Sermon for Palm Sunday

In recent days we have been encouraged to stand on our doorsteps and clap loudly.

Every time we stand and clap (or cheer) we are expressing our overwhelming gratitude for a ‘job well done’.

If we watch a play or listen to a concert, we applaud (and sometimes cheer) to show our appreciation for the skill of the actors and musicians.

We applaud as a way of saying ‘Thank you’ for taking us to ‘another place’ –
a place beyond the reality of our daily lives;
a place we can rarely define,
but a place so much better, so much richer.

Our recent doorstep demonstrations of appreciation have been targeted in a slightly different way – the whole population is being encouraged to say ‘Thank you’, but for something very specific.

We are being asked to say ‘Thank you’ to those who, through their various occupations, regularly put themselves in danger of contracting the Coronavirus in order that others might continue to live their lives with some dignity, and with some semblance of ‘normality’.

On Palm Sunday we remember another moment when the crowds rushed out and loudly acclaimed the way in which someone lived out their life for the benefit of others.

Palm Sunday is, of course, the moment when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem.

For some time in the Gospel narrative we have been reading of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. We have heard his dire predictions of what is going to happen when he gets there. We, living in this post-resurrection age, know that from this moment it is all going to turn very ugly indeed. And yet, today, like those crowds of 2000 years ago, we wave our palms and we shout our Hosannas as we join in welcoming the King into the holy city of Jerusalem.

I wonder how many of you have ever stood in line as our Queen goes past. It happened for us a few years ago. The Queen and Prince Philip visited the school where Vicky and I lived and worked. The school is a royal foundation and it was a landmark anniversary in its history – hence the visit from its distinguished Patron.

For weeks before the Queen’s arrival there was a growing crescendo of eager anticipation. An amazing amount of planning, cleaning, decorating and reorganisation happened, including the arrival of the royal limousine 24 hours in advance of the monarch – and then the day came.

The royal helicopter landed, the Queen was escorted to her car, the car drove down the main Avenue of the school to enthusiastic applause. It was a great day for one and all.

But, it was so different from the arrival of the monarch we are celebrating today.

After a long journey on foot, Jesus sent his disciples to find the donkey on which he would travel. There had been no detailed manoeuvres ahead of his arrival. His entrance into Jerusalem and the acclamation he received were so different from the hysteria that is often whipped up ahead of the visit of a worldly celebrity.

Jesus, in the actions and acclamations of those crowds, was spontaneously being recognized as the true King.

And what a King!

This King knows precisely who He was, and who He is;
this King comes with unbounded compassion for souls and for bodies; 
this King comes with news of divine judgement.

This King – this Jesus – is the rightful King,
not just of the Jewish state but of the world; 
this is a victorious King – although the full extent of his victory is yet to be seen; 
this is a gentle King – a King who has healed and taught; 
a King who will soon wash his disciples’ feet as a model of love and service.

Those who cheered and waved their palm branches in Jerusalem 2000 years ago were cheering the person whom they believed could take them to ‘another place’ –
a place free from oppression;
a place of prosperity;
a place nearer to God.

Of course, those dreams were not realistic – they were not to be realized in the way they hoped and dreamed.

Those palm wavers were soon to change their shouts of ‘Hosanna’ to shouts of ‘Crucify’ because the unrealistic hysteria was soon to turn into disillusioned fear.

The one being hailed as King was soon to be arrested, tried, condemned and crucified.

Even those nearest to him would fade into the background – they would betray and deny – they would cower in fear.

Our applause, whether for health workers, shop workers, or for whoever, is sincere in the moment, but how do we prove its sincerity in the way we live out our daily lives?

Do we show it by respecting the needs of those ‘key workers’, or do we continue to grab as much as we can from the supermarket shelves to the detriment of those we were so recently applauding?

Do we turn our palm waving into shouts of ‘crucify’?

In the coming week we will be journeying through the most sacred time in the Church’s calendar.

This year we can only mark this time by joining in prayer and reflection. Are we able to remain steadfast in the faith during these challenging times?

Are we able to maintain the cries of ‘Hosanna’ or will we be browbeaten into joining the shouts of ‘Crucify’?

The challenge of any Palm Sunday is for us to reflect on our Christian discipleship, and on the strength of our faith.

The challenge of this Palm Sunday is to reflect on our certainty that we are still part of Christ’s Church on earth, and that we are still truly in communion with all who profess their faith in Jesus Christ.

Let us pray that we might all find peace in the certainty of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice – made once and for all, for each and every one of us. Amen.