Welcome to this Online Meeting for Worship. Below you will find songs, scripture or poems, and a short message to frame and guide your time in worship. Each week by Friday I will be publishing a new worship outline. The scripture used generally (though not always) comes from the weekly Revised Common Lectionary, connecting the Friends tradition to other Christian traditions around the world. For some of you this worship space may be a place of sanctuary when you are away from in-person worshiping communities. For others, this worship space may help you prepare for your weekly Sunday or mid-week worship.
I suggest that you open each link in a separate window and play through the beginning of the songs to get over any ads, preparing for your worship time. (Though you may want to first check to see if ads play while the songs are embedded in the post. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t!) You may also want to have a candle and a journal nearby. Since this worship is designed in the manner of Programmed Quaker Worship, it includes a period of waiting worship. There are several communities around the world that host online unprogrammed Quaker worship, for which I have included links. These communities worship together at certain times each day and week, so you may want to plan your worship around theirs.
If you would like to set up a regular time to worship through this site or if you have specific prayer requests to be held by my home worshiping community, please contact me through this site. If you would like to leave a message on this page, perhaps a message that rises for you during your worship, please comment below. Messages are filtered to counter spam attempts and it may take me up to 24 hours to approve a comment. Thank you for joining me in this weekly online Quaker programmed worship. May your time in worship be deep and faithful.
“Holy, holy, holy: Hosannah.”
Centering Silence: Take a few moments to center yourself. Perhaps light a candle, find a comfortable place to sit and put away any distractions. Take a few deep breaths as you center yourself for this time of worship. Feel your body relax as your breaths become deeper. Turn your attention to the presence of the Divine throughout your body and throughout your life. When you are ready let the following worship elements guide your worship.
Open for me the gates of the righteous;
I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord
through which the righteous may enter.
I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.
The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
The Lord has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad.
Lord, save us!
Lord, grant us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you.
The Lord is God,
and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will praise you;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
— Psalm 118:19-29, New International Version (NIV)
Scripture: As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
— Matthew 21:1-11, New International Version (NIV)
Message: “Holy, holy, holy: Hosannah.”
Quakers have at least one remarkable story of faithfulness and controversy when it comes to Palm Sunday. In 1656, James Nayler, a prominent Friend and founder of the movement, along with several other Friends reenacted the scene described in Matthew 21:1-11. Many of these Friends took off their garments—that is, all of their clothes—and spread them in front of the donkey carrying James Nayler. George Bishop wrote about the scene to Margaret Fell in 1658:
“For thou mayst understand, that on the 6th day of the last week, between the 2nd and 3rd hour in the afternoon, J[ames] N[ayler] and his company...came into this town with full purpose and resolution to set up their image, and to break the truth in pieces, and to bruise and tread down and beguile and devour the tender plants of the Lord in this his Vineyard...with which being overfilled and made drunk with the indignation of the Lord. They brought in J.N. on horseback, who rode with his hands before him. One reign of his bridle Mar[tha] Simmonds led, and Han[nah] Stranger the other. And some went on his sides and Hannah’s husband went bare before him, and Dorcas Erbury with a man of the Isle of Ely rode after, and thus they led him, and thus they rode and through the town, the women singing as they went, ‘Holy, holy, holy: Hosannah.’ [Mat 21:6-9]” (Barbour & Roberts, Early Quaker writings, 1650-1700, 1973, p. 483)
Now this act has many interpretations, by Friends at the time and by Friends through the ages. Nayler had been in disaccord with George Fox for a while by the time of this public action, and Fox along with many other Friends denounced the act publicly. More of the story can be listened through this song by Jon Watts:
Did James Nayler bring Quakers down? Was this public witness just a blip in the movement’s momentum? Some people throughout history have even believed that Nayler was suffering from a personality disorder, one man set up a foundation in James Nayler’s name to help people with mental illness. But still other Friends throughout history have see Nayler’s demonstration as an act of creative non-violence and have found encouragement to perform theatrical and controversial public action.
Looking back at Jesus’ enactment of the scene, it can be noted that the scriptures say, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet,” which refers to Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” So in a sense, Jesus was enacting an earlier prophecy just as Nayler was reenacting Jesus’. Blasphemous as this might sound, Nayler, who truly believed that the inward Christ has risen and could found by all as the Inward Teacher, also truly believed that inward Christ has led him and his followers to make their procession.
And the still small voice that spoke to Nayler and these other Friends requested not only that they do something that was ridiculous and counter-cultural, but also that was against the views of the leaders of their religious community, illegal, and at its core was about praising and celebrating the divine in each of us. Even the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Hosanna as, “used as a cry of acclamation and adoration.” So these Friends may have been akin to religious nuts parading in the street chanting “Jesus loves you” and disturbing the peace, but I’d like to think that it was more like the 17th century version of Pride.
Later in Nayler’s life, after he had suffered imprisonment, public torture, branding, and disavowal by his Quaker community, he still wrote these words on his deathbed:
“There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself. It sees to the end of all temptations. As it bears no evil in itself, so it conceives none in thought to any other. If it be betrayed, it bears it, for its ground and spring is the mercies and forgiveness of God. Its crown is meekness, its life is everlasting love unfeigned; it takes its kingdom with entreaty and not with contention, and keeps it by lowliness of mind. In God alone it can rejoice, though none else regard it, or can own its life. It is conceived in sorrow, and brought forth without any to pity it; nor doth it murmur at grief and oppression. It never rejoiceth but through sufferings; for with the world’s joy it is murdered. I found it alone, being forsaken. I have fellowship therein with them who lived in dens and desolate places of the earth, who through death obtained this resurrection and eternal holy life.” (Christian Faith and Practice in the experience of the Society of Friends, London Yearly Meeting, 1960)
God might call us to do crazy things. Nayler discerned with his group of Friends that his leading to ride a donkey through the streets was divinely led even when the leadership of the Religious Society of Friends thought otherwise. Praising God, acting on the inward Christ, and being a public Friend can be risky. Our actions, even after discernment can look crazy, and they can be criticized by the people we call our Quaker family. Doing something different, being change, acting prophetically can be uncomfortable to us, often specifically if that “something different” is something that is full of joy, praise, and holy adoration. We, unprogrammed and semi-programmed Friends, can get caught up in our stoicism, our silence and our tradition. What has most often brought me to programmed and evangelical Friends services has been their joy.
Joy can be found though in some unexpected experiences of the Spirit too and joy can be counter cultural even among Friends. Many years ago now, I prayed regularly with a F/friend over Skype. At some point in our time of prayer and waiting worship we shared a sense of awe and praise. One of us, I think my F/friend, shared that on Sunday mornings she would wake up and with a deep heartfelt sense of adoration and praise and joy think, “It’s Sunday.” We texted each other a long time on Sunday mornings with simply the words, “It’s Sunday! It’s Sunday!”
Another F/friend I know smiles when he is filled with the Holy Spirit in worship. Sitting in waiting worship with him, I can see the Spirit come into him as he discerns whether or not to stand and speak. His face blossoms with joy as his sense of the Holy Spirit increases and he seems to brighten like someone turning a dimmer-switch on a lightbulb up to full capacity. Then, when he stands and speaks, he seems to pour out that radiance.
Two years ago, I led a pilgrimage to Assisi (the same one that I’ll be leading in a few weeks through Shalem). Amidst learning of the story of St. Francis’ public witness and public nudity, the participants on the trip often spoke of the joy that they felt. It wasn’t a joy of overindulgence or a joy of selfishness, but a simple joy of rest, retreat and contemplation. It was a joy that came from sitting on the steps of the Temple of Minerva in Assisi’s central square, watching the sun set and the people of the town mill about. It was a joy that came from heart connecting stories, stillness, and intentional presence. In the busy lives we live in, this joy had been missing, it had often be not allowed; this joy was subversive and it was life-giving.
Still other F/friends I know have been led to do controversial and public acts, like pie-ing a prominent politician, blocking coal ships with boats and kayaks, holding a mock trial for a bank that supported mountain-top removal, dressing up like a palm tree in protest of palm oil. Friends throughout history as well as people from other faith and secular traditions have used theater, reenactment, parades, and even nudity to bring attention to their voice. Their actions have drawn lots of attention, have conveyed a message, and have in many cases created change. So while Nayler’s actions landed him in jail, the story of his public witness continues on in our religious imagination, asking us how we respond to our leadings and how we live out our faith publicly.
So in this time of Palm Sunday, this time of celebration, adoration, and singing praise to God, this time of being filled so much by the Holy Spirit that it pours out of us, what small and what big ways do we proclaim our joy? How do we let that light within shine and shine and shine? How do we find joy that is counter cultural, either to the business of our lives, the structures of our tradition, or the tenets of our secular life? How do we live each moment of our lives in public witness to the inward Spirit that delights, that forgives, and proclaims the joy of eternal holy life?
Silence-Waiting Worship: This is a time for you to turn your attention fully inward. The songs and passages and the offered message have prepared you to listen deeply to the Divine. Spend at least 20 minutes in silence listening for that still small voice of God. You may want to join an online waiting worship community. A few links for these can be found below.
When you have come to a place of closure in your waiting worship, continue on to bring your time of worship to a close.
Afterthoughts: Afterthoughts are thoughts that rose for you during waiting worship that didn’t completely form into a message. Perhaps you discerned that what was rising for you in waiting worship was a message for you alone, something not to be shared with others or perhaps you only received fragments of a message and it didn’t come together completely during the silence. Take a few minutes to journal these afterthoughts so that you can look back at them another time. Perhaps God is speaking to you through these partial messages and the fullness of their meaning will be revealed in time.
Joys and Concerns: It is traditional in Programmed Quaker Worship to have a time for the sharing of joys and concerns. Take a few moments to write down in your journal a few things from this week that you are thankful for and a few things that you are holding in prayer. Feel free to post these in the comments below as well (though remember that it may take up to 24 hours for them to be available to others to read) so that others can include your requests in their prayers and celebrate your joys alongside you.
Closing: Take another few moments of silence to close your worship time. Breathe deeply and give thanks for your time in worship today. When you feel ready end in vocal prayer, either of your own creation or read out loud the following: “O Holy One, help us to proclaim the joy of your presence. Let us sing Hosanna to the highest and embody the joy of your Spirit in all aspects of your life. Empower us O Lord to listen to the promptings of our Spirit even when they seem ridiculous. Help us be bold in following your leadings in our lives. Amen.”