Sunday at St Andrew's: Palm Sunday

Sunday 5 April 2020, 10 am

Palm Sunday (Lent 6)

Virtual Morning Prayer at St Andrew’s Eaton 

Speaker: Phil Rodd

 

Welcome to this ‘virtual service’ from St Andrew’s Eaton.  We continue to be unable to meet face-to-face, but please join others from the congregation in prayer and learning from God’s Word this Palm Sunday, at the beginning of Holy Week.

 

As we begin, let’s pray that God will still our hearts and minds and speak to us in this time today.

Let’s read (or sing) the hymn

All glory, laud and honour

 

FIRST READING

Matthew 21.1-11

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

 

Hymn: Ride on, Ride on in majesty

 

SECOND READING 

Philippians 2.5-11

 

Hymn: My song is love unknown

 

THIRD READING

Matthew 26.14-29

Jesus celebrates Passover with his disciples

 

Hymn: Lord Jesus Christ

 

SERMON (Phil Rodd)

NB You can watch this sermon on YouTube or listen to it on our website

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard it.  Those two little words.  ‘Strange times.’  Strange times.  

Strange times indeed, times of such enormous upheaval, such enormous change.  We’d never have imagined it could happen – shops closing, schools closing, workplaces closing, everyone shut up at home, and we’re well on our way economically to repeating the Great Depression of the 1930s.

But it’s not all for the bad – it may be cold, but it’s fast turning into a beautiful Spring season.  And at a single swoop, the streets are quieter, the air is cleaner, our carbon emissions targets have been met, and the homeless have been housed – if only in temporary lodgings.  And vast numbers of ordinary people are looking out for each other, desperately concerned for the elderly, the housebound, the isolated.

And everywhere you go, there’s yet another statistic, yet another anecdote, that some bright spark is coming up with, to sum up the enormity of it all.

Speaking of bright sparks, though, reminds me of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury(!).  I read an interview with him last week, in which he said that apparently the last time the churches were locked shut in this country was in 1208!

And yet, yes, the churches may be shut, but that’s giving ordinary church people the opportunity to get their focus off their buildings, and off their church services, and position themselves at the cutting edge, at the heart of what needs to be done.

The date of the last closure of the churches set me thinking.  1208.  The reason then was power, not plague.  King John had refused to accept Pope Innocent’s appointee, Stephen Langton, as Archbishop of Canterbury.  And the pope (bless him) responded by placing England under an interdict between March 1208 and May 1213, thus preventing the clergy from celebrating the sacraments.)   

812 years ago.  Hmm.  About the time that the St Andrew’s Church was built.  A strange thought, that – maybe the first thing that happened to St Andrew’s Church after their new church was consecrated, and the villagers killed some fatted goat to celebrate together, maybe the following week it may have been that their brand new church… was closed by edict from the Archbishop.  Can you imagine, the sadness of it all?  All the pride in their new church.  What would they do?  Where would they go?  Where was God in all this?  Would they even survive all the upheaval themselves to see their church open again?  And you know, maybe some of them didn’t.

Let’s put that to one side, though, for a few moments.  Because today is Palm Sunday – and so there’s been a crucial question that has been plaguing clergy the length and breadth of the land.  And it’s this: ‘What am I going to do with the great big box of palm crosses in the vestry now that I can’t give them out to the congregation on Palm Sunday?  How on earth will they all manage without their crosses?’  

 

Picture of palm crossSo then, how will you manage without your palm cross?  What will you use to focus your heart and mind on the suffering of Christ – on the love of Jesus – as you journey through Holy Week, onwards from today’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem that we heard about in our first reading (the Palm Gospel as it’s called today, the reading from Matthew chapter 21), through the Last Supper, the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal of the Judas kiss, the brutality of the soldiers, the injustice of the sham trial, the collusion between political and religious leaders, and ultimately, the hammering of human flesh against the battered wood of the cross.  Blood, Sweat and Tears.  Because that’s what it’s all about.  And some years on Palm Sunday, I look at my little palm cross (and I’m holding the my cross from last year, that’s stayed with me ever since), and I wonder if that little cross doesn’t make it all too pretty, all too soft, all too comfortable.  When it should be anything but.  

 

And this year, of course, it’s different.  This year we’ve had weeks of wondering maybe, of loneliness, of isolation, of frustration – and we’ve feared for our own welfare, and for those around us.  And there’s been those statistics every evening – frightening, growing, awful statistics – hundreds of lives lost every day, precious lives.  And yet, not just statistics, but real people who lived and breathed and loved and hoped.  Each one known by God – and each one the object of Christ’s love poured out at Calvary. 

 

So this year, it’s time to do something a little different.  Because this year, this Palm Sunday, I’m not going to focus on Jesus’ triumphal entry in Jerusalem, with the crowds cheering and waving their palm branches, and laying down their clothing at Jesus’ feet – that costly act of heartfelt devotion and willing servitude.  Because this year, having already laid aside our lovely church building, now we must in a sense also put aside our smooth palm crosses – the crosses that in a sense cost us nothing, because they’re just handed out to us as we start our Palm Sunday procession every year.  

 

Picture of hand holding palm crossSo this year, I’m going to suggest that we make our own crosses – from dead twigs or branches in the garden (like the one I’ve made), or from scraps of metal or old rusty nails in the garage, or unused kitchen utensils, or aluminium foil, or cardboard, or anything really.  But we make our crosses ourselves – because they’re symbols of ourfailings of our sin – not anyone else’s.  So we must make them, we must own them, and we must carry them.

Because, as the hymn goes:

  Behold the man upon a cross, 

my sin upon his shoulders; 

ashamed, I hear my mocking voice

call out among the scoffers.

It was my sin that held him there,

until it was accomplished;

his dying breath has brought me life -

I know that it is finished.

‘It was my sin that held him there’.  My sin.

And yet, even on this Palm Sunday, when Christ begins his journey of suffering, his journey into suffering, his journey that will put an end to my sin, we still hear words of hope, words of resurrection.  From our second reading, from Philippians chapter 2: 

And being found in human form,

8     he humbled himself

    and became obedient to the point of death—

    even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him

    and gave him the name

    that is above every name,

10 so that at the name of Jesus

    every knee should bend,

    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue should confess

    that Jesus Christ is Lord,

    to the glory of God the Father.

 

Because Christ has come to usher in a time when everything is put right – when our human affections, our human allegiances are directed towards him – not because we are made to kneel before Jesus, as snivelling slaves, but because that is simply where we belong, gathered round the power, the protection, the salvation – of the name of Jesus.  

And there will come a time, God willing, when can return to more familiar ways of being church.  Hopefully, we’ll come as a changed people, a people more given to love and willing service.  And when that time comes, then we can bring our crosses – the crosses that we’ve made today, this Palm Sunday, or whenever it is during Holy Week that you end up hearing (or reading) this sermon.  And when that day comes, and we can gather together, it won’t be a sign that we gather together because church is great, or because church has won.  But we’ll come and lay our crosses at his table, at that table where we will partake again of bread and wine together, and share the feast of his kingdom.  Because that is where we belong – both those who own Christ’s cross, and those who have yet to respond.

Let’s pray…

 

PRAYERS

Let us pray thinking first of all:

‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever… Through him, then, let us continuously offer a sacrifice of praise to God.  Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God’ (Hebrews 13.8, 15 & 16).

Heavenly Father we give you thanks that you are always there to hear us and bless us each day. We thank you for your presence however much or little we are doing at this time.

We pray first for the many people who have caught the coronavirus. Bring comfort and healing to all and to their families For those who are worried for themselves or grieving for the loss of loved ones, may they turn to you for strength in these difficult times.

Thank you for hearing this prayer.

Give wisdom to our leaders in government and hospitals. May they work together to bring healing and all the supporting supplies needed, so that all in contact with patients will be able to work efficiently and without fear.

Thank you for hearing this prayer.

We pray now for our communities.

For the isolated and housebound,

For families unable to go out and enjoy all their normal activities,

For children cut off from their friends and trying to learn in unusual circumstances,

For many people with financial worries.

May they know your protection and peace, and may we seek ways in which we can bring blessing to others.

Thank you for hearing this prayer.

For the church throughout the world and for our own local church fellowship here. Help us to learn to worship you in new ways and deepen our relationship with you, finding your love and peace in our hearts growing ever stronger. As Easter approaches may we be reminded of all you did for us on that cross – so soon after Palm Sunday.

Thank you for hearing this prayer.

The Collect, the prayer for the day

Almighty and everlasting God,  who in your tender love towards the human race sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to take upon him our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross: grant that we may follow the example  of his patience and humility, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Amen.

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray

Our Father in heaven, 
hallowed be your name,  
your kingdom come your will be done, 
on earth as in heaven. 
Give us today our daily bread. 
Forgive us our sins 
as we forgive those who sin against us. 
Lead us not into temptation 
but deliver us from evil. 
For the kingdom, the power, 
and the glory are yours 
now and for ever. Amen.

 

Hymn: From Heaven you came

 

Finally, although we are scattered at the moment, 

let us pray for each other:

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
and the love of God, 
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit 
be with us all, evermore. 
Amen.

 

The Bishop of Manchester suggests that we now place our 'palm' crosses in a window where others can see them.

 

 

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