This Palm Sunday, we again live through a lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Initially I struggled to relate the familiar Palm Sunday story to our situation because everything seemed so distant from our everyday experience at the moment.
All this talk of crowds…….- when were you last in a crowd? These days a few families in the park seems like a big gathering!
And the very special crowd on Palm Sunday gathers because a very special visitor is passing by. When did we last have a special visitor? Or any visitor at all……..?
And when did we last physically gather as Christians to sing and shout praises to Jesus…apart from a brief carol service outdoors, it must be over a year ago now!!
So, it is hard to relate to the experience of the disciples that first Palm Sunday. Nevertheless I still believe that we are part of the worldwide Christian ‘crowd’ of believers that gather ,when we can, to praise God. This morning, those of us able to access worship, by whatever means online, TV, radio, phone, youtube….and so on have praised God in different ways during these challenging times.
This seemed like a relevant sermon theme worth expanding. However my focus changed on Thursday 25th March. Why? On Thursday I joined a Diocese retreat day led by Bishop Martyn with about 200 Leicester leaders for prayer, discussion and learning from God’s word. We focussed on how God is alongside us in suffering and how this helps cultivate humility in our lives. It was a good day , but a little weird having a retreat at your own dining table without going anywhere! Nothing especially new for me, but a refreshing day with helpful reminders of God’s presence with us.
On Friday morning I came back to our Palm Sunday reading with new eyes! The thing that stood out to me so clearly in the reading from Mark 11 was God’s abundant provision. For our churches today this resonates so well with our [email protected] project. As we follow Jesus here in our villages we are seeing God provide provision and hope for many at Easter time. 400 Easter eggs delivered last week. 16 huge hampers with Co-op vouchers and just under 70 flower/card gifts ready to be delivered to our villages tomorrow. A last minute addition was to send 55 bunches of daffodils to all the school staff to say thank you for their amazing efforts this term. By divine providence these were given out on Tuesday 23rd, which turned out to be the national day of reflection - marking a year since lockdown one.
I’ve already had an email addressed to myself and Rev Tim Woolley, Methodist church minister: Hi Mick and Tim, All the staff at Sharnford C E Primary School would like to send their thanks to the Churches of Sapcote and Sharnford for the bunches of daffodils and card. We all really appreciate you thinking of us. Have a good Easter. Best wishes Sharnford school staff.
So how does our Bible reading from Mark 11 encourage us in this kind of ministry? Vv2-6 Miraculous provision by Jesus. A kind of first century new car! Jesus needs transport for his journey into Jerusalem. Jesus tells the disciples how to find the donkey and uses it for his purposes. For us, it seems that Jesus is guiding us to partnerships with other churches, the schools, the Co-op, the parish councils, garden centres, the Hinckley Foodbank to use these resources for Jesus purposes. Vv7-8 Abundant provision for Jesus. Not just a colt/donkey. We see here so many extras! Cloaks for a saddle, a red carpet of cloaks and branches for the special visitor. All important preparations in anticipation of, and imminent arrival of Jesus , this very special visitor. In our situation it has been amazing to see how a simple idea of hampers at Christmas expanded to so much provision this easter- Easter eggs for 400 school children , food provision and vouchers for families in need, card and flowers for those on their own or struggling, daffodils for school staff. So much beyond the original idea because God’s provision is abundant. v9&10 The result. Shouts and chants to Jesus. Praising God. Often crowds have a life of their own. Some in the crowd are praising Jesus for all the good things. Some maybe praising Jesus even though they know Jesus may soon suffer. Some just swept along by the crowd as others shout out the praises. The result-? An excitement, noise, a carnival atmosphere as Jesus rides into the city. I hope that we too can praise Jesus because of the wonderful ways God provided on that Palm Sunday and because we are getting some glimpses of wonderful ways in which God provides today.
I’ve spotted a couple of other examples of God’s provision recently. First, if you would like a palm cross, you can pick up one outside Sapcote Methodist Church. We have a couple on display in the Rectory. Second, young people in our online congregation raised over £1200 for Tearfund’s work in Yemen. Looking at our 2020 accounts for both churches God has provided for all our needs - including provision for a £30,000 building project at All Saints church building last Summer. However, we must also remember that Jesus had to undergo great suffering in Jerusalem and that his journey was heading towards death on a cross. We know, as Christians, that praising God is important in the hard times as well as the good times. Ultimately, we praise Jesus because Jesus is worthy to be praised. Whether we are experiencing miraculous provision, or a bad hair day- we are still called to worship Jesus. Job is an example of someone who experienced great hardship and great happiness. He was able to praise God in the midst of both. St Paul also knew how to praise God in need and in plenty. We too are called to praise God in the best of times and in the worst of times. In three weeks time we will be opening up our buildings for physical worship together. We will try to Zoom our 11am worship from All Saints. So, there will be a choice of joining worship in the building (without singing initially), joining at home and sing—-or neither. As we open up again let us also try to encourage one another and others to keep worshipping God, one way or another. We are very likely to be losing some people who were with us at the start of 2020-so let’s all make an effort in encouraging one another to return to Sunday worship. Let’s all continue to resolve to praise God in the good times and the bad times. Today, we can all be very grateful for God’s special provision, and especially for Hope @Easter. Let us praise God in the best way that we are able to this Palm Sunday and this Holy Week.