hearts to discern truth from falsehood.

For those who stood by Jesus in His suffering, inspire us to stand with those in need today.

As we journey through Holy Week, may we embody Your love, mercy, and forgiveness.

Bless this service and all who are present, that we may deepen our understanding of your call to live out the message of Palm Sunday in our lives.

Opening Song:  I Will Not Leave You Comfortless  By Jan Phillips 


TABLES TURNED | Matthew 21:12-13

“When Jesus entered the Temple, he drove out all those who were selling and buying there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those selling doves. He said to them, “Scripture says, ‘My house is called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of thieves!”

Midrash Reader #1 (Joan Horgan)

MONDAY | The woman in the temple

I come here every Monday morning.

It has always been like this, at least for as long as I can remember.

My parents talk about a time when this room used to be packed with people here to pray and hear the Torah every week. They talk about those days like they were the glory days—if only we could get back to that.


Now the temple is primarily a marketplace.

I come here every week for the farmer’s market—to buy eggs and figs and food for my family. And they have the best bread! I’ve never felt guilty for that because I pray on my own, and we still celebrate Passover; so is it really that big a deal? I used to think not, but that changed the day Jesus showed up. I don’t know that I will ever forget that day. I had just bartered with Samuel down the street to get two fresh fish for my kids. That’s when I heard the sound.

It was so loud—a crash, a splintering. For a brief moment I thought God might be tearing open the walls of the temple and climbing inside. I turned around, hands full of fish, to see the money changers’ tables turned over and the doves flapping wildly in their cages. Coins slowly rolled their way across the holiest of holies and everyone froze. I’ve never heard silence so loud.

Jesus paused and looked at the room. Quietly he said, “My house is to be called a house of prayer. Prayer. For all nations.”

In the quiet, I felt myself hiding the two fish in my hands behind my back, like Adam and Eve hid behind leaves, wishing the coins in my hands could disappear. And then, as quickly as he arrived, he turned and left. I can’t be sure, but it looked like there might have been a tear running down his cheek, and for just a second, I wondered to myself—maybe, just maybe, that sound really was God tearing open the walls of the temple and climbing inside.

Who is he, you ask?

I’m not sure, but he’s not like me. He’s faithful. He’s honest. There was nothing hiding behind his back. Have any of you ever felt that kind of shame? Have any of you ever wanted to hide something from God?


Jesus entered the Temple precincts and began teaching. The chief priests and the elders of the people came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing what you do? Who gave you this authority?”

Midrash Reader #2 (Mike O’Brien)

TUESDAY | A Pharisee

Do you know how many laws are in the Torah? Six

hundred and thirteen. You know how I know that? Because I spent my entire youth

memorizing them—hours upon hours upon hours of repetition.

And after I mastered those, I went on to memorize the entire Torah. That’s the first

five books of the Bible, by the way.

I spent all those hours sitting at the foot of my teacher so that I could one day teach.  That’s what faithfulness, sacrifice, and a life of service looks like—at least that’s what I’ve been taught.

I’ve talked to every scribe and priest in the land and no one knows who taught this Jesus. No one raised him to teach. No one knows if he even passed his Torah comprehension exam. Where does he get his authority? AND WHY ARE PEOPLE LISTENING TO HIM?

That is the thing that blows me away.

His teachings are unorthodox.

He’s healed on the Sabbath.

He’s talked to Samaritans.

He’s completely disregarded our societal lines—befriending women and lepers.

Does he even know how many rules he’s breaking?

I just don’t understand.

This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.

I studied for so long, and nothing prepared me for this.

Who is he, you ask?

He’s a radical. A heretic. A rebel. A mystery.

ANOINTED | Matthew 26:6-13

Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the house of Simon, who had leprosy, a woman approached Jesus with an alabaster jar of very expensive ointment. She poured it on his head while he reclined at the table. The disciples, witnessing this, were indignant. “What a waste!” they said. “This could have been sold at a high price, and the money given to needier people.” Jesus, aware of their concern, said, “Why do you upset the woman? She has done me a good deed. You’ll always have poor people with you, but you won’t always have me. When she poured the oil on my body, she was preparing me for burial. The truth is, wherever the Good News is proclaimed in the world, she will be remembered for what she has done for me.”

Midrash Reader #3 (Suzanne O’Connor)

WEDNESDAY | The woman with the alabaster jar

It was Wednesday.

I heard he was coming to Bethany. People talk about stuff like that.

People also talk when you break open a bottle of perfume to anoint someone in a crowd. I learned that the hard way.

In a few years they may forget my name, but I bet they’ll remember what I did. I am the woman who anointed Jesus, and it remains one of the moments in my life that I am most proud of.

Jesus was at Simon’s house. He often went there when he was in the city, and I knew that. We all knew that, because we could see them packed in there! It’s hard to miss twelve people packed into a room. So before the sun fell, I grabbed my jar of perfume—the only item of wealth I own—and walked to Simon’s.

I had begged and saved for years to afford that jar of perfume. It was my back-up plan, my safety net when I could no longer work, so I kept it hidden it in the cupboard of my house.

The whole way to Simon’s house I clutched that jar like a mother holds a baby - terrified that it might slip from my hands too soon, that I might lose the only gift I had to give, accidentally anointing the dirt at my feet instead of the man who had healed so many.

It wasn’t until I walked through the door and saw Jesus sitting there that I was able to release my grip on that jar. I had made it. I had my gift, and this was the moment. The smell was unbelievable - sweet like milk and honey, but even stronger than fresh baked bread. I knew when I cracked that jar open it would be overpowering,

it would send people into the street. But I had to do it!

People criticized me for wasting that perfume, but they don’t know the whole story. They don’t know what it meant to be seen and called by name. Jesus pulled me out of the wilderness of my own isolation. They have no idea the healing that Jesus offered me, and they probably could never understand what I would give

to do it all over again. I mean, how do you put a price tag on life? On a full and abundant life?

I don’t need everyone to understand. I just needed him to understand. He gave me the gift of new life, so in return, I gave him the only thing I had.

Who is this man, you ask?

He was grace embodied, and love let loose.

And I’ll never be the same.

BETRAYAL | Matthew 26:14-16

One of the Twelve, the one named Judas Iscariot, went off to the chief priests 15 and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand Jesus over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he looked for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

Midrash Reader #4 (Tim Perry-Coon)


Could he have really been the Messiah—the son of God? Could he really be the One that God would send to redeem the world?

Really?! There were days I was convinced he was. Like the day he fed five thousand people. I still can’t figure out how he did it, but I was there and people ate their fill. Or the night he told Peter to walk to him on the water. I could never begin to tell you how that happened, but I was there—it felt real!

But there were other days I wasn’t so sure. Like the day he sent us out two by two to heal people—did he really expect us to be able to do what he did? Or the days he rebuked the Pharisees. Could the Son of God really be that hard on people, especially the leaders of the law?

I wanted to believe he was the Messiah. I really did. I wanted to give

everything I had, but something deep within me wasn’t settled. I was beginning to lose sleep over it and the Pharisees began whispering in my ear. What if he wasn’t all he said he was? What if everything I saw could be explained? What if I had risked my life, only to find out he was just another great teacher among many?

It was that unsettled voice deep within me that told me to do it. That small voice was more powerful than my will, my thoughts, and my faith. It ruled me, and I followed it.

Most people said I betrayed him for the money, but that would be too simple. I handed him over because I couldn’t know who he was for certain. There is no black and white, no hundred percent proof when it comes to God. Doubt is an untamed wilderness of the mind, and that shade of gray ate at me.

Who was that man, you ask?

If you would have asked me last week, I would have told you,

“I’m not entirely sure.”

Ask me on Sunday and my answer will have changed.

THE GARDEN | Matthew 26:36-47

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane and said to the disciples, “Stay here while I go over there and pray.” 37 Jesus took along Peter, James and John and started to feel grief and anguish. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death. Please, stay here, and stay awake with me.” 39 Jesus went on a little further and fell prostrate in prayer: “Abba, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. But not what I want—what you want.”

When Jesus returned to the disciples, he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you stay awake with me for even an hour? 41 Be on guard, and pray that you may not undergo trial. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” 42 Withdrawing a second time, Jesus prayed, “Abba, if this cup cannot pass me by without my drinking it, your will be done!” 43 Once more Jesus returned and found the disciples asleep; they could not keep their eyes open. 44 Jesus left them again, withdrew somewhat and prayed for a third time, saying the same words as before. 45 Finally Jesus returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping? Still taking your rest? The hour is upon us—the Chosen One is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up! Let us be on our way! Look, my betrayer is here.” 47 While Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived—accompanied by a great crowd with swords and clubs. They had been sent by the chief priests and elders of the people.

Midrash Reader #5 (Dave Debonis)

THURSDAY EVENING | A disciple in the garden of Gethsemane

It all happened so fast. It was late - later than I had realized, and sleep was clinging to me like a fog I couldn’t shake. I heard the crowd arrive in my dreams. At first, I thought it was a crowd of people wanting Jesus to heal them. I thought selfishly to myself for just a

moment, “How in the world did they find us here?!”

That’s when I started to wake up.

I realized the crowd didn’t sound right - it wasn’t people praising Jesus or begging for mercy. It was too quiet, far too quiet for that; and in the quiet I could hear the clink of swords in sheaths.

I frantically pulled myself from sleep, shaking awake my brothers and trying to stand up quickly.

I saw Judas at the front of the crowd. “What is he doing there?” I thought.

“Maybe things will be okay after all,” I thought.

But I was wrong.

In a split second my whole world fell apart around me.

I went from knowing my way, knowing my purpose, and knowing my plans, to standing in the wilderness alone. It happened as quickly as a summer thunderstorm and as slowly as the change in seasons.

The crowd with clubs and swords were taking Jesus. They were taking him away, and he was not fighting it.

Maybe if I had stayed awake like he had asked then this wouldn’t have happened. Maybe if we had left Jerusalem and gone back to Bethany, this wouldn’t have happened.

What am I supposed to tell my family? The man I have seen heal the sick and walk on water has been arrested, and the angels didn’t stop it.

Who is this man, you ask?

He’s not a criminal. That’s for sure.

It all happened so fast.

(Presider 1) These are the words of the Gospel writer known as Matthew and those of Sarah Are | A Sanctified Art LLC | 

Short Reflection - Kim

Statement of Faith

(Presider 2) Please join in praying our Statement of Faith:

We believe in the Holy One, a divine mystery 
beyond all definition and rational understanding, 
the heart of all that has ever existed, 
that exists now, or that ever will exist. 
We believe in Jesus, messenger of the Divine Word, 
bringer of healing, heart of Divine compassion, 
bright star in the firmament of the Holy One's 
prophets, mystics, and saints. 
We believe that We are called to follow Jesus 
as a vehicle of divine love, 
a source of wisdom and truth, 
and an instrument of peace in the world. 
We believe in the Spirit of the Holy One, 
the life that is our innermost life, 
the breath moving in our being, 
the depth living in each of us. 
We believe that the Divine kin-dom is here and now, 
stretched out all around us for those 
with eyes to see it, hearts to receive it, 
and hands to make it happen. 



(From Jay Murnane and Prayers for Progressive Christians, Michael Morwood)

(Presider 1)  This is a time to reflect on any qualities or gifts you have been hesitant to bring forth.  This is the time to bring that to the table – that it might flourish.

We bring to this table our blessings, cares, and concerns. (Please feel free to voice your concerns beginning with the words, “I bring to the table…”)

We bring these blessings, cares, and concerns, and those left unspoken to the table of love and friendship. Amen. 

(Presider 2)  Please join in praying the Eucharistic prayer together: 

All:  God beyond our words, we gather today mindful of the many times we have professed our readiness to be true disciples of Jesus, to be salt for the earth, to be light in the world.

We acknowledge the daunting challenge of this profession in the society in which we live, with its economic systems that impoverish and disempower people. We remember that Jesus encountered in his day systems as unjust as those we experience in our day, As we turn our hearts and minds to his message, hopes and dreams for a better society, we lift up our lives and sing:

Holy, Holy: Here In This Place by Christopher Grundy 

All:   We call to mind how Jesus urged his listeners to put their trust in the power of being neighbor, in the power of God’s Spirit within them, in the power of conversion from religious thinking and practices that made them feel inadequate and worthless. And so we thank you for Jesus, simple servant, lifting up the lowly, revealing you as God-With-Us, and revealing us as one with you and all of creation.

On the night before he died, Jesus gathered for the Seder supper with the people closest to him. Like the least of household servants, he washed their feet, so that they would re-member him.

(Presider 1)  (lifts bread as community prays the following:)

All: When he returned to his place at the table, he lifted the Passover bread, spoke the blessing, broke the bread and offered it to them saying: 

Take and eat of the Bread of Life 

Given to strengthen you  

Whenever you remember me like this  

I am among you. (pause) 

(Presider 2)   (lifts the cup as community prays the following: )

All: Jesus then raised a cup of blessing, spoke the grace saying: 

Take and drink of the covenant 

Made new again through my life in you. 

Whenever you remember me like this, 

I am among you.  (pause)

(Presider 2) Our Eucharistic celebration is all-inclusive. We belong to the divine and to each other, and nothing can separate us. Everyone is invited to receive at this friendship table.  Let us share this bread and cup   to proclaim and live the gospel of justice and peace.

We will pass the bread and wine with the words: “We walk together”

Communion Song: Jerusalem, My Destiny By Rory Cooney, Sung by St. Vincent Choir  

         Solo: Dennis McDonald 

All:  Our prayer today is a prayer of resolve, a prayer of determination that we, each one of us, will do whatever we can, however small, in whatever way, to bring the real dream of Jesus to fruition in our lives and in our world today. 

So, we trust you to continue to share with us your own spirit, the spirit that animated Jesus, for it is through his life and teaching, all honor and glory is yours, O Holy One, forever and ever. Amen.

Aramaic Prayer of Jesus

(Presider 1) Let us pray as Jesus taught us:

O Breathing Source of Life, Father/Mother

Your name shines everywhere!

Hollow out a space to plant your presence here.

Come, really come, and guide us to the good place

Where your vision is fulfilled.

May your delight be fulfilled in each life, as it is in the shining realm of your full Presence. 

Illuminate our circle of life with the wisdom and nurturing we need now, for body, mind and spirit.

Empower us to stop crossing the boundaries of others,

Allow us to let go of the tangled threads of others’ faults we hold in our hands; release the knots of sin in our lives. Help us to be neither too outer nor too inner, lest we bear unripe or rotten fruit.

For to you belongs the enlightened vision, the empowering energy, and the song that brings all together in harmony, from gathering to gathering.

This is the ground of being from which my actions will come.  Amen.

(A translation by Neil Douglas-Klotz)


(Presider 1)  Let us raise our hands in blessing and pray together: 

All: At the start of Holy Week, we focus on Jesus - human like us. As a man willing to die for what he believed, a man that had to trust that those who came after him would keep his dream alive, may we walk with an awareness of our call as companions on the journey, knowing we are not alone. May we, like Jesus, be a shining light and a blessing in our time! Amen.

Closing Song: We Go Forth By Jan Novatka 

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