St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Palm Sunday, 2013

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 “Come and follow me...”
I speak in the name of Jesus the Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Many years ago, at the tender age of nineteen, I found myself waiting in one of the small lecture rooms in the Faculty of Divinity at Rhodes University. I was in my first year of my theological studies and it was orientation week. We had been instructed to make our way from our residence to the faculty where we would meet our various lecturers, as well as the Dean and Head of our Faculty.
As a small group of us sat around in chairs in a smallish room, we chatted excitedly about what the next few years would hold for us in terms of growth and formation. Eventually, after a while, a small man, with greying hair and stooping shoulders entered the venue. The students immediately hushed and quietened down, not because this man had rank or authority, but because of the incredible aura of humility and grace that this man endowed. The immediate effect was to reduce me to tears, as I hastily disposed of my chewing gum out of the closest window. I knew from that moment on, that this humble, yet powerful man of God would have a tremendous and lasting influence on the formation of my life as a Deacon and a Priest.

I have often reflected upon that moment in 1985. It was poignant and memorable for me in my spiritual journey.
So was the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem all those years ago. Here was a humble and spiritual person entering his city. This day was to become celebrated as a special day on the liturgical calendar.

Today we are privileged as a parish to be celebrating Palm Sunday. This is one of the most important days in the Christian calendar, after Christmas and Easter. Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter, and marks the beginning of Holy Week, which are the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Theologians have pinpointed the beginning of the tradition of Palm Sunday to around the 4th C. Originally the service consisted of the loyal community walking around to the various holy sites around the city reciting favourite hymns and prayers. Children would carry a palm and olive branches and eventually they would return to their church in order to continue the service, much like we still do today.

What does Palm Sunday actually mean to us?
Palm Sunday celebrates the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in order to celebrate the Passover. The importance of Jesus riding a donkey and having his way paved with palm branches is a fulfilment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. It was custom during biblical times for kings and noblemen to ride on the back of a donkey. The donkey was a symbol of peace; hence those who rode them were indicating that their intentions were also one of peace. Similarly the palm branches indicated that the famous person was arriving in victory and triumph.

At the end of the day, Palm Sunday is a time for us as Christians to reflect upon the final week of the life of Jesus. It is time for us as Christians to be in awe of the suffering and resurrection of the Son of God.

Palm Sunday is also one of the few days in the Christian year that we can publicly witness our beliefs to the community at large as we process around our parish proclaiming our faith and belief in Christ. Sadly, in many ways, we have lost our courage and boldness when it comes to professing our faith to the secular community. We are afraid that we might be seen as “old-fashioned”, “idiosyncratic” or even a little balmy. As Christians we should remain proud of our Lord and faith, and this should be evident in our public processions too.

One of the traditions of the church on Palm Sunday has been for the Priest or Bishop leading the parish on their holy pilgrimage, upon arriving at the closed church doors, is to knock three times. This is not a timid and quiet knock with soft knuckles, but rather a bold, loud knock using the end of a staff or crucifix. This rite of knocking the door with the staff of the cross reflects the ritual act of the bishop in the rite of the consecration of the church. It is a sign of claim and taking possession. 

In traditional churches the Bishop strikes the door with the base of his crosier and says: “Lift up your gates, ye princes, and be lifted up, ye everlasting doors and the King of Glory shall come in.”
The Deacon within the church asks: “Who is this King of Glory?”
To which the Bishop answers: “The Lord, strong and mighty; the Lord mighty in battle.
On the third knock, the answer to the question posed by the Deacon, “Who is this King of Glory?” is: “ The Lord of Armies, He is the King of Glory”.
This inspired me to think more carefully about our own responses in our lives towards the knocking on our doors by Jesus...

Jesus: “Come and follow me...”
Us: “Sorry, I have no food and money for beggars today. Please go down the road to one of the charities who will assist you. Good day.”
Are we so caught up in turning away the poor and lonely that we might miss Jesus?

Jesus: “Come and follow me...”
Us: “Is that you Lord? I’ve been meaning to ask you what exactly is the difference between a teleological and a deontological approach to ethics?
Are we so caught up in being theologically correct that we might miss the essence of Jesus.
Jesus: “Come and follow me...”
Us: “ Well hello, Lord, what a lovely idea, but the truth is I just booked my car in for a service, I need to check my bank account and I have friends coming around for supper...maybe tomorrow?”
Are we so caught up in our own lives that we are unable to make space for Jesus?

Jesus: “Come and follow me...”
Us: “Why, yes, Lord, of course.”
What will your response be, to our Lord, when He comes knocking on your door?
May God bless you in the week to come as you spend time reflecting on the death and resurrection of our Lord.



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