Sunday, 28 March 2021

Moving from Palm Sunday
through the disappointment
of Good Friday to Easter hope

The entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday … an image from Gaudí’s Basilica de Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 28 March 2021, Palm Sunday

10 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist

The Readings: Isaiah 50: 4-9a; Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29; Mark 11: 1-11.

The entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday … a fresco in Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

It is now more than a year since we entered the first lockdown, and it looks as though the pandemic is going to keep our Church buildings closed for a second consecutive Easter.

Many of my colleagues are wondering whether Church is ever going to be the same again when this pandemic is over. What is the ‘new normal’ going to mean for the Church in the years ahead?

Some people have got out of the habit of regular, Sunday church-going. Are other Sunday morning activities going to prove more attractive?

Other people have become comfortable with the idea of church-at-home on Sundays, watching live-streamed services on social media, or broadcast services on television. Will they opt for the comfort of the comfy couch rather than returning to the wooden pews?

Since we started recording our Sunday sermons and Sunday intercessions, twice as many people are watching these through YouTube, Facebook and my blog than have ever come to church. When the lockdown ends, are we going to find ways of meeting their spiritual needs without using ‘spiritual bullying’, trying to cajole them into our churches?

And, of course, there are people who feel God has let them down during the pandemic. They expected a God who would meet their expectations. Now they miss their grandchildren, they miss the crowds, they miss the buzz on the city streets, they miss their jobs, they miss friends and sports fixtures and coffee shops and stopping to chat in the streets … They miss the ordinary but very good things in life, and they may think God has let them down, they may feel disappointed thinking God no longer hears their prayers.

The story of Palm Sunday is the story of city crowds, without any social distancing. But it is also the story of people who expect a Saviour who meets their expectations, and – having hailed their expected Messiah on a Sunday morning – turn on him in the days that follow when he fails to meet those expectations, when he does not deliver on their demands, when he refuses their call to fashion a god in their own image and likeness and who does their bidding.

Palm Sunday and Holy Week are stories of built-up expectations, and rapidly escalating disappointments, on the part of people who we have to recognise and accept saw themselves as deeply religious, filled with pious hopes.

In Saint Mark’s account of that first Palm Sunday, Christ arrives in Jerusalem to great solemnity. This triumphal entry sounds the note of majesty and kingship before the Passion narrative begins. But Saint Mark gives us hints too that we should be also look forward to Christ’s second coming.

Christ’s entry into Jerusalem 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.

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 too.

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.

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

Christ 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 Christ has no control over what happens. God in Christ has emptied himself of all choice and of all 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.

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.

Some years ago, I was taught a lesson when I saw the community in Skerries in north Co Dublin showing its true humanity, its true capacity to love, it showed Christ-like priorities, when the people gave, shared and abandoned their own priorities to search for two missing fishermen who were drowned at sea.

The images that came to the fore from that community throughout that search 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 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:

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, empty, desolate 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) in Saint Mark’s, Florence

Mark 11: 1-11 (NRSVA):

1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately”.’ 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Palm Sunday decorations on the front door at the Rectory, Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical colour: Red (or Violet):

The canticle Gloria is omitted in Lent.

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:

‘Buro Taxi’ … riding on a donkey in Mijas in south-east Spain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

134, Make way, make way for Christ the King (CD 8)
231, My song is love unknown (CD 14)

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

Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

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



No comments: