Palm Sunday: Matthew 21, 1-11
Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday must have been an interesting place. Unlike today when most of the citizens of our cities are at home, locked down, on that Palm Sunday most of the City of Jerusalem would have been out on the streets. The closest analogy I can think of is derby day in one of our big, football mad, cities.
For you see Jesus was not the only person processing into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, for the emperor’s representative, the Governor Pontius Pilate, was also making his own procession; except it wasn’t his own for he was acting as a mere proxy for the Emperor Tiberius. Whilst Pilate was acting as the puppet of a despot, Jesus was acting under the authority of The Father into whose hands five days later he was to ‘commend’ his ‘spirit.’
Pilate’s entrance would have been through the main city gate and he would have been welcomed with insincere, coerced, praise. Jesus by contrast enters Jerusalem through a narrow gate. Pilate enters the city feted high to give them impression of power and authority. Jesus enters on a donkey, riding low. The donkey is normally thought of as symbolising humility, but it was also the animal used when the message was to be one of peace.
Pilate would have had money thrown into his path; Jesus has palm leaves placed before him. Pilate’s destination is a multi-day imperial banquet; Jesus destination, via an upstairs room, is the cross.
In comparing what we know of the Imperial procession with Jesus’ triumphant entrance what we get to see is something of the nature of the Kingdom that Jesus seeking to bring through his passion, through the majesty of the cross and the power of the resurrection.
Jesus you see isn’t interested in power for its own sake. He is interested in power solely based on what it can do for others. Jesus is all about peace and justice. Jesus isn’t concerned with building a here today gone tomorrow empire but an everlasting kingdom; a kingdom where all who are prepared to follow him and live as he would have us live have a stake and a home. The challenge of Palm Sunday is simply this: to decide whose side we are on. Are we on Jesus’ side and can we sincerely follow in his steps, or are we on the other, seemingly more powerful, side; the Kingdom side or the Imperial side?
The invitation of Palm Sunday goes a little bit further than the challenge, for having decided we are on Jesus’ side we are then invited to reflect on the nature of our discipleship. You see the tragedy of Palm Sunday is that the vast majority of those singing ‘Hosana to the Son of David,’ were nowhere to be seen just a few days later when it looked as though Jesus had lost, or in football parlance been relegated. When we survey the scene from the cross just five days later, what we see is that Jesus' first set of supporters were a fickle lot.
How resolute, committed, and focused are we in our commitment to Jesus is a question we do well to think about.
Jesus entered Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday on a donkey, the animal that symbolised humility and peace. Pilate, Tiberius’ instrument and puppet, came in feted high. Two thousand years later Jesus is still be talked about and the story of his procession still celebrated. Tiberius, by contrast, is a mere historical fact. Pilate, well he is remembered, for being an instrumental puppet in a charade of imperial power.
This Palm Sunday let us recommit to being members of team Jesus and to keep on telling the Jesus story through word and deed for the benefit not of ourselves, but of others, Amen.
Passion Sunday – John 11:1-45
‘What a friend we have in Jesus.’
Today’s gospel reading is a very long reading, forty-five verses, and yet it contains the shortest verse in the bible, a verse that contains just two words: ‘Jesus wept.’
I want to keep my homily short today and focus on what I see as the bare essentials, or the long and short, of the reading. The long and the short of it is that in forty-five verses, what we get to see is the fullness of Christ as both fully human and fully divine. We see the very best of humanity held within the glory of Jesus’ divinity. What we get to see is the offer of the deepest and most enduring friendship. We see the Jesus who is deeply relational; the Jesus who has friends beyond his immediate circle of co-workers, or apostles. We see the Jesus who relates to Martha, Mary and, of course, Lazarus.
Now Lazarus is an interesting character, a character that we can only speculate about. Why, we might ask, did Lazarus live with his sisters; why wasn’t he the head of a household? Well, we don’t really know, but what we can say with certainty was that theirs was a highly unusual domestic set up. Perhaps Lazarus was what we might now term a vulnerable adult?
Whatever the reason for the unusual domestic set up in the household of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, the long and the short of it is that we are presented with the Jesus who cares, the Jesus who has compassion, ‘is all compassion,’ and the Jesus who clearly relates to others beyond the boundaries set by norms and protocols, and we see the Jesus who ‘wept.’ We see the Jesus who is characterised not just by compassion but also empathy. We see the Jesus who knows what it is to suffer loss; we see the fully human Jesus.
As we reflect on this passage, we are invited to pause and think about Jesus anew as not just Messiah, but as friend; ‘what a friend we have in Jesus!’ The friendship we are offered with the ever compassionate, empathetic Jesus, isn’t a here today, gone tomorrow friendship, but an eternal friendship, for as Jesus says to Martha ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’
After he has described himself as the Messiah – the eternal friend – Jesus asks Martha whether she ‘believes this,’ and she replies, ‘yes Lord, I believe that you’re are the Messiah.’ The ever compassionate, always empathetic Jesus is asking the same question of us today; do we believe that Jesus is the Messiah? And if we do, what are the implications of such belief?
For me, the long and the short of it is simply this: friendship. What you and I are invited into is an eternal friendship with Jesus. Not a friendship that is to start at some unspecified time in the future, but a real friendship, one that starts in the here and now, and as the hymn writer John Scriven stressed, ‘what a friend we have in Jesus.’ The long and the short of it, at least for me, is that in these difficult, challenging and isolating times, one of the things we could usefully do is to reflect on the eternal friendship we are offered by Jesus and to then spread something of that friendship, through word and deed, with others; ‘what a friend we have in Jesus.’
Mothering Sunday : John 19: 25-27
It seems as though circumstances have somewhat overtaken us this week. We are in a situation where, at the beginning of the week, we had a feeling of unease and this has developed with a rapidity that is alarming into a situation that none of us have experience of and as such, no idea how to navigate. We are very much in uncharted territory. As a clear example of this we here at St. Laurence church are embracing technology in a way that we would not have thought possible or desirable even a week ago.
But I feel that it is very important that we maintain a sense of perspective. As the news reports of empty supermarket shelves have shown, the way that we react to this situation can be almost as damaging as the virus itself if we give in to fear. What we mustn’t allow ourselves to do is to over-react to the events and the uncertainty that are unfolding. We need to maintain a balance between acknowledging the severity of the situation without it spilling over into selfishness and self-interest, and when it all gets too much, we will offer it up to God.
And in the midst of all of this turmoil, (and you would be forgiven if it had slipped your mind), today is the day when we celebrate Mothering Sunday. The day when our thoughts inevitably turn to family and those that we love. We acknowledge that this can be a time that can be both a source of great joy or of sadness and these feelings will be focussed through the prism of our worries and concerns for those that we love, care and pray for.
We have much to learn from the example between Jesus and his mother in today’s Gospel reading. Mary’s fidelity and loyalty to her son shines through. Her love is unwavering, it is resolute and it is steadfast. Regardless of all the things that she had to witness, of all the things that she and those around her went through, she never faltered. When others ran away and hid, thinking only of themselves, she was there by His side. She didn’t always understand what was going on, (I mean, how could she?) but she did understand that the best way to carry on and get things done was for people to come to the realisation of who Jesus is and to pick up their cross and follow him.
The commandment that Jesus gives Mary is one that we should all be mindful of at the moment. At the hour of his death, Jesus entrusts Mary to the care of, “the disciple whom he loved”. That disciple, who many believe to be John himself, took Mary in, took responsibility for her and looked after her as though she was his own mother. Now is the time for us to do something similar. Now is the time for us to emulate the Blessed Mother of God and the disciple whom Jesus loved. We need to follow their shining example, to step up and look after each other.
History is defined in these moments. Our relationships will be a legacy that lasts, on how we look after one another, on what we do to love and support each other. It is easy to do that when the going is good, but in these darkened times there is more reason than ever for acting as a mother by “clothing ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.”
Christ used the word ‘woman’ here just as he used it at the beginning of his ministry at the wedding at Cana. He used it at his Alpha and his Omega. The beginning and the end. His tender compassion circles everything, it encompasses it all, no amount of suffering can extinguish his capacity for love, that will always triumph. So let us embrace this chance to emulate it and look after each other.
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