May I speak, and may we listen – in the Name of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit.
I heard very recently a funny story on the radio about a little boy – who was only eleven….who, whilst spending a day in work with his mother over the summer holidays, decided that he would quite like to be dressed up like a doctor, and actually started calling people out of the waiting room, into an empty office – and because he had his white coat on, and a stethoscope around his neck, they actually took him seriously –
Until one particular older lady began to tell him about her very bad angina and began to undress, at which point he couldn’t stop himself from laughing
And so for all his acting he gave the game away!
But what power there is, in a uniform – as long as the wearer looks the part and is comfortable and confident.
We heard in our Gospel reading –
‘Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him:
“Teacher, order your disciples to stop!”
But he answered: “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones themselves would shout out!”’
Jesus challenging the ideals and limited understanding of the Pharisees who knew too much and understood too little.
If I ask you to think for a moment – what things do you think make a King appear like a King….a genuine King?
A crown? Quite Helpful, if you want to look the part.
A sword or sceptre? To defend yourself and your people.
A Nice Strong Horse? To ride on, and to lead the army into battle.
A set of nice robes?
A group of submissive, servants, fanning you with ostrich feathers and feeding you grapes perhaps….?
It probably helps aswell, to have some earthly authority, and be followed and listened to by a few hundred humble followers.
By these standards, the presentation of Jesus in today’s Gospel is a rather lousy reflection of Kingship.
Because the king we see entering Jerusalem this morning, is a king destined for the very lowest place among human beings.
A king destined for the cross, a king whose very conception was to be the death of him.
A king whose life meant that he would kneel at the feet of the same friends who would betray him – and give him up to be murdered on a cross.
Nailed to a tree that he created, by human beings formed in his likeness, upon the hill of calvary that he put in place with his own strength and will.
And today, Palm Sunday, is meant to be his grand entrance into the heart of the drama– because his entrance into the world was rather quiet – only those who followed the star, and the shepherds who heard the angel song knew that the King of Creation had been born into our midsts….
But his grand entrance in the passion narrative that begins today, is not very grand at all.
For a start – it is Him comes to us.
We are not summoned into his hall – he enters our space, and rides on our roads, through our communities, on a borrowed donkey, in a very simple and mundane manner.
He comes without pomp and ceremony –
He comes without any weapons –
He comes without any bodyguards –
He comes with no crown, no special robes, no servants –
Here is a man, who has come to us – knowing that he will very soon die at our hands.
And so, we Christians are required to have always a sort of double vision.
We’re called to be spiritually looking in two different places at once.
Because we need to know why Jesus came, and ponder these things in our hearts, but also see in our minds eye – the whole picture. And to realize that the story continues, here and now – not just in this book!
St Peter tells us that Jesus not only lived well, but also died well: ‘When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.’ Peter is reminding us of Jesus’ complete and utter willing obedience to fulfill God’s purpose – even death upon the cross.
If you remember a few weeks ago, St Luke tells us, relatively early in his Gospel that Jesus “set his face resolutely towards Jerusalem” When Peter suggested that there might be another way for Jesus, Jesus reprimanded him angrily: “Get thee behind me, Satan!”
All throughout the Gospels, the thing the disciples struggle with most – is the fact that Jesus is willing to go to the cross.
That he will do it, and will do it willingly – that he has made his mind up, that he is going to do his Fathers will. And it’s the men amongst the disciples that don’t get it – funnily enough, the women that follow Jesus understand quite completely….
And last week, as Mary anoints Jesus feet she is preparing him for his burial – and Mary the mother of Jesus knows exactly what the child she carried was destined for.
She had the kind of vision that we need, to be in the present but also be mindful of the past and the future – to walk through Palm Sunday, and Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday and Holy Saturday, so that on Easter Morning we have the full picture.
Each day in Holy Week has its own emphasis –
Palm Sunday – triumph, joy, celebration.
Maundy Thursday – humility, betrayal, the last supper.
Good Friday – humiliation and crucifixion and burial.
Holy Saturday – Darkness, a full tomb, a miracle awaiting to occur.
And of course Easter Sunday.
That crowd in Jerusalem that we heard about in Luke, were the witnesses to this unfolding drama, and as crowds often do they probably found themselves caught up in excitement of it all.
We heard those powerfully timeless words from Isaiah 53 – words, which whenever I hear them, cannot but move me!
‘For he grew up like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hid their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.
Surely he has borne our infirmities,
And carried our diseases;
Yet we accounted him stricken,
Struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
Crushed for our iniquities;
Upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
And by his wounds we are healed.’
“All this for you – before you could know anything of it”
This is our King – This is our Lord, This is our Jesus.
One who poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; who bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the offenders…one who made us rich, by becoming poor – who gave us eternal life, by giving his life up on the cross, and who gave us the power of the resurrection by being raised up on the last day.
Just a few months back, at Advent, we were the ones who knelt down at his crib – in awe and wonder and amazement.
We find that in this Holy Week, it is God who kneels now at our feet….
Again, turning everything we understand about Kingship, and power, and authority on its head.
And yet, as he entered into Jerusalem, so he wishes to enter into the hearts of each and every one of us.
To live in them,
To reign in them,
To dwell amongst us and in us and through us, to truly bring his Kingdom to birth in our world.
He told us what his Kingdom is like:
‘Good news to the poor,
release to the captives,
recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, and the proclamation of the Lord’s favour’.
You only have to see the way our world is currently spinning out of control to see just how desperately we need the world that Jesus tells us is his hearts desire.
Again, it requires that double vision on our part – to see the dereliction of the current state of things, the hopelessness, the despair, the destruction, the hatred – and yet to have eyes fixed on what we do not see…on that Kingdom that lies beyond our senses, but which is closer than our very breath.
As we see the poor, the weak and the disabled struggling in our world – as we see women and children, still neglected and silenced and forgotten in those countries where poverty has become ordinary we have to remember the promises of God. I often say to myself, particularly recently…
Donald Trump may have his hour,
David Cameron may have his years in office,
Mugabe might well see more birthdays,
But God will have his justice, and his will, and his way.
And still the Spirit moves, in the depths of peoples hearts – giving them the courage to stand up for what is right, to oppose injustice, and even in politics, to walk away from the organization when personal integrity is at stake.
But we don’t lose hope – as easy as that can be…because the fundamental message of Holy Week, is that whatever else may happen – Goodness, and Mercy, and Love have already won over the powers of darkness.
The prince of darkness may shout, but the King of Love will sing him into submission – and we will know his voice when he does.
For now, what we must realize and contemplate is, that it is us, who today waves our palms and who cheers and celebrates.
It is us, who lay down our cloaks on the floor before the Christ on the Donkey.
But it is also our voices jeering in the crowds and calling out shouting ‘crucify him’ on that very first Good Friday.
We who draw blood for his hands,
And his head,
His feet and his side.
And yet upon the cross, he pleads for our forgiveness, and holds before us an open invitation to be with him in Paradise….forever, and for eternity.
The beauty of Christ’s Kingship is that we share in it with him.
In its victory and triumph.
All of that said, I know we like to be Easter People and we must be, but that double vision that our faith requires of us is important…
Because our Easter ‘Alleluia’s’ are empty without having first gone to the cross –
No flesh – there can be no blood.
No blood – no sacrifice,
No betrayal – no grace,
No cross – no life,
No tomb – no despair,
No despair – no hope,
No hope – no King,
No King – no Kingdom…
Will you go with Christ to the Cross?
Will you allow yourself to feel his betrayal?
His fear, his despair?
Will you allow yourself to spend those precious hours with him in the tomb?
And weep with those who feared that death might be the end of the story, those who hid in locked rooms, those who wailed as the stone covered the entrance to where his body lay…and will you then share in the joy and power of his resurrection….and truly mean the words “through him, and with him, and in him’ – for as we sing on Easter Sunday….in that famous hymn by Charles Wesley:
‘Made like him, like him we rise –
BUT FIRST! Ours the cross, the grave, the skies!’
I came across a hymn in Singing the Faith which I think sums up what our message today really is: It’s number 337:
‘There is a higher throne
Than all this world has known,
Where faithful ones from ev’ry tongue
Will one day come.
Before our God we’ll stand,
Made faultless through the Lamb;
Believing hearts find promised grace—
And there we’ll find our home,
Our life before the throne;
We’ll honor Him in perfect song
Where we belong.
He’ll wipe each tear-stained eye
As thirst and hunger die.
The Lamb becomes our Shepherd King;
We’ll reign with Him.
Hear heaven’s voices sing;
Their thund’rous anthem rings
Through em’rald courts and sapphire skies.
Their praises rise.
All glory, wisdom, pow’r,
Strength, thanks, and honor are
To God our King, who reigns on high