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The pattern of Christ

St. George’s, Hanover Square 1st April 2007 Palm Sunday BCP

01 April 2007 00:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

We had a Sunday screening of Cecil B DeMille’s ‘King of Kings’ early in Lent. 2 hours of silent movie but extraordinary that it did not drag. Good music. Interesting reworking of the passion with occasionally mixed up details. Guess didn’t seem long as we are familiar with story. Holy Week is a time to experience the story – because we know the ending is not a good reason just to turn up for the happy ending next Sunday without getting involved. We think we know the cast – Jesus, Peter, the disciples, the crowd, Caiaphas, Iscariot, Simon of Cyrene, Mary, the women, Joseph of Arimathea, the centurion, the criminals, Pontius Pilate. For those of you who read our Lent book Power and Passion by Samuel Wells, a new character is added, for there is a whole chapter given over to Pilate’s wife – rather endearingly called Mrs. Pilate! Each of the characters in the greatest story ever told furnishes us with an insight into what it means to follow Jesus…each reminding us of the gap between our own loftiest ideals and the reality of a rather patchy performance. The daily liturgies of Holy Week are an invitation for us to take part as actors in the drama of bringing in the kingdom of God in our own lives, in our own homes, and in our own world, and to learn from and with one another.


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

‘For he is our childhood’s pattern’ - so does Mrs. Alexander begin the 4th verse of her carol ‘Once in royal David’s city’.

Our Lenten sermons have had the four marks of the church as their theme – the Church as One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. The need to see the divisions of a Church clearly not One, within God’s much longer timescale. (I’m reminded of the comment from a Chinese diplomat who, when asked what he thought about the French Revolution reserved his judgement, and said it was a bit too early to tell). Next came Holiness and the advice linking it with humility. Then the Catholicity of the Church and the need for true inclusivity (Jesus when lifted up did not say behold I draw SOME people to myself but all, all, ALL people). Ending last week with two theologies of gospel good news – one rather restrictive, legalistic, and appeasing of a sort of strict father figure – the other inviting a creative response in a divine plan yet to be realised…co workers in bringing in the kingdom of God. Which version of the good news excited people enough to want to be apostles? Thus have we spent Lent looking at the Church. And now Holy Week begins we change our focus entirely to Jesus Christ who is not just our childhood pattern, but the pattern for all life lived authentically and faithfully.

One aspect of observing Holy Week sits happily within the tradition of the ‘Imitation of Christ’ as we accompany Jesus on his journey to the Father. We follow with thankful hearts the Lord who redeems the world and grow I personal holiness. But we are called as well to be co-redeemers with him – and we need to discern the pattern of his passion death and resurrection in our own lives. How has this pattern of passion death and resurrection played out in the pattern of our daily existence? I think that subconsciously, even for practising Christians, it remains difficult to withstand what the world still looks for and expects of God – a triumphant powerful liberating king of success and glory – Palm Sunday religion if you like. Whereas God’s true pattern is on display within the pain of crucifixion and death, yet beyond as well, in the peace and joy of resurrection. Holy week is a good time to reflect on how we, and our neighbours, are woven into the fabric of God’s design (whether we like it or not, and whether we are aware of it or not)…how we can share Christ’s task to redeem the world as co redeemers.

God’s pattern turns everything upside down. Christ is an upside down King. The slogan is not so much ‘we shall overcome’ as ‘we shall overturn’. It was precisely when Jesus saw the crowd approaching from the city in a frivolous messianic mood that he took a donkey and pricked any hint of pomposity or grandeur. A masterly symbol – using an ungainly animal seemingly fit only to carry man’s burdens…never being worthy or smart enough to carry man himself. But this donkey now carried an even heavier load – guilt. The guilt of a people who had rejected their God. All that waving of palms could not hide or disguise the shabbiness of their rejection, and the cries of Hosanna were little camouflage for their real feelings. He, Jesus, was the burden they didn’t want to carry. One lovely aspect of making my confession is being able to look on the penances I have been given as a little spiritual treasure. Most often the penance is a prayer or a psalm, which then go on to become favourite psalms or prayers. Once it was this quote – a good one as Holy Week begins: ‘I am nothing, I have nothing, I desire nothing, save to be with Jesus in Jerusalem’. You could use it as a sort of daily mantra.

There are three details in St. Matthew’s account of the passion we don’t get in the others. First Jesus is reported to have rode on a donkey and a colt – (St. Matthew is referring here to an ancient prophecy). His arrival in Jerusalem causes a stir. Secondly Mrs. Pilate has a disturbed sleep pattern with bad dreams on account of this man...though not a disciples, ironically she is open enough at least to be bothered by him…recognising him and responding by being disturbed. Thirdly the earth quaked, rocks were split…in other words the earth was disturbed, and the word used is the same (‘was shaken’) as for the disturbance Jesus caused riding into Jerusalem on a couple of donkeys. So then Jesus disturbs the city which soon turns against him – disturbs Mrs. Pilate – disturbs even the settled earth and rocks. To follow where he leads inevitably will overturn the status quo of our solid lives - but there is an excited expectancy even in that song which begins ‘There may be trouble ahead’.
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