Church of England Diocese of St.Albans Letchworth

Palm Sunday Sermon

28 Mar 2021, 2 p.m.
From_the_Vicar Easter Lent

Today, on Palm Sunday, we begin our journey through Holy Week. This week provides us with the opportunity to enter afresh into the story of our faith as we gaze at Jesus who suffers and dies on the cross for us. Holy Week invites us to be once again surprised and overwhelmed by the love God has for us all. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’ (John 3.16).

The Scripture readings and the rich liturgy of Holy Week invite us to feel and experience the love of God by opening the door of our imagination and placing ourselves inside the narrative of Jesus’ passion and crucifixion.

Can you spend some time this week imagining yourself taking part in the events leading up to the Calvary? Perhaps you can join us for the Stations of the Cross or for the service of Night Prayer traditionally known as Compline, both taking place on Zoom?

At the start of this service of Palm Sunday, we commemorated Jesus’ ‘triumphant’ entry to Jerusalem. As Jesus, mounted on a donkey, enters the city, those who welcome him are filled with exuberant joy. They do all the things we are not allowed to do right now in our Covid-19 world: they gather in a crowd, and they sing and shout, ‘Hosanna!’

If it were not for the pandemic, we would be in Broadway Gardens this morning, maybe not shouting, but definitely singing and rejoicing, with palm crosses in hand, joyfully processing to the church and sharing the joy of our faith with our neighbours. Alas, one year on we are still living through the pandemic, very cautiously working towards reopening of our churches for public worship on Easter Day.

But before we gather to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and to receive the Bread of Life during the Holy Eucharist, we are invited to pause, pray, and reflect on the extraordinary events of Holy Week.

These days of Holy Week are the time for us to prepare spiritually to meet with the Risen Lord on Easter Sunday. As we long to be filled with his resurrection light and be strengthened by it, we first need to get in touch with the darkness of suffering, separation and grief – something that the pandemic has brought home to all of us.

In Jesus we discover that God is not indifferent to our pain. The reading of the Passion of our Lord leaves us in no doubt that God feels what we feel - that God is compassionate.

On the Cross, we see Jesus, the Son of God, who, as St Paul writes, ‘emptied himself’ of his status as equal to God. He allowed us to treat him as if he were a criminal. It was not enough for the Son of God to be born, and to live and die as one of us. No, he went as far as to die on a cross – the death which in the Roman world was reserved for the worst of the criminals. And, paradoxically, it was there – on the cross of shame – that the glory of God was truly revealed. For, isn’t the glory of God made most transparent in love?

When I look up to the cross and see the arms of Jesus outstretched, I thank him for that all-embracing love, and I am deeply sorry that our churches still judge and exclude so many people just because they don’t seem to conform to our inherited ideas of what being a Christian might mean. I really cannot see any room for rejection of anyone on any grounds at the foot of the cross of Christ.

The journey of Holy Week is one of radical solidarity and love. The only rejection we encounter in the events of Holy Week is our own human rejection of God and neighbour. It is our inner darkness of selfishness, greed, tribalism, and fear of the other that causes the walls to go up and sucks all the colour out of the world we live in, making it feel so grey and small.

Why are we still so afraid of each other? Why is the word ‘immigrant’ still providing so much fuel for right wing politicians? Why are we allowing people to live in overcrowded and unsafe refugee camps? Why are we not burning with righteous anger at the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers? Do we really want to live in the world ruled by suspicion and fear?

I wonder if this Holy Week we may be brave enough to look at the world not from the comfort of our sofas but from where Christ is – that is, from the Cross?

The challenge is not simply to look up to the cross and be amazed by God’s love for us, but to look down from it with the eyes of Christ and to feel the cross in our arms and the love of God in our hearts.

What will we see if we allow the Holy Spirit to place us there as we pray?

What will captivate our attention the most if when we next reflect on the Passion narrative, we will do so while looking at the events through the eyes of Jesus?

I wonder what this new way of reading of the passion might move us to do? Perhaps it will open our arms to welcome everyone regardless of who they are because they too are a child of God?

This Holy Week let us pray together for a gift of radical solidarity and love, and when we have celebrated Easter let’s roll up our sleeves and work for a better and just world.

For God so loved the world.