28 March 2021
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever!
Let Israel say,
‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvellous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.*
Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.*
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God,
and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
up to the horns of the altar.*
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God, I will extol you.
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.
Isaiah 50: 4-9a
The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backwards.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.
The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
It is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
All of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up.
Almighty and everlasting God,
who in your tender love towards the human race
sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh
and to suffer death upon the cross:
grant that we may follow the example of his patience and humility,
and also be made partakers of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
True and humble king,
hailed by the crowd as Messiah:
grant us the faith to know you and love you,
that we may be found beside you
on the way of the cross,
which is the path of glory.
Philippians 2: 5-11
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
John 12: 12-16
The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
the King of Israel!’
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!’
His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.
Mark 11: 1-11
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
We begin with Jesus's disciples based in Bethany following the raising of Lazarus. By day they go into Jerusalem, only a few miles away, where Jesus engages in what may be seen as provocative acts; clearing out the money changers and the buyers and sellers of offerings from the temple, telling pointed parables about barren fig trees and wicked tenants, and telling the crowd to beware of the scribes who want the best seats in the synagogue, and praising the offering of the widow's mite. No wonder the authorities plot to ensnare him.
Quite often Jesus retreats to the Garden of Gethsemane at night for communion with his Father. He also spends nights with the disciples, particularly on the eve of the Passover with the last supper, as we remember on Maundy Thursday. This pattern is spectacularly interrupted by the entry into Jerusalem which our Palm gospel commemorates. It is a well-remembered event, and with its joyful and happy crowds it is perhaps particularly appropriate for our first Sunday service in church since we went into lockdown so long ago.
There is an expression used by those who are critical of a course of action, who say, "Mark my words, it will all end in tears". Like Jesus, but unlike the crowds and the disciples, we know as we now enter holy week how it's all going to end. Firstly in bitter tears and then in joyful exaltation. As we look ahead to the next eight days we approach the worst of holy week. Jesus, exhausted by the crowds, drained by trying to prepare the disciples for what was ahead of them, betrayed by Judas, abandoned by the disciples, desolate in the garden, humiliated, beaten, falsely convicted and crucified. It would be easy to skate over those painful episodes and focus on the resurrection; death is not the end, Jesus lives and we are saved.
For Jesus it must have been a very challenging time; to accept the Hosannas, the spreading of the garments and the palm branches, knowing they would be replaced by a crowd baying for the release of Barabbas and his own crucifixion.
Fortunately, it is unlikely that we will experience such extremes, but there may be times of triumph and disaster in our lives. Perhaps we are celebrating a happy family life when one person walks out and there is a divorce. Or someone we counted a friend makes unkind comments on Facebook, or our financial future looks secure but we are suddenly made redundant. Perhaps we were rejoicing in the company of friends when lockdown isolated us. Forgive the personal comment if I add, your loving companion with whom you plan to spend many more happy days is taken from you.
Jesus, as we know, remains faithful despite all that he has to endure. His human side is brought out by his agonising in the Garden of Gethsemane before submitting; "Your will, not mine, be done".
Can we remain faithful despite life's challenges? I believe we can if we focus on the long run. Despite our day- to- day setbacks the future is God's ultimate victory. Meanwhile he does not abandon us, and he will sustain and comfort us when we call upon Him.