Sermon for Palm Sunday

The Gospel of Matthew 21: 1-11

Palm Sunday is the beginning of the end. It marks a change in direction for Lent. We have crept closer and closer to this moment in time and now it is suddenly here. We are invited through Palm Sunday and the rest of Holy Week not just to be spectators, or even witnesses, but to be partakers in God’s story of salvation.

Yet “normal” practice this year is different. No hunting around to see if there is a spare donkey available, no counting out palm crosses, or processions outside. And although there is a lot we are discovering can be done on Zoom and other video conferencing, social media outlets, I am fairly sure that people will not be trying to process with palms and donkeys in living rooms via the internet!

However, we can be partakers in God’s story of salvation. We can immerse ourselves in this Holy “est” of weeks.

It is perhaps with a little irony that the word that stands out for me in Matthew’s gospel telling of Jesus entry into Jerusalem is the word “crowds”. They are mentioned three times in 11 verses. It is the crowds who lay cloaks and branches in the road. It is the crowds who shout out to Jesus and it is the crowds who answer when the people in Jerusalem ask who this man is. I am sure that the word “crowd” is heightened for us all at the moment, as we haven’t seen one or been part of one for a number of weeks. There is a busyness about that image of the crowd. Lots of people walking along together makes for a noisy and bustling scene. (The last time many people of Bristol were part of that large crowd was only a month ago when many of us gathered on college green to hear Greta Thunberg speak about climate change and its impact.) It would have been hectic and loud in the city that day as people jostled for space in Jerusalem. Pilates soldiers alongside hundreds of pilgrims who had made their way to that one space. A sense of excitement builds as Jesus begins his final week.

So what does it mean to be part of a crowd? It suggests a common interest. Individuals who can be described as one group. A camaraderie. The crowds in the bible today came perhaps for a variety of reasons. Maybe they just happened to be there? Ever been one of those people in the crowd? When something happens that you were not expecting, but you were pleased to have got caught up in it? Some of the crowds came with Jesus from the Mount of Olives, they semi escort him into the city. Ever been one of those people in the crowd? Someone who was part of the organising? Some people in the crowd came because they had heard about it beforehand and out of curiosity decided to come, perhaps even at the last minute. And what struck me about being part of a “crowd” is that individuals can remain anonymous. They don’t have to stand out, or be noticed particularly, it is their simple physical presence and proximity in time and space that make them “the crowd”. Yet there is a sense of having wanted to be part of “this crowd” that hailed Jesus into the city that day 2000 years ago.

Of course the same crowds that surrounded Jesus today, waving branches, hailing him as the new King and Saviour, are the same crowds who shout “Crucify” later on this week. Again their anonymity is preserved.  That is a “crowd” that I know that am less eager to own. A crowd that I would like to distance myself from, but nevertheless a crowd that I am also a partaker in.

Yet the depth of Holy Week, and the depths that we are invited to be partakers in is anything but “crowd” like. One of the greatest threads of the Bible and of Gods story of salvation is that we are each individually known and called by name, whether that is Jonah, Moses, Noah, Ruth, Lazarus or Mary. We are invited to be ourselves most fully with God, who allowed himself to be most fully human. It reminds me of the words that priests say as they pour wine and water into a chalice before the Eucharistic Prayer – “May we all share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity”

That requires a huge amount of vulnerability. Being ourselves with God. It requires the Holy “est” of undertakings. As we are invited into God’s story at this time, in this place, with sisters and brothers from around God’s world. I pray that we might in the difficult weeks ahead hold to the fact that as individuals called by name, we are invited to know what it means to call God, Our Lord and Saviour. To be be partaker. To take part.

Blessing of the Palms Prayer

God our Saviour,

whose Son Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem as Messiah to suffer and to die;

let these palms be for us signs of his victory

and grant that we who bear them in his name

may ever hail him as our King,

and follow him in the way that leads to eternal life;

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

Amen.