“The crowds walking in front of Jesus and those walking behind him began to shout, ‘Praise to David’s son! God bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord to save us! Praise be to God!’ They waved a welcome with their jackets and fashioned a make-shift carpet for him to walk on. Palm fronds served as victory flags to honor Jesus.” Imagine, if you will, Jesus seeing a familiar face in the crowd, and calling out to them by name… will you come and follow me?
Imagine now that you are a Passover pilgrim or local inhabitant of Jerusalem come out to see what the commotion was about…and you heard that Jesus was riding into the city to an impromptu fanfare. Would you come and follow him?
This is the question a contemporary hymn asks… that offers a summons to join the procession; an invitation to enter into the redeemed life, into Christ’s church. “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known, will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?”
These challenging words were written in 1987 by John Bell, Scottish pastor, teacher, singer/songwriter and social activist who is best known for his worship leadership at the iconic Iona Community in Scotland. (Mary and Stewart Fleming visited Iona with us on a church trip to Scotland.) As a young pastor in Glasgow, John Bell sought to find a way to not only reach the people in the pews, but to offer the gospel to those less fortunate or marginalized by society. He entered the Iona Community and became known as the Troubadour of the Community, an interfaith center founded back in the 1930’s by iconoclast, Presbyterian George MacLeod. It soon became the training ground for a new breed of pastors and laity to spread the gospel just as the original Celtic Christians did from the isle of Iona in the 6th Century under St. Columba.
Today, John Bell travels the world sharing the prayers and music of the Iona Community, including his most famous hymn, “Will You Come and Follow Me, also known as “The Summons”. If you’re not familiar with it, it will become a favorite hymn, whether you like it as an anthem sung by a choir or played quietly on a guitar; it’s haunting Celtic melody draws us into its prophetic questions, thirteen in all…that begins with a simple invitation by the Lord… “Will you come and follow me, if I but call your name?”
One of the things I enjoy most about being a pastor is when I stand at the baptism font and ask parents, “What Christian name have you chosen for your child?” It still excites me after all these years. Most people don’t realize that in the olden days, a child was named at baptism. That’s why it’s called, Christening’ (Christian naming). Your first and middle name is your Christian name; meaning that as a child of God, you belong to God who loves you. It’s a life-long, indelible verbal tattoo that indicates that you are loved and important to the Lord. It’s the name Jesus calls when he asks, “Will you come and follow me, if I but call your name?” How many of you had your child blessed by the church in the sacrament of baptism right here in this sanctuary? You may not realize just how holy the ground is here on the chancel because it’s here that we welcome one of the least of these children into the family of faith. We literally are standing on holy ground. “Will you come and follow me, if I but call your name?”
Palm Sunday found Jesus being whisked along, propelled by the energy of the crowd and excitement of the moment. The carpet of coats and palms rolled out before him like the red carpet at a Hollywood premier. But unlike the dazzle and glitter of celebrities dressed in their finest, the Gospels remind us that Jesus was well aware of where this carpeted road led and what this moment foreshadowed. This day previewed another, only five days hence when another crowd would exchange “Hosannas” with “Crucify him!” Yet this day, as the humble donkey carried the Lord on its back, set the stage for that other day when he carried a rugged cross on his back.
In such a selfless act of love, he demonstrated to the world the depth and breadth of his love. Because of that day, the name of Jesus will be forever recognized as the Savior of the world: every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
We are summoned to follow him. “Will you let your love be shown and his name be known?” What might we do to show Christian love, even if it’s only a fraction of the love he showed on the cross? What can we do to as a church to make the name of Jesus something real and meaningful and holy in a culture that uses his name as a curse word? I guess that’s a question we all need to ponder in our hearts in this Holy Week and in the transition time between pastors.
The song then asks, “Will you let Jesus’ life be grown in you, and you in him?” Be careful and don’t answer too quickly. I think this question comes too early in the song. Maybe it’s like a “pretest” like they give in training classes. They ask the questions before you start the class and ask the same questions when the class is over to see the difference in your knowledge or skill. Maybe this is like that, as most of us will answer too quickly, “yes, of course,” but will that be your answer after hearing the rest of the song?
Will you leave yourself behind…
Will you care for cruel and kind…
Will you risk a hostile stare…
Will you kiss the leper clean
Will you love the ‘you’ you hide…
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around????
Now that makes it a much tougher question to answer than just… ‘Will you come and follow me…?” We’re not just talking about Palm Sunday; we’re talking about Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, as well. The song ends for those who say “yes” to the summons with a step of faith….that for those of us who do say “yes,” that we’ll will go with God and we’ll live and move and have our being in Christ and Christ will be in you and me.
I hope that if I have said anything today that touched your heart, that whatever it was, it will help you say “yes” to Jesus’ invitation to follow him in faith. It’s the best gift you can give yourself, to say… “yes” to Jesus when he asks…Will you come and follow me, if I but call your name? Please say yes!...
New Recording 3