Sarah Musgrave 4 April

A thought for Palm Sunday:  ‘Getting to know Jesus better during Holy Week’     

Dear Friends,

Today is one of the few Sundays of the year when there is seldom a sermon.  Instead, in our churches across the Marlborough Team we usually hear a passion narrative, spoken by members of our congregations.

However, today is different. Sadly our churches are closed and we’re worshipping from our homes, rather than alongside each other.  We won’t be parading around our churches with palms or branches from our gardens, either, as the Corona Virus continues to spread across our community - and the wider world.

I wonder how you are as you listen to this.  Are you utterly alone, passing time in isolation or do you have members of your family around you? Maybe you’re afraid for yourself or for loved ones, listening to each news update or even trying to ignore them. Whatever our position, I imagine that we’re all separated from some of our loved ones

…..and maybe feeling separated or distant from God, too. This is something that I’d like us to think about today.

Next week is Holy Week, the week before Easter, when Christians often come together on a daily basis. Ordinarily, we meet for evening services of Compline, in each of our three churches; we share a Seda meal or have our feet washed before joining the ‘Watch’ on Maundy Thursday; we share in the anguish of Good Friday, and then we join together, giving our all to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, on Easter Sunday. 

Again, this year will be different.  However, we can still do Holy Week, setting aside time to reflect on our faith, walking with Jesus to the cross and sharing in the joy and wonder of the resurrection.

Wherever you are in your journey of faith, this is as good a place to start as any.

In the passage from St Matthew’s Gospel, which we read on Palm Sunday, Matthew 21.1-11, Jesus and his disciples are travelling towards Jerusalem,  alongside pilgrims attending the festival of the Passover.  On the way, they stop off at a small village called Bethphage, near the Mount of Olives.

I wonder how many of the pilgrims really knew Jesus. They may have heard extraordinary stories about him, they may have glimpsed him from a distance but there was so much more to understand.  Do we ever feel a bit like that? 

The disciples knew Jesus much better. He was their friend, a storyteller, a healer and their  teacher. They’d seen him speak to crowds and feed thousands, he’d taught them in small groups, sharing the good news of the Kingdom of God and he’d even wept before raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11).  Jesus had also shared his fate with them– that he would be handed over to the chief priests and scribes in Jerusalem , condemned to death, crucified and raised on the third day (Matthew 20) - but these would have been difficult ideas to hear or to understand.

As we come towards Holy Week, would you have been one of the disciples grappling with the enormity of the days ahead, or more of a casual observer, interested, but only starting to find out more?

In the reading, Jesus sends two disciples to collect a donkey, with a colt, for him to ride into Jerusalem. As Matthew notes, this fulfils the prophecy, found in Zechariah 9 v 9, which speaks about the king being triumphant and victorious, but also humbly riding on a donkey and colt, the foal of a donkey. A donkey was hardly the transport of a king, not even eye catching, and yet Jesus chose this means of transport, showing that his own kingship was significantly at odds with both the Roman Empire and those who wanted to overthrow it by force.  Meanwhile, the crowds shouted out ‘Hosanna, to the Son of David! Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’, using words from Psalm 118 v 26.  Jesus was showing the crowds that God’s way is different.  Something extraordinary was unfolding.

We’re told that the whole city was in turmoil, asking ‘Who is this?’, while others said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’ 

“Who is this?’  What does this mean for you?  How would you answer?

I’d like to challenge you to do a Holy Week as you’ve never done it before.  Getting to know Jesus takes time, in the same way that all good relationships take time.  Let’s use some of our time in isolation as a gift, an opportunity to find out more about Jesus and to meet him, too. 

·         There are palm crosses outside each of our churches, so do collect one as you take your daily exercise.  If you can’t get one, do ask a neighbour to collect one for you. Then put it in one of your windows so that your neighbours know that you are walking with Jesus this week. Let’s try and make our faith more visible and through this offer support to others.

·         Next, read the rest of Matthew’s Gospel from today’s reading in chapter 21, onwards. It’s only 7 chapters more, a chapter a day. As you read the gospel, imagine yourself as a participant or an onlooker, close besides Jesus and if there’s anything you don’t understand, ask someone – a neighbour, a friend, another parishioner, Chris Smith or me.

·         Allow time afterwards to listen to what God is saying to you.

·         How about having a quiet time, alone in prayer, at the beginning and end of each day.

·         Meanwhile, let’s talk to others about our faith, sharing the questions that we’ve asked God and how he speaks into our lives.

This is also a great time to ask questions.  What is the question that you really want to ask God?  Years ago, Bishop Stephen Cottrell came to Marlborough and challenged us to ask God the question most on our minds.  I tried to keep ‘the big question’ silently inside myself, however finally ‘what should I do?’ came bursting into my mind.  Also, into my mind, came an image of the chancel at St George’s, filled with a massive cross, from floor to ceiling, and I heard the words ‘you know the answer, follow me’…. and the rest, as they say, is history.

What would your question be?  Take time to muse over this.

If we really inhabit Holy Week, our sense of Jesus will develop and deepen.  We may see him in others and be more Christ-like to others, too.  Let’s start a team-wide discussion, sharing the good news, and if you want to deluge Chris Smith, David or me with questions, then do.  If enough questions come pouring in, we could start a question page on the Marlborough Anglican Team website or have a virtual meeting.

So don’t despair at being hemmed in this Holy Week. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all celebrate Easter this year, having walked alongside Jesus and knowing our faith was significantly deeper.

….and don’t forget to ask God the big question, whether or not you’re ready for the answer.

Sarah Musgrave