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Painstaking patience and persistence

Palm Sunday

09 April 2006 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

To the normal round of Lenten disciplines was added a remarkable Lenten gift for me this year – a source of rich spiritual nourishment, much savoured and enjoyed. The television isn’t often on at home, so coming across Planet Earth on the BBC by accident at 9 pm on the first Sunday in Lent, and then for the first 5 parts to finish last Sunday, was perfect timing for a parish priest. Seeing the rich variety of rare animals in their natural habitat and painful footage of hunter and hunted, was inspirational… snow leopards, African wild dogs working out a complex plan, a giant salamander at night, a great white shark - all hunting and catching their prey…a Nile crocodile snapping up a vast wildebeest…giant pandas, piranhas, polar bears, 400,000 snow geese caught in flight, Bactrian camels eating snow in the Gobi desert…the series was a triumph and took 4 years to make. Just as interesting were the short documentary pieces at the end of each programme outlining the difficulties of catching these breathtaking moments on film…the slow painstaking patience and persistence, the hours, the days, weeks, and months of seemingly no progress…no quick instant fixes here…it could be a parable for the life of prayer and faith. Bright this awesome Vision of our own little corner of God’s universe, the world he so loved that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. As a congregation, we have together also enjoyed the Lenten gifts of our visiting preachers who have Brightened our Vision. First there was Dominic’s call of resistance to (self imposed?) guilt-laden religious blackmail, how God regards with pity not blame…and the need for integration of the darkness with the light, the good and the bad…facing the reality of the wilderness, and being open to the healing which flows from being united to the wounded crucified Christ.

Then Robert’s vision of holiness awe and mystery…the hunger for reverence, and a sense of the numinous…seeking with confidence the light inaccessible hid from our eyes.

There followed Cathy’s emphasis on Christ’s call to challenge the norms of so-called ‘proper’ behaviour, that might stifle the contribution of unlikely, marginalized voices. It was a child and Andrew who sparked off the feeding of the 5000, and therefore to the delight of meeting and partying with unexpected people…all of this the fruit of taking small ideas seriously.

Finally last week - Simon enlarging our vision of God (‘before Abraham, says Jesus, I am’) within and beyond time, and applying this wider perspective to two current issues (Palestine and Homosexuality), telling us that despite some groups regarding these matters as being settled once and for all in the Old and New Testament respectively, God’s Holy Spirit cannot be confined to history, and the need to face new situations which have since moved on.

And so we come to Holy Week which closes the holy Season of Lent, and the invitation to accompany the Lord on his last journey…setting aside time for prayer and for slow, patient, encounter with God. The Liturgy (and particularly the Book of Common Prayer provision) is not afraid of tragedy. We are made to live the hour of Jesus from all angles and accounts, that Hour which is both dark and glorious too …for which he said he had come. We follow his every step, from the triumph of today’s entry into Jerusalem, to the agony in the garden, and loneliness of Golgotha, where almost everyone abandons him…even those he had chosen and for whom he gives his life. Everything happens so quickly and seems to collapse. And yet, even in what seems complete dereliction – ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ – Jesus, with outstretched arms, attracts and gathers to himself all humanity and the universe. All seems lost, but all is about to begin.

I am so used to sermons from my earliest days, reminding me that I could well be one of the crowd who both welcomes Jesus on Palm Sunday, and calls for his death on Good Friday, that I am left with a tentative view of what joining in an enthusiastic ‘Hosanna’ might mean for me. Such reticence needs to be banished, I think. You really cannot shout or sing a half-hearted ‘Hosanna’ to the Son of David just because of worries about being fickle or faithless down the road. It is all…or nothing. The Hosanna of course crowns the Sanctus and Benedictus and we shall soon be hearing Langlais’ version of it. Taken from the Hebrew HOSHA’NA it is a greeting which the Galilean pilgrims would have shouted in an excited welcome of the long expected Messiah…‘Save us, we pray…Save, now’.

So we pause and consider WHY we need to shout Hosanna…to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. ‘Save me, deliver us, because you can…because you are the Messiah’.

We sing Hosanna…Hosha’na to the Son of David for ourselves, for our community, and for Planet Earth.

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