This is a slightly edited version of my Palm Sunday sermon, bits of which are in note form. The books that I found very helpful for thinking about this were Psalms by Geoffrey Grogan and Matthew for Everyone by Tom Wright
Imagine. You’re a pilgrim on the way to Jerusalem, getting ready for the festival of Passover. You’ve been singing the Psalms as you walk, singing again the Hallel Psalms, which get sung every year as people walk up to Jerusalem for this festival, this celebration of the freedom that God brings.
And then you see someone riding, yes riding, into Jerusalem on a donkey. Riding, when everyone else is walking. Walking to show their respect. You remember the prophecies, the prophecies from so long ago, that promise that God’s Chosen One, God’s anointed king, will come into Jerusalem riding a donkey. And what a time to do it, when the whole country is preparing to celebrate the freedom that God brought to his people! Freedom from slavery in Egypt. And now freedom from the Romans perhaps? That’s surely why so many people are cheering and singing those Psalms again, and treating him like a king!
Imagine. Are you excited? Scared? Worried what a revolution might look like? Determined to be part of it, or determined to get away? Planning to watch and wait and see what happens? Or simply wanting to join in the fun without committing yourself?
And imagine watching Jesus over the next week. Watching and wondering. Waiting for him to act like the king that he was claiming to be.
Today is Palm Sunday, a day of celebration. It’s the day when we remember Jesus revealing himself as king, as Messiah, God’s chosen and anointed one. But it’s also the first day of the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. It’s the day when events start to accelerate towards Jesus’ crucifixion. That’s why the palm branches that we have are cross-shaped. They’re reminders of the celebration that we remember today, and of the celebration that we will have next Sunday as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. But, between these two celebrations there is pain and suffering, death and sorrow.
Psalm 118 which we heard read is the last of what are called the Hallel Psalms, 113 to 118. Hallel mean praise. Hallelujah means Praise God. So, the Praise Psalms. And these Praise Psalms were sung by pilgrims as they went up to Jerusalem for Passover. And in the centre of the reading from it that we heard is this strange verse: “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
And that’s really a summary of what we commemorate and celebrate this Holy Week. We remember Jesus’ rejection and death, and we celebrate that through Jesus’ resurrection he is shown as the cornerstone, as the foundation for us being able to come in praise and sorrow to God.
So, that are lots of opportunities to commemorate and celebrate Holy Week:
Maundy Thursday – A communion service to help us reflect on the Last Supper.
Good Friday – Walk of witness (10am) and short service in church (12pm).
Easter Sunday – Dawn service at the Sandhills 6am. Breakfast. All-age Easter communion at 10am. Songs of Praise at 6:30pm.
That’s things we can do together. But one thing that you might want to do individually is that I’d encourage you to carry on reading the rest of Matthew’s gospel. It’s only a chapter a day and is a way of focusing on Holy Week.
But looking backwards, on Tuesday we held our annual meeting. That’s when we have the elections, that’s when we have a chance to look back over the last year and forward to the next. And as we look back, it was indeed a year of praise and sorrow. But we were also able to reflect on the ways that Jesus was the cornerstone of what we were have been doing and are seeking to do.
Finance report – Through careful stewardship and generous giving we ended up with £8700 in our general account.
Vicar’s report – ended the year as Rural Dean and minister of Hartshorne – less time here. Off to do their APM after this service. We’ve been given some money to fund an administrator/PA/secretary for a few hours a week – office in Church Hall. Will help!
Celebrated the various things that we have been doing. Thanks to those who work so hard. Thanks to those who were elected.
MAP – Mission morning – 10th May 9:30-12:30 at Hartshorne Church Hall. A chance to get us away from the building and to focus on where we are, on the skills and talents that God has given us. If you need a lift, let me know – there’ll be a sign up sheet.
Vision morning – 28th June – a chance to focus on what God is calling us to do next.
Palm Sunday is also a reminder of our ability to misunderstand God. The pilgrims welcomed Jesus as the triumphant King, as the returning Messiah, as someone who would sweep away evil and bring about God’s kingdom. And of course, he was. And he did those things. But, he didn’t do them in the ways that those pilgrims expected or wanted. Through Jesus, the whole of the Roman Empire was conquered, not just one small province. Through Jesus we know that God’s kingdom has come and is coming. That evil has been defeated and will be removed. So let us celebrate that “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”. Let us remember what that rejection meant and felt like, and let us celebrate that Jesus can be the cornerstone in our lives, and let us continue to seek to rebuild the whole of our lives on that cornerstone. Amen.