Church of England Diocese of St.Albans Letchworth

Palm Sunday - Sermon

5 Apr 2020, 10 a.m.
From_the_Vicar Easter Lent

Today, we begin our journey through the most holy of all weeks. Holy Week is going to feel strange this year. We won’t be able to take part in any of the familiar rites and ceremonies which allow us to reconnect with the deepest roots of our life of faith.

We will walk this spiritual journey in isolation, physically separated, but at the same time united in our shared faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who is our saviour, brother and friend. No one must be alone during this time, or at any time. One thing that no human or natural barrier can ever separate us from is the love of God we continue to discover in the cross and passion of Jesus (Rom 8.38-39).

This journey through Holy Week towards the joy Easter is an invitation for each and every one of us to discover afresh the love God has for us. It was love that took Jesus to Calvary. It was love that made him die for us on the cross. It was love that raised him from the dead.

When we reflect on the excruciating suffering of Jesus, we may find ourselves baffled by the sheer evil and cruelty he experienced. We may want to ask, ‘Why all this suffering? What is it really necessary for God to create such a horrific spectacle? Couldn’t God have done it differently?

But then if God did walk into the world with a giant broom to swipe all the dirt of our sins away from a surface of the earth, would we still be able to relate to him as our Father? Wasn’t it essential for our redemption to happen in a way of this world, the only way we can really relate to? Wasn’t the suffering of the Son of God, his wholesome experience of a human condition, fundamental for us to be able to understand that God truly cares for us and treats us not as strangers but as his children?

This Sunday is known as Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord. In normal circumstances, if our churches were open for public worship, we would gather to hear the Gospel of the Passion solemnly proclaimed by a whole liturgical assembly, with a congregation and individuals inhabiting various dramatic personae. We would do that not because we enjoy hearing about suffering, but because we know that the story of Jesus’s passion is the story of God’s love. When we walk the Station of the Cross, for example, we don’t do it to dwell on the horrific pain inflicted on Jesus, but to remind ourselves that in all difficulties of life, in our own experience of isolation, anxiety and fear, God doesn’t abandon us but is present right there in his Son.

In the reading from the Letter of S. Paul to the Philippians we are told,

‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus’ (Phil 2.5).

Paul then shares with us some wonderful words of the poem describing what the mind of Christ was. It was the mind of the suffering servant.

Jesus wasn’t forced to accept suffering. After all, his equality with God could have provided him a way out of it all. But he didn’t grasp this divine power for himself. Rather, he used it in order to save us – he who was both God and man ‘became obedient to the point of death – even death on the cross’ (Phil 2.8). His mind was that of loving obedience and of trust in God.

The mind of Jesus couldn’t have been more different from the mind of those who cared only for safeguarding of their own power and influence. The words of today’s Psalm help us understand the contrast between the attitude of Jesus and that of his opponents:

For I have heard the whispering of the crowd; fear is all around; they put their heads together against me; they plot to take my life. But as for me, I have trusted in you, O Lord, I have said, ‘You are my God. My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me. Make your face to shine upon your servant, and in your loving-kindness save me’ (Ps 31.14-16).

Jesus’ enemies wanted to stay in power and control. Jesus, on the other hand, didn’t trust in what the world had to offer. He knew that the reason why he was in the world was love. This is how the English Medieval mystic, Lady Julian of Norwich, described the mind of Christ:

You would know our Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well. Love was his meaning. Who showed it you? Love. What did he who you? Love. Why did he show it? For love. Hold on to this and you will know and understand love more and more. But you will not know anything else – ever! (Lady Julian of Norwich, “Revelations of Divine Love”)

I think we will do quite well if in our minds we will understand this one essential thing – love.

When during this difficult time of pandemic, we hear our ourselves pronounce the cry, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mt 27.46), let us not forget that this lament came out of the mouth of the Son of God in the hour of his agony on the cross.

Let us take comfort in the truth of our faith that in the cross of Jesus we find both the assurance of life eternal and utter solidarity of God with our own human weakness and sense of abandonment. ‘For nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’. Amen.