Sunday, 9 April 2017

‘Make way, make way, for Christ the King’:
a journey with Christ on Palm Sunday

‘Entry into the City’ (2012), by John August Swanson

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 9 April 2017, Palm Sunday:

9.45 a.m.: The Eucharist, Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Pallaskenry, Co Limerick.

Readings:
Isaiah 50: 4-9a; Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29; Philippians 2: 5-11; Matthew 21: 1-11.

Hymns:

238: Ride on, ride on, in majesty
134: Make way, make way, for Christ the King
231: My song is love unknown.

May I speak to you in the name + of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

I suppose that, like me, many of you wake up each morning to talk radio, and to the early morning warnings about traffic hold-ups and traffic delays.

As a new arrival here, worried about lifts into Limerick and bus connections last week, I noticed those warnings about traffic in Limerick this past week, and the delays at Clarina and Mungret. Like most of us, I am sure, I found myself wondering were these delays going to get in my way, going to delay me, was I going to get stuck, to be late.

We live in a time when time is precious, when time is money.

And so, when we hear traffic warnings in our own area, we think of ourselves but seldom think of the problems they create for those at the heart of them:

● A mother trying to get her children to school and late for the job she is desperately clinging onto. Maybe her car has had a brush with someone else’s, she has to wait for the gardai; now she is worried about her children, her job, and someone is behind, hooting.
● The bus driver who has a full load of passengers, each one complaining in a nasty way because the bus was late and now has broken down. But who thanks him when he is on time when he is not on strike, or when he squeezes in a few more people, even if it means breaking the rules?
● A young business man, trying to clinch that export contract. That traffic warning leaves him fretful, worried that he is not going to get from here to the airport on time. He is going to miss his flight and lose that contract.
● An elderly man with a heart complaint, stuck on his way to hospital. He is worried he is going to miss his appointment, and worried his worries are now compounding his heart problems.

But, by now, I am stuck behind one or more of them. I am wondering why they are not moving.

Did the lights not change to green 10 minutes ago?

Why am I stuck here?

Do they not know I am late?

Do they not care?

We have all been there, stuck in that traffic, stuck in that car.

We all know how selfish we can become, how self-centred, how self-focussed we can be. My priorities come Number 1, and everyone else should know that.

If Christ was to travel into Limerick city early one morning this week, I could imagine he would create the same problems.

Just imagine it. Telling two of the disciples to go up the road, say to Askeaton or Newcastle West, where they can find a fairly new car, a 2015 car say, waiting for them.

The owner is delighted to hand it over. He has the highest regard for Jesus, they went to school together, worked on great projects together. He even thinks this Jesus is special.

And so the disciples happily fit out the car, and off they head with Jesus into Limerick.

As they arrive at the Dock Roads Roundabouts, the crowds are gathering. This is a big show. They follow him in a convoy, whooping and hooping. By the time they arrive into the Crescent or O’Connell Street, AA Roadwatch is warning people about the bottle necks in the city centre.

Well, that only helps to bring out more people to see the show. Some people come out to see who is this crazed preacher who has arrived from Rathkeale or Askeaton. They wonder:

● Did anything good ever come from west Limerick?
● Why can they not just move on, and let us get on with the busy demands of daily life?
● Can they not see I am trying to get to see my mother in a nursing home?
● Do they not know a big match is on in Thomond Park today?
● Sunday should be a day of rest – why do they bring religion into everything?

Others want to give Jesus the red-carpet treatment, today’s equivalent of cutting down branches and spreading them out before him.

If you can imagine a scene like that today in contemporary Limerick, then your imagination allows you to know also why the Gospel writer tells us this morning that on that first Palm Sunday in Biblical Jerusalem, ‘the whole city was in turmoil.’

That chaos, that turmoil in Jerusalem, in the days immediately before Christ’s death echoes the chaos in the city in the days immediately after Christ’s birth.

The last time there was such a fuss in Jerusalem in the life of Jesus was just after Christmas. Saint Matthew tells us that Herod became seethingly jealous and outraged at what the Wise Men said when they called to visit him. He tells us: ‘When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him’ (Matthew 2: 3).

There is a link between the birth of Christ and the death of Christ, between the arrival of the three kings in Jerusalem after Christmas and the arrival of Christ as king in Jerusalem before Easter.

That link between birth and death, between Christmas Day and Good Friday, between Epiphany and Easter, is captured succinctly by TS Eliot in his poem, Journey of the Magi:

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.


We have entered the last week with Christ in the days before his Crucifixion. In Saint Matthew’s account, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to great solemnity.

Saint Matthew’s description of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem sounds the note of majesty and kingship before the Passion narrative begins. But the Gospel writer gives us hints too that we should be also looking forward to Christ’s second coming.

Palm Sunday begins on the Mount of Olives but it points to Mount Calvary. Yet it also points to the second coming of Christ (see Matthew 24: 3), for the Messiah was expected to arrive on the Mount of Olives, and to sweep down through the Kidron Valley and up into the city, taking with him in his royal procession the living and those who were raised from the dead.

Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is the entry of the king into his capital. And the crowd acclaims him as king when they say: ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’ This phrase from the Psalms was used as a title for the Messianic king (Psalm 118: 26).

Many in the crowd expected a new liberating king. But did anybody on that first Palm Sunday really realise who Jesus truly is? Their expectations of him are high, but deep down their attitude towards Christ is unchanged. For most of them, he may still be a prophet in their eyes. But that is less than he actually is. He may be a king, but they want a king who will deliver what they want, not what he has come to give them.

The crowd that welcomes him in is soon to turn him out. He is an outsider coming in, and if he disappoints them, if he fails to give them what they want, rather than what they need, then it is inevitable that they are going to turn on him.

When he fails to meet their expectations, he loses his popularity. When he refuses to accept the expectations they lay on his shoulders, they force him to carry the cross on his shoulders. When their hopes die, he must die.

Christ choses the way he enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. But he abandons all choice about how he is going to be taken outside the city to die a few days later. And Christ, who receives a lively welcome into the city on Palm Sunday, is taken outside the city and crucified on Good Friday.

● Jesus upsets our priorities.
● Jesus makes demands on our time.
● Jesus makes demands on our commitments.
● Jesus challenges us about where we are going.
● And yet, Jesus offers no quick fixes.

Jesus steps into the comfort zones of the people in the city, and offers no quick fixes for the masses. They change their attitude, and there is a rapid, radical change in the social climate in Jerusalem that first Holy Week.

Things get out of hand, and Jesus has no control over what happens. God in Christ has emptied himself of all choice and control.

So often we want to be in control, we want to have the choices. And yet life is not like that. When we find we cannot control the agenda, we get upset, we get frustrated. It happens every morning in traffic.

When we can control the agenda, when we have the choices, so often we act in our own interests, rather than in the interests of others. But, you know, we are never fully human when we are alone. We are never fully human without relationships.

The communities on the west coast of Ireland showed true humanity, showed true capacity to love, lived out Christ-like priorities, as they gave and shared unselfishly, abandoned individual priorities in recent weeks in the search for the missing coast guard crew from rescue helicopter 116.

The images that came to the fore from those communities throughout that search has reminded me constantly of the Good Shepherd and his search for the lost sheep.

I am least like Christ when I put my own selfish interests, my own gain, my own immediate demands, before the needs of others.

When we value relationships, when we consider the needs of others, when we show that community matters and show that relationships lead to love, we become more like Christ.

Palm Sunday teaches us about getting our priorities right. Good Friday shows us how God gets those priorities right.

Good Friday appears to be the end. But it is only the beginning.

As TS Eliot says at the end of East Coker, the second of his Four Quartets:

Home is where one starts from …
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter ...

Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
… In my end is the beginning.


Palm Sunday seemed like a triumphal beginning. Good Friday seemed like a frightening end. But in the end we find the beginning, our hope is in our Easter faith.

Easter gives us the hope that when we get our priorities right, when I turn from me to us, from self to relationship, then I not only become more human, but I become more Christ-like. And, when we become more Christ-like, we become more like the person God created us to be.

And so, may all we think, say, and do, be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The Entry Into Jerusalem ascribed to Fra Angelico (1387-1455), Saint Mark’s, Florence

Matthew 21: 1-11

1 Καὶ ὅτε ἤγγισαν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα καὶ ἦλθον εἰς Βηθφαγὴ εἰς τὸ Ὄρος τῶν Ἐλαιῶν, τότε Ἰησοῦς ἀπέστειλεν δύο μαθητὰς 2 λέγων αὐτοῖς, Πορεύεσθε εἰς τὴν κώμην τὴν κατέναντι ὑμῶν, καὶ εὐθέως εὑρήσετε ὄνον δεδεμένην καὶ πῶλον μετ' αὐτῆς: λύσαντες ἀγάγετέ μοι. 3 καὶ ἐάν τις ὑμῖν εἴπῃ τι, ἐρεῖτε ὅτι Ὁ κύριος αὐτῶν χρείαν ἔχει: εὐθὺς δὲ ἀποστελεῖ αὐτούς. 4 Τοῦτο δὲ γέγονεν ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος,

5 Εἴπατε τῇ θυγατρὶ Σιών,
Ἰδοὺ ὁ βασιλεύς σου ἔρχεταί σοι,
πραῢς καὶ ἐπιβεβηκὼς ἐπὶ ὄνον,
καὶ ἐπὶ πῶλον υἱὸν ὑποζυγίου.

6 πορευθέντες δὲ οἱ μαθηταὶ καὶ ποιήσαντες καθὼς συνέταξεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς 7 ἤγαγον τὴν ὄνον καὶ τὸν πῶλον, καὶ ἐπέθηκαν ἐπ' αὐτῶν τὰ ἱμάτια, καὶ ἐπεκάθισεν ἐπάνω αὐτῶν. 8 ὁ δὲ πλεῖστος ὄχλος ἔστρωσαν ἑαυτῶν τὰ ἱμάτια ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ, ἄλλοι δὲ ἔκοπτον κλάδους ἀπὸ τῶν δένδρων καὶ ἐστρώννυον ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ. 9 οἱ δὲ ὄχλοι οἱ προάγοντες αὐτὸν καὶ οἱ ἀκολουθοῦντες ἔκραζον λέγοντες,

Ὡσαννὰ τῷ υἱῷ Δαυίδ:
Εὐλογημένος ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου:
Ὡσαννὰ ἐν τοῖς ὑψίστοις.

10 καὶ εἰσελθόντος αὐτοῦ εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα ἐσείσθη πᾶσα ἡ πόλις λέγουσα, Τίς ἐστιν οὗτος; 11 οἱ δὲ ὄχλοι ἔλεγον, Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ προφήτης Ἰησοῦς ὁ ἀπὸ Ναζαρὲθ τῆς Γαλιλαίας.

Translation (NRSV):

1 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ 4 This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

5 ‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ 11 The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’

Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday ... a modern icon

The Collect of 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 our Lord. Amen.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation.
Give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge of the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin group of Parishes, Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe. This sermon was prepared for Castletown Church, Pallaskenry, Co Limerick, on Palm Sunday, 9 April 2017.

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