Sunday, March 20, 2016

Palm Sunday 2016

When I was in my mid-twenties, around forty-five years ago, my grandmother, who was in her early eighties, was close to dying. She had leukaemia for several years, going from chronic to acute, with a few remissions, and now it was coming closer.  I remember when my uncle, her eldest child, flew out from the East Coast, and I’ll never forget watching from the front window, when he — followed by my mother and my aunt - carried his mother in his arms from her home to the car to take her to the hospital for the last time.

I carry two things from that particular moment: first, something like the music of the Sanctus, a sense of bells and music sung by some great choir; “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of your glory.” And then a surprising and joyful conviction came into my heart, right into the middle of the pain like sunlight in the centre of that dark day. “Thank God,” something in me said so deeply, “Thank God we matter this much.”

In the Gospel for today the crowds chorus moves from “Hosanna” and “Alleluia" to “We have no King but Caesar “ and “Crucify him!”  and we’re invited to watch and follow, to  participate as these actions are carried out in Jerusalem as if they were happening here and now.

Because in his journey through Jerusalem to Golgotha, to the cross and the grave and beyond, Jesus walks through all our fears and anger and anxiety, all  the trials and tragedies of our everyday lives, and carries us along like a son or a brother into the very crossroad where the heart of human tragedy meets the good news of God.  And that is I believe where we can find the very living heart of the Gospel.

An English theologian said that we are invited to exchange our living death for Jesus' dying life.  We are invited to stop holding on so tight to our fears and our hopes and our tensions and our ideas about the times we live in; and  cleave onto the living and breathing faith that Jesus will take us in his arms at those crucial moments and carry us through the middle of it all into a new beginning, the resurrection of the dead.

So the events of this Palm Sunday and of the coming week offer a pilgrimage, a walking tour, deep into the heart of the human condition: with sin and grace, violence and virtue, cowardice and courage, death and new beginnings. And, for each of us, that resonates with our own histories and hopes, stories we remember, times that stretch us and tear us apart, about people we miss and endings we fear. Holy week can be a difficult road to take, but Jesus knows his way and will follow it faithfully to the end.

But it may not be easy for us. We might find it difficult to hope that the holiest One will hear our  individual hopes and fears, we might not always think that the universe could be knit together so carefully. But here we are called to follow the faith that Christ can hold us close through these crises, take us through every turn, every tight corner of the human journey from birth to death and beyond to bring us home at the last.

So on this Holy Week we are called to wait, to watch and follow Jesus as closely as we can, in our uneasy witness. So stay close to your Bible and Prayer Book, stay close to your church and community, stay close to your feelings and your fears too - and watch and follow: because the heart of God, the God of love we see in Jesus Christ, calls us to join with Him to journey to Jerusalem to meet the fact of death, and carries us along to the hope of eternal life. And we must thank God that it matters this much.


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