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…
Sermon for Lent 4 (Mothering Sunday)
11th Mar 2018
Sermon for Mothering Sunday (4th Sunday of Lent)
This morning the Church observes not just one but three commemorations, namely the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Refreshment (‘Laetere’ or ‘Rejoice’) Sunday and also Mothering Sunday. It seems eccentric that this should be so, and that a rare liturgical colour, rose , or pink, should set the tone for a Lenten Sunday which provides not for a deepening of intensity in our Christian observance of Lent but for an outburst of what in Latin is ‘Laetere’ or joy. Combine all this with Mothering Sunday and the sense of mid-Lenten eccentricity is complete. In typical English fashion, we keep the tradition of remembering and honouring our Mothers from days when servants, many of them older children or adolescents, were allowed this Sunday in Lent to return home to their mothers. If they worked in a big house, a kindly cook might well have baked Simnel Cakes as a seasonal offering for the servants to take to their mothers.
The Church seems at first to have made things even more complicated by offering us a choice of two Gospel readings. One is Simeon’s prediction to Mary that her child Jesus would suffer and that ‘a sword would pierce her own soul’. The second Gospel takes us to the Cross and to the suffering Christ, who even from the place of agony encourages a new and future relationship between his beloved disciple John and his Mother, Mary, “Behold thy Son” and “Behold thy Mother”.
As we begin to understand these Gospel accounts we find that they are complimentary and speak of all those things which Lent, Mothering Sunday and Refreshment Sunday express. And it is this: Any experience of a close and loving and committed relationship is at some time or another going to demand of us a costly love. The Gospel message swings between love as consolation and as desolation. Any mother or father or husband, wife or lover knows how painful it is to have to have to relinquish, to let go or to suffer the death of one who has been our life and our love. Such an experience strikes at the very heart of what we are. For parents this might commonly involve the son or the daughter who leaves home as a young adult and away from the childhood home, just like the Victorian child servant. Equally there are times when the young, having ‘fled the nest’ themselves feel homesick and very alone. For others in middle age there may come the death of a parent or parents. For some, the break-up of a past relationship continues to be painful and some of its effects do not seem to be relieved with the passing of time. For the elderly there are the many little and bigger losses that come with encroaching frailty and the loss of faculties once taken for granted, and of the deaths of contemporaries.
The two Gospels offered allow for an understanding of human loving which inevitably involves pain. But this is not to be the end of the matter. We are reminded that, even from the Cross, our Saviour Jesus Christ offers new life and proclaims aloud that even out of great sadness and even death, the possibility of new relationships and new understandings and new hope is being promised by the dying Saviour on the Cross. ‘Behold thy Mother’; ‘Behold thy Son’. In the Cross life and death mixes and merges in the one sacrifice.
God’s life and our lives and loves mix and merge in the one faith, the one hope and the one love. In the same vein the prayer for the mixing of wine and water at the Eucharistic Offering outlines Christ’s sacrifice for a deepening of trust in the outpouring of time with the healing of wounds. ‘By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity’. This is a prayer which perfectly betokens the love of God as one which is always offered to share. The promise of this sharing is that it will be renewing and transforming.
New and refreshed relationships may emerge among those who experience the terrible pain and distress of death and destruction, with those who also stand alongside and with them, ready to offer their trained and disciplined human skills and compassionate care. God’s love remains constant and present in any and every danger but it is heartening to see practical love in action. In it, we see the formation of new hope and trust in our common humanity. We witness such actions as they counter the malicious evil with dedicated care and professionalism.The deepenign of relationships occurs when they hold out the possibility of gracious and committed loving in the journeying on...
Our holy English mother, Mother Julian of Norwich observed that “The dear gracious hands of God our Mother are ever about us”. This might seem fantastical given the disasters that often befall our world, but nonetheless our own instinct as Christians is find love’s meaning in God and to remain steadfast in the faith to which we are continually being called. We are called, beckoned to come to God, just as the servants journeyed out for the day to meet their own mothers and to enjoy the communion of their love. This is the ‘laetere’, the joy-infused, integrated life of love which Christ which this morning speaks to us on the Cross through the lives of his Mother, Mary and the beloved disciple, John. “Behold thy Mother, Behold thy Son. The Cross still beckons us at this time, and through our mid to late Lenten observance, we are being drawn inexorably toward it.
Sermon for the Third Sunday of Lent
4th Mar 2018
The Third Sunday of Lent Year B
The Cleansing of the Temple
“Zeal for your house will consume me” John 2.20
We can only imagine why Jesus became so angry that he overturned the tables of the money changers and drove everyone out of the Temple. He was literally consumed with anger. This is not the Jesus we are accustomed to, the one who appears to be so serene and self-controlled. Could this be Jesus losing it?
Jesus comes to disturb and to establish a new order. The destruction of the Jewish Temple is an historical fact. It happened in AD70. We know that John wrote this gospel in around AD100 - some thirty years after the Romans totally destroyed the Jerusalem Temple. They had raised it to the ground and drove out all its inhabitants. The Temple, which once lay at the heart of Jewish worship and culture, was suddenly no more. Jerusalem lay in waste and ruin. The Temple itself was actually worshipped as a sign of the inviolability of the Jewish religion and the guarantor of its future existence. The destruction of the Temple tore this kind of faith apart. Why then, does John mention this non-existent temple thirty years after its destruction? Could it be that John sees the destruction of the temple as a way of purifying Judaism? This might be going too far, but he seems critical of temple worship for its own sake and particularly its commercial aspects. Its destruction was followed by the so called diaspora, the scattering of the Jewish people across the known world. For the Jewish people there was no longer a religious centre, a place lying at the geographical and spiritual heart of their existence. They were destined to be wanderers, which was their lot until the founding of the State of Israel in 1947.
John’s message goes deeper than this, however. We have a clue in St Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, written before John’s Gospel and making a reference to the human body as a temple for the Holy Spirit:
Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
1 Corinthians 3.16
These words were written by St Paul twenty years before the destruction of the Temple in around AD50. Paul uses the temple image to speak about the state of the human soul. The message couldn’t be more direct as the idea of Temple is taken to signify that which bears within it the true spirit of God and then Paul goes on to say to his listener ‘you are that temple’. It is in this way that
Jesus’ own prediction of the temple which is his body, will be destroyed only to be raised up in three days. He comes not to abolish existing Jewish understandings but to bring them to fulfilment in His person. By predicting his death and resurrection he is establishing a new centre of gravity. The Temple is now become the inviolable human soul.
In a world in which body image and body consciousness is so evident it is refreshing to be reminded that the body has a particular kind of sanctity. It has been natural for Christian writers to draw a natural and creative relationship between the body and the soul. Last week’s collect for Lent 2 expresses it best:
Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended against all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
So then, we have the idea of the Temple of Jerusalem, the destroyed edifice, being superseded in Christ in the idea of the ‘temple of the body’. It is the body of Jesus which, when sacrificed in the Cross, will be God’s way of drawing us into a new relationship with Him.
“When I am lifted up I will draw everyone to myself”. John 12.32.
The 2014 film ‘Selma’ remembered the race riots in Selma Alabama, the worst of which took place on March 7th 1965. The police fired tear gas and drenched the black protesters with water cannon. All was mayhem on that day. It was a desperate action on the part of the state police against fellow citizens but it was also a cruel and vain one. Significantly the police violence was being filmed on national television, and the majority of American people reacted against this assault on their fellow Americans because it was wanton, brutal and vindictive. The wake-up call lay in the deep questioning of whether a country that deemed itself civilised actually was so. The brutalising of bodies was a visual reminder of the failed brutalising society. Lying deep within the life of the person is the soul, of which the body is but the outer receptacle. The treatment of the body then becomes a profoundly moral matter in this respect. It was necessary to cleanse the temple or live abjectly.
It was as though they all began to say, with Jesus after Selma
“Zeal for your house has consumed me”.
The Cleansing of the Temple
Come as you came this day, a man in anger
Unleash the lash that drives a pathway through
Face down for me the fear the shame the danger
Teach me again to whom my love is due.
Break down in me the barricades of death
And tear the veil in two with your last breath.