Sunday, 14 April 2019

‘Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet’

‘I also had my hour; / One far fierce hour and sweet: / There was a shout about my ears, / And palms before my feet’ … ‘Burro Taxi’ in Mijas, Spain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 14 April 2019

Palm Sunday (the Sixth Sunday in Lent)

9.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Castletown Church, Co Limerick.

Readings: Isaiah 50: 4-9a; Psalm 31: 9-16; Philippians 2: 5-11; Luke 23: 1-49.

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

Traditionally, the Gospel reading for the Liturgy of the Passion on Palm Sunday was so long that this was known as the ‘Long Gospel’.

Today, there are three different provisions for Gospel readings this morning. One tells the story of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, while the other two are accounts of Christ’s Passion during Holy Week, how he carried his cross to Calvary, his Crucifixion, and his death including the reading we have heard this morning.

The longer version begins during the Last Supper. The shorter version, which we have heard this morning (Luke 23: 1-49), begins with Christ’s trial before Pilate, and it brings us right through the passion narrative, to his crucifixion and death.

We are going to hear more the story of Holy Week in the readings during our services each night this week.

But instead of preaching at each of these services, I plan to read a poem.

This morning, you may have wondered why we have missed out in the Gospel story on the story of Palm Sunday itself.

So, as a Gospel reflection for Palm Sunday this morning, I have chosen the poem ‘The Donkey’ by Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936), an English writer, journalist, critic and poet who was well-known for his reasoned apologetics.

Chesterton’s biographers have identified him as a successor to Victorian writers such as Matthew Arnold, Thomas Carlyle, John Henry Newman and John Ruskin. In his life, he moved eventually from High Church Anglicanism to becoming a Roman Catholic in 1922.

Chesterton was born in Campden Hill in London, and was educated at Saint Paul’s School, the Slade School of Art and University College London.

At first, he hoped to become an artist but eventually became a journalist, writer, critic and poet. One of his memorable fictional characters is Father Brown.

His circle of friends included the Dublin-born playwright George Bernard Shaw, PG Wodehouse, HG Wells and Bertrand Russell. In the middle of his epic poem, ‘The Ballad of the White Horse,’ he famously states:

For the great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry,
And all their songs are sad.


He died in 1936 in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, and his Requiem Mass took place in Westminster Cathedral.

In this poem, Chesterton uses the donkey as a literary device to link birth and death, Christmas and Easter. We often think of the donkey as the lowly, humble, unattractive, even stupid, beast of burden who carries Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. But, tradition says, the Christ Child also rode on a donkey when he was carried in the womb by his mother, the Virgin Mary, to Bethlehem before his birth, and on a donkey when his family fled to Egypt.

However, this poem points us, not so much to the donkey, but to our ‘Beast of Burden,’ Christ, who carried the burden that no one else could bear – the sins of the world. Like the Suffering Servant in our reading from the Prophet Isaiah, Christ looked even more ‘monstrous’ than the donkey (see Isaiah 50: 4-9a), he was ‘starved, scourged, derided,’ four times in the Gospels he was ‘dumb,’ but his hour of glory came on the cross.

Is the donkey too hard on himself? But then, most us may be too hard on ourselves. If the lowly beast of burden becomes a bearer of the King, then surely Christ can see through the ways our perceptions of our own worth and understanding are at times awry and distorted.

It might be too easy to think of the donkey as foolish. The donkey may be derided as a stupid animal, yet he is used by God for the most triumphal journey in history, highlighting the difference between God’s wisdom and ours. No matter how humble or crushed in spirit we may feel, we are all God’s beloved children and we are all capable of being raised in glory.

Nobody is truly worthless, no matter what others may think. Just as the donkey is an unsung, unloved and unattractive creature who becomes the hero in Chesterton’s poem, so too the most humble and unattractive people, even though they are without social connections or the appearance of being important, are seen by Christ as who they truly are, made in God’s image and likeness.

The donkey remains dumb and does not declare his moment of greatness to those who deride him. Instead, his experience is an internal knowledge of his true value.

The image of the donkey in his moment of glory carrying Christ speaks of the intrinsic worth of every human, and the glory of every human soul in God’s love. In God’s eyes, we all deserve palms before our feet.

The Donkey, by GK Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked,
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood,
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry,
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
Of all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient, crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

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

‘Condemned’ … Station 1 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Pilate condemns Jesus to die (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 23: 1-49:

1 Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. 2 They began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.’ 3 Then Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ He answered, ‘You say so.’ 4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, ‘I find no basis for an accusation against this man.’ 5 But they were insistent and said, ‘He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.’

6 When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. 9 He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. 12 That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.

13 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14 and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 I will therefore have him flogged and release him.’

18 Then they all shouted out together, ‘Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!’ 19 (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) 20 Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; 21 but they kept shouting, ‘Crucify, crucify him!’ 22 A third time he said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.’ 23 But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.

26 As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28 But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are surely coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.” 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.” 31 For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’

32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ 38 There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42 Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ 43 He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. 47 When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’ 48 And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49 But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Palm Sunday ... an icon of the Triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem

Liturgical Colour: Red

Penitential Kyries (Passiontide and Holy Week):

Lord God,
you sent your Son to reconcile us to yourself and to one another.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
you heal the wounds of sin and division.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
through you we put to death the sins of the body – and live.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day (Palm Sunday):

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 Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Introduction to the Peace:

Now in union with Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of Christ’s blood; for he is our peace (Ephesians 2: 17)

Preface:

Through Jesus Christ our Saviour,
who, for the redemption of the world,
humbled himself to death on the cross;
that, being lifted up from the earth,
he might draw all people to himself:

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.

Blessing:

Christ draw you to himself
and grant that you find in his cross a sure ground for faith,
a firm support for hope,
and the assurance of sins forgiven:

Jesus is condemned to death … an image on the façade of Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

217, All glory, laud and honour (CD 14)
134, Make way, make way, for Christ the king (CD 8)
715, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God the Lord Almighty (CD 40)

Passion Scenes in a window in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

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