Sermon at 10 a.m. at St Mary’s Church Hadlow – Palm Sunday
Philippians 2 vv 5 – 11 – We should follow the example of Christ’s humility
Mark 11 vv 1 – 11 Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem In the square
Mark 15 vv 1 – 39 Jesus before Pilate and then the soldiers, Jesus’ crucifixion and death
Theme – The active and passive aspects of Jesus’ life and our lives.
- Introduction. Have you ever come across a river, stream or dyke where the flow is simultaneously in opposite directions? Many years ago, with a friend, I canoed along the Norfolk coast from Blakeney, out to sea through Blakeney Harbour, along the coast and in through the fast-flowing channel on the rising tide to Wells-next-Sea, actually now about a mile inland. After a break in Wells we continued our journey in a dyke across the salt marshes. The tide had by then turned and so initially it was easy going but then we realised our speed was dropping, the water was quite calm and 50 yards further only we were going against the incoming tide flowing up from Blakeney Harbour. Our two readings today from Mark’s gospel are rather like that contrasting flow. In the reading of Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem, read in the square, Jesus is active, but by Good Friday he is passive, everything is being done or said to him. This is a deliberate part of the structure of Mark’s gospel. I thought it would be good this morning to look at both readings, especially their contrast. I am however mindful that some of us started the service at 10.45 a.m. in the square and that we have just had a long gospel reading. My sermon will be quite short.
- Triumphal entry. In the quite short reading of the triumphal reading Jesus is in control of the situation. Jesus is active. We read that he came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, He sent two disciples, with clear instruction to get a colt, he takes his seat on the colt, he enters Jerusalem, he goes to the temple, he looks round and then returns to Bethany. The crowd participated, but the whole event of that day was a deliberately planned and executed, symbolic entry to Jerusalem. Jesus has had a very active three-year ministry. He has been teaching, preaching healing, reaching to not only to Jews but to Samaritans and Gentiles. The active period of his life is almost over.
The transition, like that still water in the dyke through the salt marshes of Blakeney occurs after the last Supper as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. After that, beginning with his arrest, almost every verb in Mark’s gospel is of people doing things to Jesus, he is passive; it is the time of his passion.
- Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. So, we come to the gospel reading we have just heard, beginning with Jesus before Pilate and finishing with his death. Everything is being done to Jesus. The national leaders bound Jesus, the led him away, they turned him over to Pilate. Pilate questions Jesus. The chief priests accuse Jesus. Pilate has Jesus flogged. Pilate hands over Jesus to be crucified. The soldiers put a purple robe and a crown of thorns on Jesus and then mock him. They forced him to carry the cross, they crucified him and divided his clothes. In Mark’s account the only actions of Jesus are firstly to answer a question posed by Pilate and then to cry out from the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. Jesus is passive.
- The contrast. What a contrast! I am indebted to Canon Bill Vanstone whose book “the Stature of Waiting” draws attention not only to the contrasting structure of Mark’s gospel but also to its significance both for Jesus and for us.
Jesus’ three active years of ministry was of enormous significance for the declaration that the kingdom of God was coming, as well as training for the early disciples prior to the launching of the Church after Jesus’ ascension. However, it was the events of Jesus’ passion, the cross of Christ that is the essential foundation of our salvation, the fundamental difference of the Christian Faith as compared with other world religions.
What though of its significance for us. Canon Vanstone experienced a serious heart attack in 1975 and except for a very short period was not able to return to parish ministry. But in the remaining 22 years of his life was able to write books, conduct retreats and give lectures with a wealth of parish ministry to inform his later ministry.
In his book he recounts how when in parish ministry there was one elderly woman who was house bound but was a strong focus of community in the parish. She was a great person of prayer. People frequently telephoned her and visited her to ask her to pray for them and with them.
Many of us are quite strongly influenced by the ‘Protestant work ethic” and regard any period out of action in a negative way. I am rather like that. We should though not write off such periods. Sometimes in such periods God can do new things in and through our limitations. In the Mothering Sunday BBC “Songs of Praise” a mother was describing her reaction to finding that her second child, Barney, was born with Down’s syndrome and how she came to love and appreciate that Barney as someone very special and that it matters more who we are than what we do. Barney is a person of a very real and strong faith in God. He chose a hymn to be sung in the “Songs of Praise” programme.
- Conclusion. If you find in your life that there is a transition from an active life style to something less active from an easy journey going with the current to a tough phase of life against the current then look to Jesus, trust God that he can achieve something very special for you and through you for others during such a phase. Call to mind today’s epistle reading in which the Apostle Paul writes of Jesus’ humility and invites us to follow Jesus’ example.
1052 words Christopher Miles