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.

Holy Week Resources

Radio

Palm Sunday

  • 5.45am Radio 4 Lent Talk Writer Tim Lott reflects on identity and parenthood
  • 6.00am Radio 2 Good Morning Sunday 3 Hours of chat and music for Palm Sunday
  • 6.05am Radio 4 Something Understood Rabbi Shashana Boyd Gelfand on Immortality
  • 7.10am Radio 4 Sunday Edward Stourton looks at ethical and religious issues
  • 8.00am Bristol Radio Sunday Morning Worship
  • 8.10am Radio 4 Sunday Worship Walking in the Company of Jesus
  • 3.30pm Radio 3 Choral Evensong from Magdalen College Oxford
  • 7.30pm Radio 3 Music for Holy Week Bach, Handel, Lassus and Schnittke

Monday

  • 5.43 am Radio 4 Prayer for the Day
  • 9.45am Radio 4 Daily Service
  • 4.30pm Radio 4 Beyond Belief Sin: Discussion about how we define Sin.

Tuesday

  • 5.43 am Radio 4 Prayer for the Day
  • 9.45am Radio 4 Daily Service

Wednesday

  • 5.43 am Radio 4 Prayer for the Day
  • 9.45am Radio 4 Daily Service
  • 3.30pm Radio 3 Choral Evensong from Westminster Cathedral
  • 8.45pm Radio 4 Lent Talk Bishop of Loughborough

Maunday Thursday

  • 5.43 am Radio 4 Prayer for the Day
  • 9.45am Radio 4 Daily Service

Good Friday

  • 5.43 am Radio 4 Prayer for the Day
  • 9.45am Radio 4 Daily Service
  • 2.00pm Radio 3 Bach St Johns Passion BBC National Chorus/Orchastra of Wales
  • 3.00pm Radio 4 Good Friday Meditation
  • 7.00pm Radio 2 At the foot of the Cross An evening of music and reflection
  • 7.00pm Radio 3 Bach’s St Matthews Passion Berlin Philharmonic/Rattle

Television

Palm Sunday

  • 11.00am BBC1 Sunday Worship from Hereford Cathedral, led by the Dean
  • 1.15pm BBC1 Songs of Praise from Glasgow Cathedral

Good Friday

  • 1.40pm BBC1 Heavenly Gardens Featuring Gardens steeped in faith and Spirituality

Benefice Resources

Palm Sunday


Dear All Saints and St Marys

Grace, Mercy and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!

As Parishes, as a Benefice, as a Partnership and as a wider Diocese and National Church many different resources are being made available online for Holy Week. Over the course of the next few days and into Holy Week we will be offering some of these for people to use and reflect with, either on their own or with others in their household. I hope that they bring you closer to God as we journey through Holy Week in this strange and isolating time in our history and lives.

My thanks to everyone across the Churches who have been able to bring these resources together

Shelia McKay – Messy Church Holy Week

Mark Simms  – Lectionary

Revd Sally Prendergast (Collated by Diane Simms)

Dan Jones – Diocesan Youth and Children’s

Neil Warwick – Archdeacon of Bristol

Margaret Morgan – Radio and TV listings

Attached are – Reflections for Palm Sunday, Worship this Sunday, A Lectionary for April and a Holy Week Craft Cross Activity.

I will collate some more resources and send them in the next few days.

I will celebrate communion at home this Palm Sunday at 10.30am. Do join me in prayer at this time if you can or with the other resources offered here and then if you can for the Zoom Coffee chat an Prayer.

May the Lord God Bless you and Keep you until we meet again.

Revd Lizzie


  1. National Online Church Service – https://www.facebook.com/thechurchofengland
  2. Archdeacon of Bristol’s message for Palm Sunday – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQWfZ9p9ZlE
  3. Zoom – Benefice Coffee and Chat and Prayer – 11.15am – https://us04web.zoom.us/j/3844812381
  4. Generations 7:15pm via Zoom

Sermon for Passion Sunday

Passion Sunday

29th March 2020

I never imagined that I would one day be sat at home writing a sermon that would in effect never get preached. It may of course get read, and I hope it will. But it will not get preached. There will be ideas that I might steal away for another Passion Sunday down the line in a few years, and there may well be nuggets that I retrieve for a future date. But sermons are things that occupy that space of time called the “Present” – they speak in the present moment. The readings that they dwell on may occur next year or the year after – but it will be no good to dig into the files of my word documents and just press print in the hope that what is written here might be relevant in Lent 2021 – it won’t.

In some ways that is a good thing – a good thing because I hope that by Lent 2021 that the words Coronavirus and Covid 19 will be things of our past, things that we talk about, lament about and grieve about but also as a moment that has gone. What is perhaps more clear is that this bug, this thing, this pandemic, epidemic, virus laden days and weeks that have consumed God’s earth in the last few months will have changed us. The world will be different. We don’t know yet how different, or even what different but it will be different. The Church will be different. We will be different.

Today is Passion Sunday. It is the start of the church season called Passiontide. It signals the ever increasing creep towards Holy Week, time when the Christians around the world take part in God’s Passion – Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem. His last days with his friends and then his death on a cross. At the end of which we wait patiently for the next day, a day when as the darkness falls on the earth late on Holy Saturday people gather around a fire to tell once again the stories of the Old Testament, to remember the  voices from our Jewish ancestors (Passion is taken from the word Pesach – Passover) and join them with the gospel news of Jesus’s resurrection. Passion Sunday collides into Palm Sunday which draws us deeper into the mystery of the Cross of Good Friday and the resurrection of Easter Day. It is possibly the most holy and solemn and poignant of Christian festivals. And it is one that for this year of 2020 we will not be able to gather for as we have previously.

The gospel that we are asked to reflect on today (John 11:1-45) is that of Lazarus. Lazarus was a friend of Jesus and the brother of Mary and Martha. Lazarus dies and Jesus is not there. In fact Jesus had known his friend was ill and he remained away. By the time Jesus arrives in Bethany his friend has been dead a number of days. At that point Jesus comes to the tomb and calls Lazarus to come out. His dead friend emerges from his burial place, with his raised flesh still covered in the bandages that he was wrapped in when he died.

It is a wonderful gospel to read. Unusual and graphic in its imagery. It has crammed into it a whole lot of stuff about faith and death and hope and life. It reads more like a dramatic story. And it pre-empts Jesus’s own death and resurrection. I think what I have found interesting is that it also combines the themes of darkness and light that have been emerging through the rest of John’s gospel readings in Lent. We had a couple of weeks ago the story of Nicodemus (John 3:1-21) who meets Jesus in the dark, at night. We then hear of Jesus encounter with the Samaritan Women at the well, in the glare of bright daylight. (John 4:1-42) And we arrive at this point with Lazarus with those themes of darkness and light crashing around.

The darkness of Lazarus’s sickness. The fear and mourning of his family and friends around him. The literal stench of death.

And yet there are then shards of light. The faith of Mary and Martha, the confidence of Jesus prayers to God as he beckons Lazarus out of his tomb, the astonishment and faith of the people who witness this. And we will follow these themes of darkness and light all the way to Jerusalem to the cross at Golgotha and to the Easter Garden.

This moment in our own history feels very much of darkness and light. The closing down of our world and the shutting of the churches is unprecedented. No one of any living generation has seen this before. The sickness, the isolation and the death feels at times completely overwhelming. Around the world and here in the UK this week as we adjust to a new way of being with each other – which is ironically to “not be with each other”. Words such as Zoom (a new ecclesiastical word is born!) and social distancing are now part of our vocabulary in a way that they were not a few weeks ago. People walk around each other, there is a sense of foreboding and an unknown about this time. There is darkness.

And yet – there are also shards of light. The way in which communities have rallied together, that neighbours have created WhatsApp groups, the notes through doors from strangers offering help, the smile of a person across the park because there is a sense of togetherness, even if we are separated at the moment. The emergence of many different social media outlets and places to say hello – there are “Houseparties” going on my phone! The time to do nothing, to slow down. The pictures of fish in the canals of Venice, the sound of birdsong in the morning, the roads with limited traffic. There are shards of light that are being beamed to us every day despite the darkness.

One of the hard and challenging parts for me, and I would think for most, is the lack of physical contact. The Christian story is one so wrapped up in the physical – everything we do is tied to something of the flesh and the way that is expressed in worship is also tangible. Be it water poured at a baptism, oil used to anoint a person, rings which are blessed for marriage. We use touch to share the peace and we ultimately bless and break bread – we physically eat together in order to understand something of the mystery of God in Jesus Christ. And Jesus story follows the same physical story. He is born of flesh, a person, a real human. He is raised and fed by his family, he walks past the fishermen on the Lake and he speaks and eats with his friends. He weeps at the grave of Lazarus his friend. His body is broken on the cross and it is his body which is raised again. We are a people of flesh and we worship a God who celebrates our “fleshiness”.

So this is hard. Because everything about this virus needs us to retreat from that physical world in which we understand a little more of the spiritual.

However, the gospel story, the good news story is one that offers shards of light in the darkness. We are an Easter People, even if at the moment it feels that is a long way off. Hope is at the centre of the Christian faith. It is not a mere fancy, or a slight wish but a concrete knowledge of a God of Love who makes things right.

Some suggest that Jesus motivation for calling Lazarus from the dead, is to show the crowds of his power and his identity – surely Jesus must be God if he can raise the dead?

However, it has been suggested that was not Jesus’ primary motivation at all in the good news that we hear today. It is suggested that his motivation was love.

Jesus loved his friend. Jesus in love called his name. It was the power of God’s love for the world that raised Lazarus from his grave. It is that same power that makes us an Easter People. May we look to the day when that will come with courage and strength and hope.

Yours as ever with prayer

Revd Lizzie

Passion Sunday

Dear All

Tomorrow will be different again for us as churches, as we gather in our homes and different locations to worship.

I will celebrate the Eucharist at 10.30am tomorrow morning in the study here at Vicars Close. Saul will be joining me as he did last week in the chapel at All Saints. I wanted you to know that I will carry you all in my heart and prayers as we break bread. If you have any particular prayers please do email them to me.

I have attached a number of links and resources on it – please do take a look and join in either by listening to the radio, or checking into the Church of England website or downloading one of the apps or even just using the colouring link as a blessing for tomorrow. You could do all four if you wanted!

I will write a sermon for tomorrow – Passion Sunday – and also do a short video a bit later in the day. Please check the websites and facebook pages for these as well.

In the meantime – May the Lord God bless you and keep you. 

Lizzie

Revd Lizzie Kesteven

Worship Ideas for Passion Sunday 2020

Sunday March 29th

  1. Worship services to join in with on Sunday

8.00am –BBC Radio Bristol – Morning Worship

1.15pm – BBC Songs of Praise with Aled Jones and Archbishop of York Elect – Right Revd Stephen Cottrell

9.00am – A live service with the Archbishop of York www.churchofengland.org

  • Other Ways to Worship and Pray

13 Daily reflections on – www.churchofengland.org/faith-action/mental-health-resources/supporting-good-mental-health/supporting-good-mental-health

Sign up to #Livelent: Care for God’s creation – www.churchofengland.org/our-faith/living-out-our-faith/lent-holy-week-and-easter/livelent-care-gods-creation

  • Something to Colour!

Try this is you want a bit of downtimeflamecreativekids.blogspot.com/2013/01/prayers-to-colour-in.html

  •   Junior Church and Giggle online – Roots materials

If you are looking for something relevant to this Sunday and its readings then check out this resourcehttps://www.rootsontheweb.com/media/20385/liveyourfaith_106_29_march.pdf