Readings – Matthew 21:1-11, Matthew 27.11-54
Rev Gill Webb
This Palm Sunday as we remain indoors and avoid all gatherings in order to keep ourselves and others safe from Covid- 19 we remember the day when Jesus entered a busy and bustling city to celebrate the Passover with his friends. The roads would have been thronged with people making their way to the city with their families to visit the temple and join in the celebrations. Food stalls would be selling their wares, magicians performing to groups, the songs of the triumphal psalms being sung by the pilgrims, people exchanging news from far flung towns and villages. And in the background the Roman soldiers would have been patrolling looking for any sign of trouble and acting as a visual reminder about who was really in charge of this city.
Into this noisy city Jesus rode, on the back of a donkey and soon word spread. Some would have seen and heard him in their home town but others would have picked up the news about him from travellers. Great things had been said about him and the stories of his teaching and healing had excited a good deal of interest and here he was coming into the city just as Zechariah had envisaged the coming of God’s Messiah. Jesus was showing the people he had come as their King and the excitement was infectious. The crowds waved and sang and they welcomed Jesus with great enthusiasm but even here the grumblers disliked this whole scenario and some urged Jesus to tell them to be silent. The first hint of the antagonism is here and will be followed by the political and religious authorities colluding to protect themselves from the threat posed by this charismatic teacher.
For Christians this day marks the beginning of the road to Calvary as we follow Jesus for the last week of his earthly life. Every year our palm crosses are blessed and maybe this year we can all pick them up when we next return to church. I wonder what becomes of your palm cross each year. Sometimes I have collected them into a small vase and they stand together in my study but sometimes I have used them as book marks. This year I collected my crosses and burnt them to make the ash for our Ash Wednesday signing not thinking to retain one. Luckily I discovered a small one last week tucked into a book. I hope you have an old one from last year too but if not maybe you could be inventive and make one out of paper and mark it Palm Sunday 2020 and bring them to church for a display when we meet again!
During Lent I have been reading Fare Well in Christ by Vanstone and there he describes many stories from his ministry where the cross has played a significant part in people’s lives. One story that stood out for me was the story of a man with terminal illness whose wife asked the vicar to visit. The man could not speak so it was unclear what he wished to request. One thing was clear his medication was administered at three hourly intervals but as the last half hour dragged out he experienced pain and agitation. The man would watch the clock moving slowly in his pain and frustration. The vicar brought a palm cross and asked him if he would like it; he nodded his head and put the cross in the top pocket of his pyjamas. In the days that followed the family noticed that as the last half hour came round he would raise his hand to touch the cross. A day came when the family reported he had been very unsettled and nothing they could do would comfort him until they realised the nurse had changed his pyjamas and not replaced the cross. They secured his peace when the cross was returned to him. He died on Easter Monday that year holding the small cross.
The cross has brought comfort and strength to many as they have faced trials in their lives and it continues to be for us a symbol of hope and promise. It has the power to heal and restore us because for us it embodies the story of Jesus; the passion story that lies at the heart of our faith. In these trying days when we are separated from the physical presence of our families at a time when we would have been gathering to celebrate the festival together let us look to the cross to sustain us and console us. Make your cross or find a cross you already have and display it prominently so that over these next few weeks you too can look to it and find there encouragement and peace.
Dear God give to us, we ask the spirit of courage. Let no shadow oppress our spirit that our gloom should darken the light by which others have to live. Remove from our inmost souls all fear and anxiety and fill us daily with your love and power; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen