Palm Sunday 2017 10am // 11.15am at TRINITY, Lewes
Anyone know what this is? If you can read the small print you can probably work it out. It’s not a tube map but a cleverly drawn timeline of Holy week. Palm Sunday – Easter Sunday (and beyond), different people in different colours, using accounts from all 4 gospels, including scripture refs.
And we are here – at the beginning of the week, what we now refer to as ‘Palm Sunday’ – when we remember the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, in what is usually called his ‘triumphal entry’. It’s the absolute contrast to what happens in just 5 days time (point to Friday) when we remember Jesus’ death on the cross on Good Friday. And exactly a week before his resurrection which we will celebrate next Sunday.
For many of us, if we are honest, this will be a normal week, perhaps a working week, we might not have the time to even consider that we are in Holy week or what it even means to us. We might simply go from one celebration – Palm Sunday today – to the next – Easter Day – without considering the in between. And that’s life, we don’t often have time to stop, reflect and consider until we are forced to perhaps by life’s circumstances or we deliberately choose to take time out to do so.
But I think that if nothing else, at this time of year it’s a great opportunity to really think about the truth of our faith, the unfailing love that was the fuel that led Jesus to the cross.
For us. For me. For you.
It’s easy sometimes to take for granted what Jesus did, we talk about him going to the cross, or we use phrases like ‘laying things at the foot of the cross, or carrying our cross, or we might wear a symbol of the cross, or have one in our homes. But what does it mean to us? Truly and really?
This week I want to encourage you to take some time even if just a few minutes a day to reflect on that and I’ve actually written some notes which will be online if you want to use them. 10 mins each day.
And we are going to start that this morning by thinking about triumph and it’s counterpart sorrow.
And here today we start at the beginning of Holy Week. Palm Sunday. But it’s not really a beginning at all, it’s really part of the culmination of Jesus’ life, of all that he came to do. And if we think about it in human terms it’s really the wrong way around – in one sense, this is a funeral procession not a triumphal one, and yet the death we see later in the week is the very victory over death.
So, here Jesus comes into Jerusalem in triumph. All who saw and were cheering, or waving branches were welcoming him as a king. It’s joyful, it is a celebration, they waved Palm branches and laid their cloaks before him on the ground. A modern day equivalent might be perhaps the Queen visiting today and hoards of people lining the streets just to see her, and waving union flags or singing the national anthem – it’s that equivalent – a royal welcome. There was huge expectation.
I want to show you a clip of what it might have been like back then…
This is from The BBC’s The Passion series and give us an idea what it might have been like….
>>>> Clip from BBC The Passion
I do love this clip, of course it’s full of artistic licence and those petals look distinctly like they are made of modern paper, not very 1st C Jerusalem, but I find it really helpful as a focus.
The scene is so emotive,
The crowds calling his name,
Laying their Cloaks on the ground
Palm branches wafting in the air, people’s faces alight with joy and hope
The petals scattered by smiling children onto a smiling Jesus
All around is celebrating, shouting hosanna, hosanna
Onlookers swept into the delight, led on by the disciples,
And yet…. If we fast forward just 5 days
Instead, onlookers jeer and question as the disciples scatter
Instead of shouts of praise are angry cries of ‘crucify’ ‘crucify’
Instead of the beauty of crimson petals falling, drops of red blood, fall on those same streets, not falling upon Jesus, but from him
Branches are forgotten, trampled under foot, dusty and dirty, under the feet of soldiers, animals and…
cloaks on the ground are replaced by the heavy feet of Roman soldiers,
hope has quickly vanished and replaced with angry faces.
The atmosphere has darkened, instead of joy, hate fills the air
Just to warn you this next clip is quite graphic…
Those two clips show such vast contrasts in the life of Jesus just a few days apart and yet, they are both necessary parts of his mission here on earth, his role to save us all from our own brokenness, from the evil inflicted on this world by the Devil.
Triumph and sorrow are all part of his Victory.
And that is what I want to focus on today – the triumph and it’s counterpart sorrow.
I chose that word sorrow carefully, as the opposite to Triumph, because an obvious one might be be defeat or failure, and yet there is no defeat or failure here because as Christians we can be sure of the ending, we know that Jesus overcame death, he did the unthinkable, he won against death. Both spiritually and physically.
And yet he had to experience such extremes of life to do so.
And I would venture to say that it is the same for us. Just as Jesus knew what the ending would be, we know that ultimate truth, that is the truth that should underpin our daily lives, that whatever we face there is an unbelievable future in store for us.
But before we get there we have to navigate this fallen, yet beautiful, loving and yet hate-filled, triumphant and yet sorrowful world. And that can be flippin’ hard can’t it?
And we can just as much see that in things Jesus’ faced
– his friend Lazarus died and he wept at his loss. Even though he knew that death would not win, he still suffered the pain of losing a friend.
Isaiah 53: 3 tells us:
He was despised and rejected–a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. (NLT)
– The bible tells us God is love and yet we see in the OT God being filled with wrath,
He’s a jealous God
You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me…
– and yet a joy filled God:
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.
And here in v 41 we see the second of 2 verses where Jesus cries.
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.
Whilst our future in eternity is in a place where tears will be dried, there will be no death of crying or pain, as Rev 21 says
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea…. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
For now, though we do have to face those things and it would be unrealistic to expect otherwise. But let’s be sure – suffering and hardship, illness and pain – none of it comes from God. That is not his intention for us. I am still amazed by how many people accept that. Like it’s some kind of punishment doled out on us for some perhaps unperceived sin. Rubbish! Look crappy stuff happens, it’s the result of being in a fallen world, where the devil has a foothold and we all have free choice.
That doesn’t mean God doesn’t or can’t use it for his benefit, for I know that he can and does. I think I’ve told before of how when I had a back injury a couple of years ago and had surgery meaning 3 months off work and lengthy recovery period that despite the hideous pain, I can look back on that time as a blessing as God spoke to me so powerfully through it all. I think of people like ‘The Heavenly man’ (Brother Yun) who suffered horrendous persecution in China because of his faith, being in prison, tortured for years and yet now his story touches people all across the world. Thousands of people have heard the gospel through him and his story.
Or a friend of mine who tragically lost her baby at 17 hours old to a Group B Strep infection. In her grief she channelled her pain, led by God and started a charity to raise awareness and to fight for routine testing to stop other babies dying.
Nothing is wasted in God’s kingdom.
However sometimes it isn’t that obvious where God is at work, sometimes it’s a wilderness, or a barren landscape where it is hard just to hang onto an iota of faith because of our journey, let alone see where God is at work.
In our passage we read:
41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
That’s pretty harsh isn’t it? Even in his triumph as he approaches Jerusalem with people calling out praise to him, he weeps in sorrow for a lost city. For the people who won’t enter his kingdom with him…
But I believe that moments of triumph help to sustain us in times of sorrow. God gives us amazing experiences or knowledge of him to hang on to when we need them most.
I love how this is depicted in the second clip I showed you earlier – that in the midst of the pain Jesus was experiencing as he walked to his death carrying the cross, he looked up and saw, one assumes in his imagination, the girls from a few days before scattering petals on him and he seems to gather a renewed strength to carry on.
I wonder what those moments might be for you? A moment of clarity of Jesus at work in you life that gives you strength?
But our triumphs are not just ours to keep and treasure, they are also for the glory of God.
As the disciples enter Jerusalem with Christ it says
‘’then he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
They praise God for the miracles they have seen. And yet the Pharisees, one assumes in fear or offense tell Jesus to rebuke his disciples, to tell them to stop and he simply says, ‘If they keep quiet the stones will cry out.’
Because all creation is made to praise the Lord
All the earth bows down to you;they sing praise to you, they sing the praises of your name.
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
Isaiah 55:12 English Standard Version (ESV)
“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
We are part of God’s creation and called to cry out in praise, in worship and in testimony to the greatness of God.
And yet so often we fall short.
And we are not alone.
It’s all very well reading here how the disciples shouted in praise and worship but in 5 days time they all, scatter. Of the 12, John is the only one at the crucifixion. Peter denies Jesus 3 times, despite being warned he will do so, and Judas sells him out.
So we can draw comfort from them, that they were with Jesus every day and still they messed up.
but just going back to the stones crying out – I was thinking about Jesus crying over the city of Jerusalem and wondering whether we cry over our own town?
It doesn’t matter what our political views or how these situations arose, the question is, do we have compassion? do we weep for those amongst us as Jesus did?
There is so much more we can do – and I am so excited about our Love in Action plans and the vision for the new TRINITY centre at St John’s because it will give us a base from which to see so much more of God’s love spread across our town. We will have a much greater opportunity to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn, and to see lives transformed by the love of Christ.
Amongst the sorrow I want to seek the triumph of God at work. And I hope we will be united in that as a church!
Because I think that is key to building faith, ours and other peoples – to seek the triumph of God in all we do. To look for those encounters with him that build us up as disciples of Jesus.
And it’s important to seek those moments in our present but also to remember them too from our past. There is such power in reliving things that God has done. I have various ways of doing that – I have a prayer journal, I write on my blog, I even have an ‘enouragement box’ for the days when I need some, it’s full of cards and letters people have written to me or thanked me for something I’ve done or said that has helped them. It was something I heard suggested at college and it’s really helpful. And my prayer journal – of which I have hundreds of filled ones in a box in my study – I look back on to remind myself of where God has been at work in my life. In times of sorrow that’s where I look for reminders of his triumph.
So I want to ask you… Where are those moments of triumph in your life? What is your experience of triumph? What stories of God at work in your life that can sustain you?
As I said I’ve prepared some notes for this week, as a sort of aid to reflection…
Each day scripture from the Holy week narrative, poetry, images, prayer points and prompts to help you engage anew with the truth of what Christ has done for you.
So this week as we remember the journey Jesus took from the triumphal entry, let’s take this opportunity to seek him afresh in our lives, perhaps we can look for moments of encounter or triumph, perhaps we can remind ourselves of the triumph amidst our own or others sorrow.