Sermon for Palm Sunday 2021
28th Mar 2021
Palm Sunday 2021
Holy Cross Church
The liturgy for Palm Sunday couldn’t be more dramatic as we meet this morning. In more normal circumstances, we would gather in anticipation of a procession around the outside of the church. This year we gather online to have our palm crosses blessed and to make our spiritual entry into Jerusalem. We have recited the Palm Sunday hymn All Glory Laud and Honour, a hymn of praise to Christ’s majesty, and we have held up the newly blessed palm crosses - a reminder of where this Palm Procession is leading us. We are, with the whole Christian Church on earth, entering Jerusalem with Jesus. We are entering his fateful Passion, his trial, his death on the Cross and his Resurrection from the dead. These are the saving events of the Christian Faith and vital for the human understanding of who Jesus is and what makes him Son of God. In these action we begin what the Church simply calls ‘Holy Week’, the most important week of the Christian year.
Holy Week is called holy because it embodies in Jesus Christ the love of God the Father in the sacrifice of his Son’s body and in the outpouring of his Son’s blood. This is what we call in the Holy Eucharist, ‘a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world’. Holy week contains everything that is 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 deep within your soul. You are here this morning readying yourself to encounter the living Lord Jesus as he shows you the way to the Father’s glory. You 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. Into the same sort of Jerusalem, of intensity and of indifference does Christ enter upon his way.
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 yet a holy Jerusalem too, that Jesus enters on Palm Sunday.
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, 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 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 to touch the stones of Calvary. 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 died. 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’
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, but we go at first hesitant; but nevertheless in faith, aware of God the Father’s love going before us. God is guiding us and lighting our path and drawing us deeper into the wounded, sacred heart of Jesus. We go in this Holy Week with Jesus to Golgotha. And 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 5 (Passion Sunday)
21st Mar 2021
Sermon for Lent 5: ‘The Holy Sacrifice’
Post Communion Prayer at the Eucharist:
‘Through him we offer you our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice’
The word ‘sacrifice’ is a powerful word for us today as it speaks of the utmost selfless love that we human beings are capable. For Christians it speaks of the power and passion of God in Jesus as we are able to perceive and feel His presence in the midst of human brokenness, suffering and pain.
Our Mass is the celebration of the reality of Jesus Christ as today, on this Passion Sunday, we are reminded of the sacrifice he had to make in order to draw all people unto himself. He foretells all this in today’s Gospel. The signal for this foretelling is the arrival in Jerusalem of Greeks and gentiles who wish to see Jesus. Suddenly, John says, the little Christian community is about to open itself to the whole world. Jesus Christ is to become Lord of all. The world’s saviour. At our final Lent group meeting last week we amazed at the strong language of being baptized ‘through the death of Christ’ ‘unto our own death’ with which St Paul empowers his listeners. In such a way the Christian life is to become a recapitulation of the life and death of Christ. It is an invitation to more than surface imitation but a call to imitate the selfless living and actions which are Christ’s example.
We ask, merciful God, that you send, in kindness, your Holy Spirit to settle on this bread and wine and fill them with the fullness of Jesus. Let that same Spirit rest on us, converting us from the patterns of this passing world, until we conform to the shape of him whose food we now share.
The eucharistic sacrifice, this Holy Mass, brings this urging of St Paul into the present. In the sacrament of the bread and wine, it calls us all to become in Christ what we have received in Christ. When St Augustine spoke of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, he said they "are called sacraments because in them one thing is seen, while another is grasped. ... What is grasped bears spiritual fruit." What is grasped is grasped with passion and purpose.
Jesus identifies the bread with His Body and the cup of wine with His blood, and we know that He is the Lamb of God who is to be slain on that first Good Friday. The sacrifice of the lamb and the sacrifice of the Christ are the wheat grains crushed as it were and pulverised - obliterated so that new life might emerge.
In our Eucharist today that it focuses on the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. The prayer at the altar says, “we remember His offering of Himself made once for all upon the Cross… we celebrate with this bread and cup His one perfect sacrifice; and our own spiritual sacrifice: accept through Him our sacrifice of thanks and praise…” so that eating and drinking this sacrament we may be renewed by the Spirit, inspired with God’s love and united in the Body of Christ.
The murder of an Anglican priest took place on a housing estate in Liverpool some years ago. He had been stabbed on the very streets which h were his ‘parish beat’. It occurred at the same time as the Church’s liturgical commission was considering this very word ‘sacrifice’. Nearly every report following his death featured the word ‘sacrifice’ to describe his loving commitment to his parish. People obviously knew what that word meant. it had something to do with love, giving up something in consideration for someone else. This is the Christian call to self-sacrifice : for love for others in the joyful and unselfish and un self-conscious shedding of self.
in the hymn ‘When I survey the wondrous Cross’, Isaac Watts sets this out beautifully and succinctly:
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
We make our sacrifice without hoping to incur favour with Him, but simply out of love for Him, a love which would not be possible for us to have were it not for the Holy Spirit opening our hearts and minds to receive it.
Here is a poem by a parish priest and theologian, Bill Vanstone, which is also a hymn and which speaks of the Divine sacrificial love which we celebrate at the altar today. It appears in his famous work, ‘Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense’:
Love that gives gives ever more,
Drained is love in making full;
Therefore He Who Thee reveals
Thou are God; no monarch Thou
Sermon for the Third Sunday of Lent
7th Mar 2021
The Third Sunday of Lent Year B
The Cleansing of the Temple
“Zeal for your house will consume me” John 2.20
It’s very shocking to find someone we don’t expect suddenly express a great deal of anger. 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.
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.
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.
Pope Francis’ visit this week to Iraq ended up in the city of Ur, which is Abraham’s birth place. The significance of Abraham, the Father of the three religions Christian, Jewish and Muslim was profound. The Pope reminded religious leaders, that all of us are a part of one world family and that before acts of violence out of religious and ethnic difference, the abiding sense of our common humanity should prevail and should encourage us all to unite. I think in his words was also an echo of the need to ‘cleanse the temple’ of human intolerance and violence wherever it may be found. And of course in our own institutions and churches there needs to be a similar cleansing. This is already being carried forward in our safeguarding on behalf of vulnerable children and adults. But the strong message is that communities of faith, institutions which are not honestly and courageously self-critical cannot embrace a mission which is expressly communicated to the most marginalised and the most vulnerable. In Cleansing the Temple, in righteous anger and physical defiance, Jesus exemplifies the Christian conscience, which examines its own prejudices and shortcomings and is ready to act in a new way for the cleansing of the temple which is for the refreshment of the whole.
It was as though we may all say, with Jesus
“Zeal for your house has consumed us”.