Sermon preached by Fr Daniel Trott
on Sunday 5th April 2020 (Palm Sunday)
Isaiah 50.4–9a; Psalm 31.9–16; Philippians 2.5–11; Matthew 27.11–54
What an odd Holy Week this is going to be! Instead of going to church a lot, we’ll be using YouTube a lot. Instead of hearing and singing familiar music in services, we’ll be seeking it out on the radio or online. Instead of taking part in familiar actions like foot-washing, kissing the crucifix, and being sprinkled with baptismal water – well, we’ll just have to go without this year.
Easter was an important time for baptisms in the early church, and so when I first thought about the sermons I’m going to preach later this week I imagined that they’d be related to baptism. When the lockdown began and the death toll began to rise, I wondered if I ought to change what I was going to talk about, and try and relate it all to Covid-19 and the current emergency. But this pandemic doesn’t change the basics of our faith. We’re still baptized, we’re still a Christian community, we still have a Christian calling – we just can’t celebrate it in the church building at the moment, and most of us can’t participate fully in the eucharist by eating the bread and drinking the wine over which we have given thanks.
So I still want us to think about our baptism and what it means. In our baptism we are united to Christ. We die with him and we rise with him, and we commit ourselves to his cause, the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God was Jesus’s hope of a future of peace, justice, and closeness to God. It was Jesus’s hope of a transformed world and a transformed humanity, which God would bring in, but which we could anticipate now. And the rule of life for those who share this hope, this commitment to the kingdom of God – our rule of life is simple: love.
But ‘love’ is a very flexible word. I love my mum. I love my partner (when I have one). I love hot cross buns. I love my friends. I love singing. I love all of you. But the love that we are called to as people committed to the kingdom of God has some specific content that makes it a particular kind of love. In my sermons towards the end of this week I’ll be exploring what makes this love special. On Maundy Thursday we’ll think about love as service, on Good Friday we’ll think about love as solidarity, and on Easter Eve we’ll think about love as salvation.
But today, briefly, I want to make sure we understand how dedicated Jesus was to the kingdom of God. Almost from the moment his ministry began, he met opposition. In his hometown those he’d grown up around were offended that the son of a carpenter should be spouting words of wisdom. Through his connection with John the Baptist he faced threats from those in the circle of the tetrarch Herod Antipas. Pharisees disliked him for playing fast and loose with the Jewish law, and when he got to Jerusalem the chief priests quickly decided he was a danger to the Temple and the religious establishment.
But Jesus knows his call – he knows God has given him a mission, to herald and inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth, and he will not abandon it. Our first reading today, from the book of the prophet Isaiah, expresses the defiance with which Jesus faces his adversaries:
The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
It is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
Our second reading, from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, expresses Jesus’s commitment to his mission in terms of obedience:
[…] being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
And our passion reading tells the story of just how committed Jesus was. He had wrestled with God in prayer the night before in the Garden of Gethsemane: ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ (Matt. 26.39) Jesus was not a man with a death wish, but he was committed to God, and to doing what was necessary. He felt that his commitment to the kingdom of God required this suffering, and so he submitted.
As people who are also committed to the kingdom of God, who share with Jesus this hope of a transformed world and a transformed humanity, we are called to walk the way of love as he did. So towards the end of this week we will explore this way of love through the events of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, thinking about love as service, solidarity, and salvation.
As Christians, love should be our way of life. Just as the centurion saw Jesus and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’, so we in the church should aspire to a life that causes others to look at us and say, ‘Truly these people are God’s children!’