Sermon for Palm Sunday 2018
25th Mar 2018
Palm Sunday 2018
Holy Cross Church
The liturgy for Palm Sunday takes on a distinctly dramatic form as we meet this morning and gather with our palms to process around the church. And as we do this, we sing All Glory Laud and Honour, a hymn of praise to Christ’s majesty, as a reminder that that this Palm Procession is taking us into a Jerusalem gate way. As we do this, we are entering Jesus’ fateful Passion, his trial, his death on the Cross and his Resurrection from the dead.
Today’s Palm Sunday begins Holy Week. It is called holy because it embodies in Jesus Christ the love of God the Father in the sacrifice of his Son’s body and the outpouring of his Son’s blood. This is what the old prayer book termed, ‘a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world’. Holy week contains everything that necessary to Christian Faith. It lies at the heart of what we believe as Christians: that God the Father sent his son to die for our sins and to rise again from the dead. He did this as a costly act of love and to show us that we are loved by God even before we know we are loved. And on this day, Palm Sunday, and at this time, before we walk with Christ into Holy Week, it is the Church’s duty to ask you in the strongest terms to make time to come to the Holy Week liturgies. To commit yourself, as best as you are able, to the worship of the Church as we observe the holiest week in the Christian calendar. You can only know the mystery of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection by entering into it and by finding it as you would find something buried within. We are here this morning readying ourselves to encounter the living Lord as he shows us the way to the Father’s glory. We are bidden by the words of Thomas before the raising of Lazarus when he said, ‘Let us go with him that we may die with him’.
Jerusalem today is a place of terrible contrasts. It is a jumbled up mix of warring factions. The old city is bounded by Jewish, Christian Muslim and Armenian quarters. The Church of the Holy Sepulcre stands in the middle of the city as the most holy Christian site in the world, and built over Golgotha, the place of the skull, where Jesus died on the Cross. But even in this Holy Church, differing Christian denominations fight over contested spaces from within the building, and there are often angry scuffles and even violence. Nearby is a busy souk or market, with smells of spices and coffee and freshly slaughtered meat, as well as hundreds of shops selling Christian souvenirs and trinkets.
Well may Jesus wept over Jerusalem. But it is to this Jerusalem of human chaos and doubtful charm, a crazed and yet indifferent kind of Jerusalem, and a holy Jerusalem too, that Jesus enters on Palm Sunday. As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city across from the small but deep Kidron Valley, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace -- but now it is hidden from your eyes. Luke 19.41-42.
In the church of the Holy Sepulcre in Jerusalem, the site of Jesus’ tomb you may queue for hours to get to the place where Jesus died on the cross, and then watch others burying their one arm into the ground and down to the rock below and then they touch Golgotha. You stand waiting and impatient and wonder why you’re waiting. Then it is your turn to reach down and touch the rock on which the Cross of Christ once stood. You realise that for a few brief seconds you are the only person in the world touching that rock. The experience is immediate and was for me, overwhelmingly moving.
This is the famous stone
George Herbert ‘Teach Me My God and King’
Likewise a small group of Greek nuns each morning anoint the large stone on which the dead Christ was thought to have been laid with scented holy oil. You can catch its powerful fragrance as you watch in wonder.
This morning we go to join Christ in Jerusalem, where we know he will meet suffering and death. We go with him just as we are; knowing all the deficiencies we bring to the task of living and loving. We go at first reluctant; but nevertheless in faith, aware of God the Father’s love going before us, guiding us and lighting our path and drawing us deeper into the wounded, sacred heart of Jesus. You are invited in this Holy Week to enter into these mysteries, to walk with Christ, to wait and watch with Christ, to sit at the foot of the cross, to wait at the tomb, and to experience the joy of his Resurrection and your resurrection. “If we are united with him in a death like his, we will surely be united within him in a Resurrection like his”. (Romans 6.5).
But for now, as we enter on Holy Week we pray:
Holy and strong,
Holy and immortal,
Have mercy upon us…