Palm Sunday 2019

Christ's entry into Jerusalem: 1304-06
Fresco
Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua
Christ’s entry into Jerusalem: 1304-06 by Giotto
Fresco in the Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua

Throughout Holy Week we must decide where we stand: with Christ, or against him. On Palm Sunday the choice is critical. Are we ready to follow Jesus in his triumphal procession, knowing that the hosannas we sing today will soon turn into cries of ‘crucify him, crucify him!’ or do we want to play safe, keep all our options open or use any of the weasel words we employ to mask our cowardice and indecision? Even those of us among the crowd of onlookers must make our choice: are we for him, or against him?

There is a third choice, though it is not an obvious one. We can be the donkey that carries the Lord into Jersusalem, the Christ-bearer. We became Christ-bearers when we were baptized but we often ignore or undervalue what that means. To carry Christ, to take him where he wills to go, is no mean task, no mean feat. It is the glory of the disciple to do exactly that. This morning perhaps we could all reflect on what it means to be the Lord’s donkey, not just today but every day of our lives.

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The Brutality of Holy Week: Palm Sunday 2016

Palm Sunday: Jesus enters Jerusalem

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palm Sunday is here again, and under leaden skies, with a nasty little wind tugging at us, we shall follow the Cross, as the disciples followed Jesus two thousand years ago in Roman Palestine. The sights, the sounds, the smells will all be different, but it will be impossible to ignore the same sense of brooding menace, of barely contained brutality which will become plainer as the week goes on. The hosannas we sing today will quickly turn to shouts of ‘crucify him, crucify him!’; and though we may try to hide the fact from ourselves under a pious show of sorrow, we are all complicit, for we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

If that were all, today would be a day of infinite shame and despair, a terrible indictment of our fickleness and shallowness; but it isn’t. The mild-eyed donkey in Giotto’s painting seems to have glimpsed the truth. This is a necesssary part of the journey to salvation. Christ must be acknowledged as King before he suffers as Servant and becomes Lord of All. We must exhaust our puny human possibilities of understanding before grace can work its transformation. We must experience the blood, toil, tears and sweat of Christ’s Passion before we can enter into his victory.

Today Christ enters Jerusalem with two thousand years of human misunderstanding, conflict and division marking his way, but he will not stumble, he will not falter. It is in Jerusalem that he will give the world the peace for which it longs, but it will be through the sacrifice of his own body, bloodied and brutalised on the Cross and shared with us today through the sacrament of his Body and Blood in the holy Eucharist.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Palm Sunday 2015

Palm Sunday: Jesus enters Jerusalem

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palm Sunday, and here in Herefordshire making the imaginative leap into the world of Roman Palestine is not helped by the wind and rain; but perhaps a grey sky matches the grey mood. For this is a day of menace, a day when we must decide where we stand. The triumph of the entry into Jerusalem is short-lived. The crowd that shouts ‘hosanna’ today will be crying ‘crucify him’ on Friday. If we are honest, we know ourselves to be equally fickle. But it is the Man on the donkey who is key to everything. He does not come to condemn but to save, not to inflict punishment but to show mercy. We must take our tone from him. This is a week for healing and forgiveness; and though we know that we must be bruised and broken along with him, we can, and do, trust that ‘through his stripes we are healed’.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Palm Sunday 2014

On a previous Palm Sunday I wrote:

Today, wherever our Palm Sunday celebration takes place, we are in Roman Palestine two thousand years ago. One question we might ask ourselves is, where do we stand? Are we with the crowd following Jesus and singing hosannas; with the bystanders, looking on from a safe distance; or with those indoors, dismissing what is taking place as just another riotous assembly it is better to keep clear of? Our answer can tell us a great deal about ourselves and the way in which we see the unfolding of Holy Week.

Holy Week is quite brutal in the way in which it demands choice from us. If, during the rest of the year, we are rather unremarkable Christians, regular in our church-going and dutiful in giving to good causes, but keen to avoid drawing attention to ourselves and definitely not the stuff of which martyrs are made, this week reminds us that in following Christ we have made the most radical choice imaginable, one we must live to the end. We cannot simply bumble along the way; we must deliberately choose to follow wherever Christ leads.

I think today I would want to nuance that a little. This is the first time I’ve been unable to take part in the Palm Sunday Mass and Procession; so this year I am not among the followers singing hosannas but among the bystanders who look on from afar. Does that mean I am any less involved? Surely not.

There are many ways of following; many ways of being close to the Lord. One of the hardest is to feel we have no choice, are unable to follow in the way we would wish. It is important to remember, however, that the essence of discipleship is to follow as the Lord chooses. We must all accompany Jesus on the journey to Jerusalem, to Calvary and beyond. How we get there, when we get there, doesn’t matter. We can trust him to show us the way. ‘I would be at Jerusalem,’ says the Pilgrim in Hilton’s Scale of Perfection. That is all that matters.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Pain is Our Friend

Most of us spend most of our lives trying to avoid pain, with good reason. Suffering is not necessarily redemptive, nor is experiencing discomfort or loss in itself admirable. Acceptance of pain is another matter, and as Holy Week approaches it may be useful to consider where we are on our Lenten journey. Pain is our friend, because it reveals to us truths we might otherwise reject or never even come to know. It opens us up to that which is above and beyond our power to control; and Lent is very much about ceding control over our lives to God in ways that we don’t dare at other times of year.

If our prayer isn’t making us feel the pain of God’s absence — and even more, the agony of his presence — are we still too focused on ourselves, on what we do/say in prayer, rather than stretching out to embrace the mystery of God’s silence? If our fasting isn’t making us feel hunger, are we playing at sacrifice — giving up little things in order to avoid the greater surrender of self which can seem so daunting? If our almsgiving doesn’t hurt, is it because we are limiting our giving to what we think we can comfortably manage, rather than letting God determine what the measure of our giving should be?

The trouble about asking these questions is that it can induce guilt or scrupulosity, but that is not my intention. I think Holy Week is so intense, so full of Christ’s pain, that it can be overwhelming. We can be numbed at second-hand, as it were, and perhaps miss the point. It is not Christ’s death that redeems us; it is his obedient acceptance of that death. In these few days before Palm Sunday, it would be good to reflect on the difference. I still say that pain is our friend, but only because Christ has made it so by first embracing it himself as a necessary part of his loving obedience to the Father.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Palm Sunday 2013

The Herefordshire countryside is looking bleak this morning: sheep huddled under the trees, dribbles of dirty snow along the verges and a cold grey sky overhead. It isn’t the kind of Palm Sunday we wanted. Is the Messiah we acclaim today the kind of Messiah we want, either? Do we want someone imposing, who will make us feel good about ourselves, or are we prepared to follow this rather ridiculous fellow on a donkey, who promises only that we must drink the cup that he drinks?

You choose.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Another Kind of Suffering

We are about to begin Holy Week, the Great Week of the Christian year, and our eyes are already beginning to focus on the Cross and the suffering Jesus will undergo for our sakes. All our own suffering and failure is taken up into that one great redemptive act. That doesn’t mean, however, that what we suffer is somehow less real because it cannot compare with the suffering of Jesus. We can exaggerate, but we can also ‘spiritualize’, not acknowledge how deeply or negatively we experience things. Yesterday I had a negative experience I’ll share with you in the hope that it may help you see that whatever we suffer can be a way in to understanding what we celebrate this coming week. At least, I found it helpful.

I had been invited to take part in a radio programme. The producer had kindly sent an advance list of questions to form a basis for conversation and the interviewer was one I admire. All very promising. I listened to the first two contributors and felt very much in sympathy with them. Then came another, and as she spoke I began to be troubled by what she was saying about something I happen to hold very different views on. When my own turn came, I was distinctly lacklustre. No problem with that (except for my pride!), but then I was taken off-guard by the way in which two further questions were posed: the ordination of women and sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

Catholics will know that John Paul II placed discussion of the ordination of women off-limits, and for those of us who are priests or religious, it is a tricky question to handle in the public sphere because the way in which it is presented (as one of equality or power in the Church) is not one that corresponds to our understanding of the sacrament of holy orders. One has to tread carefully to be intelligible to the general public and not overstep the boundaries currently permitted by the Church. I made a hash of it. Then came the killer. Would the presence of women in the priesthood help avoid sexual abuse? There are two things to note here. First, I find the idea of women being priests themselves (or priests being allowed to marry) as a way of preventing men from acting wickedly rather insulting to women. To be fair, I don’t think the interviewer meant that. It just sounded like it to me. Secondly, but just as importantly, few seem to recognize that most Catholics — surely the vast majority — are deeply upset by what we have learned of abuse and cover-ups. It reduces me to tears, and yesterday I found myself welling-up on air at the thought of how those children had been abused and the whole Church had been betrayed.

Quite clearly, the narrative of abuse in the Catholic Church is the only one the media are really interested in. I am beginning to wonder, however, whether it is time to ask the un-askable. Are there others who suffer in addition to those abused, and should we be concerned about them, too? A few years ago I wrote about the effect of abuse compensation claims on the diocese of Boston. So huge were they that the diocese had to close schools and hospitals for the poor, and one convent of religious sisters had the roof over their heads sold to help meet the cost (they were generously re-homed by some Episcopalian sisters). It was all very sad. The abuse was dreadful; the price paid by the Catholics of Boston and the poor was also dreadful. This is another kind of suffering which is not, by and large, acknowledged: the suffering of those who are themselves innocent of abuse but who must pay for the sins of the guilty — in terms of money, services, reputation and the constant drip-drip of poisonous remarks.

Some will argue that that is just tough. The awfulness of what happened means that Catholics must put up with whatever the world chooses to throw at us. The latest scandals attaching to the name of Cardinal Keith O’Brien have led to even more gleeful dirt-chucking. Those who believe that a vow of chastity or a promise of celibacy obliges to continence are appalled and saddened. The abuse of power is rightly seen as completely unacceptable. There is no excuse.

But I think it would be wrong not to acknowledge that the constant negativity does have an effect. To be held responsible for something one had no part in, that one condemns absolutely, isn’t easy. The pain and grief we feel for the wrong done to or by others is not assuaged by knowing that it may draw one closer to Jesus. The only way in which we can make sense of it is by remembering that we are the Body of Christ — wounded, bloodied, it is true, but still intimately united to our Lord and Saviour, who will never fail or forsake us.

As we process with our palms tomorrow, rejoicing in that transient moment of triumph which was a prelude to the everlasting triumph of the Cross, let us give thanks that we have a Saviour who has borne all our sin and shame. In him, we are washed clean, given fresh hope, redeemed.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Palm Sunday 2012

Today, wherever our Palm Sunday celebration takes place, we are in Roman Palestine two thousand years ago. One question we might ask ourselves is, where do we stand? Are we with the crowd following Jesus and singing hosannas; with the bystanders, looking on from a safe distance; or with those indoors, dismissing what is taking place as just another riotous assembly it is better to keep clear of? Our answer can tell us a great deal about ourselves and the way in which we see the unfolding of Holy Week.

Holy Week is quite brutal in the way in which it demands choice from us. If, during the rest of the year, we are rather unremarkable Christians, regular in our church-going and dutiful in giving to good causes, but keen to avoid drawing attention to ourselves and definitely not the stuff of which martyrs are made, this week reminds us that in following Christ we have made the most radical choice imaginable, one we must live to the end. We cannot simply bumble along the way; we must deliberately choose to follow wherever Christ leads.

Today we begin our following with rejoicing, but a rejoicing which already has a hint of menace. On Good Friday we shall see where that menace will take us. For now, we  focus on Jesus’ coming to Jerusalem where we know he will be rejected. Nevertheless, we stand with him every inch of the way. It is a choice we make every day of our lives, not just during Holy Week.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Palm Sunday 2011

Palm Sunday: Jesus enters JerusalemOur procession takes us to the dusty streets of Jerusalem two thousand years ago and the fickleness of popular acclaim. Even here, in the midst of a lovely English spring, there is a hint of menace. We know that all is not right, that those who are now shouting ‘hosanna’ will very soon be shouting ‘crucify him, crucify him’. The Passion narrative is one we must enter into, not merely hear with our ears. For each of us it will be different; for each of us it will be new. Do not be surprised if this week you are tired or a little less calm than usual. Holy Week makes demands on the believer at every level. We cannot truly celebrate the Resurrection if we have not accompanied the Lord Jesus along every step of the way beforehand. May God bless your Holy Week and make it fruitful. Pray for us, as we pray for you.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail