Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

Here we are on Palm Sunday, Lent 6, 3rd Sunday of Covid19, and our 3rd Zoom service. The gremlins got to us this morning, and we had a few technical issues, mainly affecting the control of muting and unmuting participants, and the music for the hymns; however, we worshipped, we heard God’s word and we shared fellowship together. Worship was never meant to be a polished performance, but what we share together and offer up to God in the best of our efforts and abilities.

This Sunday we launched a video service for St John’s S Club, and that can be seen here.

Here is the Palm Sunday Service for Herefordshire (South & East) this is the edited version of this weeks Zoom worship session it contains the full service.

The readings are:-
Philippians 2: 5-11 read by Mrs Rosemary Lloyd – Local Preacher
Matthew 21: 1-11 read by Mr John Thompson – Local Preacher
The service was led by Revd Phillip Warrey and Deacon Angie Allport was the Preacher.
Mrs Christine Guy – Worship Leader led the prayers
The organist was Dr David Baldwin.

The text of the reflection is here. (Thank you Angie).

The key themes of the reading from Philippians are love and unity.  Even though Paul was writing from prison, the letter is generally considered to be one of joy.  It is addressed to the church in Philippi, in Macedonia, the first European church founded by Paul, and made up largely of Greeks.

The passage we heard can be divided into two parts: verses 1-5 are seen as rules for love and verses 6-11 as a hymn.  Paul’s intention is to make the readers realise that if certain things are true in their lives, then the logical consequence of that is that they should behave in a certain way.   Christ elicits love in us which, in turn, should produce a spiritual fellowship towards unity, a putting of others first.   Those who are in Christ should share the love, compassion and sympathy which come from him, and behave appropriately towards one another.  Those who share his mind will do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but will behave with humility and concern for others.   Unity flows from having the attitude (or mind) of Christ, an attitude which should pervade the whole community.   

Paul does not say, ‘give me joy’, but make my joy complete, the implication being that the Philippians have begun to flourish but need to progress.   In verses 2-3, Paul spells out what he means.  Two attributes, namely selfish ambition and conceit, are to be shunned, and others are to be regarded as better than ourselves.   The Philippians are called to observe how Jesus behaved and follow his example, not imitating Christ in the sense of repeating what he did, but in the sense of being Christ-like.

Verses 6-11 are a prime example of an early Christian hymn, sometimes referred to as the ‘Christ Hymn’.  Looking at the style, vocabulary and doctrine of the hymn has led many scholars to query whether Paul actually wrote it.  Regardless of whether he did or merely imported it, it’s an integral part of the letter because Paul uses it to provide the Philippians with the basis of his appeal to emulate Christ.   The hymn establishes a model for Christian imitation.  Jesus was in the form of God but did not reckon or count himself above God, and therefore did not seize the position of equality with God.  Rather he emptied himself and took on the form of a slave.  Then, being in the form of a human being, he humbled himself further by his obedience that led to his death on the cross.  Yet the one who did not grasp at equality with God was honoured by God and exalted as Lord.  He is greeted and worshipped as Lord by all creation.  Hence, Jesus is a model to the Philippians of how they should not grasp after equality by seeking their own interests, but serve one another with the expectation that, like Jesus, they will be honoured and glorified by God.

Verses 6-8 can be seen as a contrast between Jesus and Adam, who succumbed to the temptation to grasp at equality with God.  Jesus freely emptied himself from his exulted position and took on Adam’s condition; he humbled himself and died.  The hymn reminds the Philippians that by virtue of being in Christ, they have the power to live together in the way God wants.

The vexed question of Christianity’s relationship to Judaism rears its head during Holy Week.  It has, at least in past centuries, been a season marked by hostility, and sometimes violence, on the part of Christians towards their Jewish neighbours.  This was partly generated by the reading of the Passion narrative in Matthew’s Gospel, which is this year’s lectionary Gospel, because of its suggestion that the crowd present at Jesus’ trial had willingly accepted blood guilt for Jesus’ death.  Notably that reference is not in any of the other three Gospels, and its inclusion in Matthew may owe more to Jewish-Christian tensions at the time Matthew’s Gospel was written than to historic authenticity.  The highly charged atmosphere of Holy Week also led to several instances of the ‘blood libel’ – the accusation that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood in the making of the unleavened bread for Passover.  Ridiculous as this libel may now seem, it led to several instances of deadly attacks against Jewish communities in the Middle Ages.

More recently, such sentiment is expressed in teachings that Christianity has ‘superseded’ and replaced Judaism.  Across the church’s history, Matthew 21, the first part of which we’ve also heard read today, has been interpreted not as God’s rejection of Jerusalem’s leaders, but as the rejection of Israel as a whole from God’s story of salvation.  Regularly, the chapter’s scenes have been allegorized to underscore the passing of God’s favour from Israel to the church.  Even the entry-to-Jerusalem scene was so read, the mother donkey being seen as the sin-bound, law-yoked Jews, and the colt as gentiles who leave Jericho to enter the church.

Verses 10-11 of Philippians 2, however, recall Isaiah 45: 22-25, which speak of the gentiles coming to the God of Israel to be saved.  Paul expected the redemption of the world to include the reunion of Jewish and gentile peoples, and believed that the gentiles were confessing the God of Israel through Christ and becoming part of the saved community.  With such a fraught history of relationships, we, as Christians, need to be aware of Jewish sensitivities and acknowledge that the passion provoked by the Passion can be upsetting, if not dangerous and subject to misuse.

What then is the message for this Palm Sunday, when those who do not know God, are perhaps crying out for help, crying out to be saved.  Can we be a people who open the gates of the Kingdom?  Looking at the story as Matthew tells it, the crowd did three things:

Firstly, they cut branches from trees and used them to welcome Jesus.  The waving of branches was an integral part of the ancient Jewish Festival of Tabernacles.  Matthew’s original readers would have made the connection between branches and worship, and recognised that the man riding humbly on a donkey was someone to be worshipped.  When we offer ourselves to God in worship something happens which speaks of the presence and the glory of God, and can open the gates of people’s hearts.

Secondly, the crowd shouted ‘Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’.  They recognised that Jesus was the one they needed.  Sometimes the gates which have to be opened are the gates with which we fence ourselves off from any sort of need.  The culture of today can lead us to think we must be strong, we must be perfect, we must be self-sufficient and able to cope with anything.  But the truth is that we are not supposed to live like that – we are supposed to live in relationship with a God who will supply all our needs. Shouting ‘Hosanna’ (‘save us’) today is one way to open those gates and let God into our lives.

Thirdly, the crowd answered questions and pointed others to Jesus too.  When the whole city asks ‘Who is this?’ the crowd replied ‘This is Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee’.  Put like that it sounds easy, but we’re not always very good at doing it, at answering questions openly, being willing to say ‘It’s Jesus who makes the difference in my life.  Come and meet him.’  Yet it is in these challenging times in which we find ourselves that I’m sure a number of folk are thinking about life, mortality and whether there’s anything more.  They may be curious as to what keeps us going, what sustains us?  Are you ready with your answer?

On this Palm Sunday, let’s open the gates we find in ourselves and be ready to open gates for those who are pushing at them, so that the King of glory can truly enter in!

Deacon Angie Allport


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