Sermon St Mary’s Marlborough, 14th April 2019 8am
Palm Sunday: Luke 19.28-40 & Philippians 2.5-11
It’s Palm Sunday today, the beginning of Holy Week when we remember Jesus’ last week of earthly ministry and prepare to celebrate the Easter mysteries. And so it is the most important week in the Christian year. I’m wondering what this week will hold for you? Is it a week in which life almost seems to come to a stand-still, where the day-to-day routine fades to the background and in which all becomes focussed on your spiritual life? Or is it a week more or less like any other, possibly punctuated by one or more services before next Sunday, and hot-cross buns on Friday?
In any case, if we really reflect on the things we are about to commemorate, we cannot be but changed. And not only as individuals, as through prayer and worship we strengthen our own relationship with God, but also as a community, as a Church.
Last week, I was on retreat in Northumberland, sharing in the life and worship of a small Franciscan friary. What struck me particularly this time was their commitment to intercessory prayer. In each service and before each meal, we prayed for those around us, for religious communities throughout the world, and maybe most importantly for those for whom no one is praying.
With this upcoming Holy Week in mind, it made me realise that although each of our lives is unique, they are fundamentally connected. Although not two of us are identical, neither is any of us isolated: togetherness is a fundamental aspect of our life and faith. And that is important to remember as we follow Jesus, maybe particularly in this upcoming Holy Week. Following Christ does not mean to take up His Cross, but to take up our cross. And we need each other to do that.
Groups of people play a hugely important role in the last week of Jesus’ life. The crowds of disciples shouting “Blessed is the king” as we hear this morning. The same crowds who will only a few days later shout “Crucify him”. The disciples as they have their last supper with Jesus, wait with Him on that last night, and see him dying on the cross. Of course, there are also the individual stories: Peter, Mary Magdalene, Judas to name maybe the most important ones. But also their identity is not independent of the other followers of Christ, they too are part of the crowds.
That realisation, that we are one of many, does by no means mean that we have become less significant. It doesn’t deny the fact that we have a unique, personal relationship with God, and he with us. However, it makes us appreciate even more God’s power and love: these things did not just happen for me, but for each and all of us. Amongst the many things we have in common with each other, maybe the most important one is that we were created and redeemed by the God who loved us so much that he gave his only Son to die for us and rise again.
So, as we embark on this Holy Week, I would like to invite you specifically to make time to pray for others. To be mindful of those around us, as well as those people we may not know by name. To pray for those in need and for Christians throughout the world as they are preparing for their Easter celebrations, and maybe most importantly, to pray for those for whom no one is praying.
It is when we look away from ourselves and turn our gaze to others, that we realise we have turned our gaze to Christ himself. It is the encounter with others at the foot of the cross and the empty tomb, that will turn out to be the encounter with Jesus himself, the risen Christ. Amen.