Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
On Palm Sunday we remember the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, thus fulfilling the prophecy: Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah (9:9) NIV. The disciples who had followed Him over the last three years had seen the miracles and the healings he performed and heard his teachings. They accompanied Him into the city enthusiastically shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”Matt21:9 NIV. To those who had seen Him raise Lazarus from the dead there was no doubt that, if he could do that, he must be the Messiah who would overthrow the Roman oppressors and return Israel to the glory days of King David when Israel was an important kingdom, a force to be reckoned with. But, as we now know, it didn’t work out as they had expected. Within a short period of time the man they had hailed as Messiah had been crucified as a common criminal, and things returned to normal, just as they always had been.
Fast forward 2000 years and we find that just like the followers of Jesus on that Palm Sunday we are all looking forward to the future with hope for a better world. After all, in the UK the vaccination programme is going well and the government restrictions are being cautiously lifted. It looks as if things will soon return to normal. But what will the new normal look like? Will it be a return to the old ways, where I can say “I don’t need to abide by your rules now? I can please myself where I go and with whom I can mix. If I want to go on a foreign holiday I will do so regardless of the risks of coronavirus in that country. I’ve been vaccinated so I’m all right. The fact that despite vaccination I can bring the virus back into this country to infect people here is not for me to worry about. In fact, if the Prime Minister’s chief adviser can break the rules by travelling 600 miles to see his family there is no reason why I shouldn’t.” What you will notice here is the number of times the word “I” is mentioned. What seems, sadly, important is “Me” holding the view that, “I will do it my way and you can’t judge me because I know my rights!” That sounds to me like a return to the old “normal”. Is that the future in store for us? Or can we live a different, a new “normal”? What would that look like?
Let us return for a moment to the Gospel story of Palm Sunday. The Jews did not recognise that Jesus was the Messiah they had been expecting all these years, because they were not looking forward, but back to the old glory days. But those days had gone forever as they would discover 50 years later when city of Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Romans. What they failed to understand was that Jesus came to bring in a different kind of kingdom, an upside down kingdom perhaps, but still a kingdom foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament. ‘The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.’ Isaiah 11:6-7 NIV. But the concept of a kingdom like this was alien to them at the time. It just would not work! Would it? After Pentecost Peter and the other disciples began to explain to the Jews and subsequently to all nations that kingdom like that was not only possible but was indeed the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, a kingdom embracing the whole world. In due time Christianity swept the world being taken up by peoples and nations down the centuries. However, we still do not seem to have grasped it. Like the Jews on Good Friday 2000 years ago we still tend to look back to how things used to be in the ‘good old days’ rather than forward to something new.
Now, one feature that has been remarkable during the pandemic has been the kindness and the compassion of others. The examples are endless but let me remind you of a few. We all remember the tireless self-sacrifice of NHS doctors and nurses, the scientists developing vaccines in record breaking time, the extraordinary fund raising of Captain Sir Tom Moore and others for the NHS and for the welfare of others. We remember too, those working in shops supplying foods and medicines, our neighbours and friends who have offered to fetch shopping or collect medicine or just phoned for a chat. Whilst face to face contact with friends and family has been impossible, the internet, especially Zoom has proved invaluable for keeping in touch. And as Pope Francis says in ‘On Hope’ ‘Compassion is to endure with the other, to suffer with the other, to draw near to the one who is suffering. A word, a caress, but given from the heart; this is compassion, for the one who needs comfort and consolation. This is more important than ever. Christian hope cannot do without genuine and concrete charity.’ This compassion for others is a vital element in building the Kingdom Jesus came to establish on this earth, because that Kingdom is a community embracing the whole of God’s Creation. As the Body of Christ, and thus stewards of God’s Kingdom, we are called to build on the love and compassion for our fellow humankind shown during the pandemic. It is up to each one of us to work together so that with the guidance of the Holy Spirit we may help to build the New Jerusalem here on earth in preparation for the time when He will return to unite heaven and earth as He has promised and as we pray every day: ‘Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven’. The words of Anglican Dismissal after Sung Eucharist that we hear each Sunday sum up our duty: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
So, get up from that comfortable chair in which you are sitting and do something to follow that command. Right now!
I am an Authorised Local Preacher in an Anglo Catholic parish church, in the Diocese of Essex UK