The 8:30 a.m. is the more contemplative of the Sunday services at La Mesa United Methodist. Throughout Lent, elements of Taizé spirituality have been incorporated into the service. The worship bulletin (church motto: “Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.”) opened with a welcome and a meditation from the Rev. Richard J. Fairchild. “What saves us from an endless round of ups and downs...is our commitment to press forward in obedience to God.” Even on a celebratory day like Palm Sunday, there is more emphasis on silent meditation and prayer, more repetitive music. “Holy Spirit, come to us,” and “Jesus, remember me when You come into your kingdom,” repeated again and again in hushed harmonies by the choir as a flute meanders overhead.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The service began in the courtyard outside the church, as each congregant took a palm and waited to process into the church behind the singing choir. “From Olivet they followed/ Mid an exultant crowd/ The victor palm branch waving/ And chanting clear and loud.” Once inside the cozy (yet high-ceilinged) church, congregants placed their palms in urns on either side of the entrance to the Sanctuary and filed back to their seats. “We have come with shouts of joy and hosanna to sing and make music to the king,” they proclaimed in the Call to Worship.
(An insert in the bulletin noted that “the original definition for ‘hosanna’ was ‘Save us, now!’ a cry for peace in heaven and deliverance from Roman rule.... Today, our interpostal settings” — displays of palm fronds and text-bearing faux-stone above each pillar — “emphasize the original meaning in Hebrew on the east wall and English on the west wall, crying out to a world in conflict.”)
The Gospel recounted Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, “mounted on a donkey and the foal of a donkey,” when “a very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road and others got branches from the trees and spread them on the road...shouting ‘Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
As the bulletin insert noted, it was a moment laden with political overtones, and Pastor Randa D’Aoust’s sermon swirled around that aspect. On the one hand, she lamented our tendency to follow at a safe distance, as Peter followed Jesus after His arrest — to “blend in...hedge our bets.” She railed against our country’s “track record” when it came to “dealing with folks who think differently or seem to stand in our way.... It is so much easier to hold people off at a distance...people we never talk with or listen to or understand. When will we listen deeply to the heart cry of our neighbor?”
Suddenly, the political had become personal, and D’Aoust pressed the point home. She claimed that the disciples “loved Jesus” and “were physically close to Jesus, but they were not emotionally close to Him.... None of them were close enough to hear His heart message.... They expected Jesus to be a conquering king who would free the people.” She contrasted them with “the ones who stood with Jesus” at the cross, “the women who stood there...and who were transformed by Jesus. We have to come to our own understanding of what it means to be close enough to touch, to follow Jesus to the cross, to name the ways that we betray Jesus even today...not only to wave the palms on Palm Sunday but to walk the way of the cross with Jesus.... It is only when we see Jesus’ mission for what it was — to save all humanity and show us the reality of God’s kingdom here and now — that we will be able to see Easter for what it is.”
The Communion service echoed the idea: “Pour out your spirit on us gathered here,” intoned the minister, “and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ redeemed by His blood.” (The Sharing of Joys expressed joy at the presence of the Shelter Network on church grounds.)
At the end of the service, the entire congregation merged toward the center of the church and held hands. “See if you can find someone to hold onto their hand,” said D’Aoust. “If you can’t, then reach out to the world because the world is still waiting for us to come and...bless it. Reach out and touch the world because in touching the world you are touching Christ. Touch the world with love and compassion and know that when you are doing so you are offering the world a glimpse of God.”
What happens when we die?
“I am convinced that there’s something beyond this life,” said D’Aoust. “The United Methodist Church says definitely there is. What that looks like, I don’t really know.”
La Mesa United Methodist
Denomination: United Methodist
Address: 4690 Palm Avenue, La Mesa, 619-466-4163
Founded locally: 1902
Senior pastor: Randa D’Aoust
Congregation size: 300
Staff size: 10
Sunday school enrollment: 20
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Dress: casual to formal, mostly semiformal
Diversity: mostly Caucasian, some African American, some Hispanic
Sunday worship: 8:30 a.m., 11 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 55 minutes