Hosannah to the Son of David!
Palm Sunday Pastoral letter for the start of Holy Week “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”
I find the mix of emotions on Palm Sunday disturbing. The quiet before the storm I can understand; but on this day there is a sense of rejoicing and festival as Jesus enters Jerusalem. The gospels recall that Jesus has already told his disciples that the coming days will lead to his death, but the crowds around him are celebrating. On Palm Sunday that joy is communicated in church and is infectious. For the people in Jerusalem greeting Jesus, they have identified their saviour. The words ‘blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord’ were traditionally those of the priests in the Temple, greeting the people of God as they come into the temple in solemn procession for feast of atonement. Here on Palm Sunday, the words are not on the lips of the priests, but of the people; and Jesus’ entry is into Jerusalem, rather than the temple.
It is not clear how the crowds shouting, “Hosannah to the Son of David,” can five days later be shouting, “Crucify!” Perhaps their hopes for the kind of salvation Jesus had come to bring fade to bitter disappointment and resentment. It seems to them that the one who seemed to promise so much is scorned as his arrest suggests that he will deliver so little: they conclude that he is a fake. Or perhaps the crowds are just fickle, led by the mood and emotions of those around them. Either way, those of us who are part of the life of our society or the life of an institution, know something of this: that our ups and downs don’t always correspond with reality. Sometimes it is a mood that catches, rather than a thought-through, emotionally intelligent response to events and decisions. Individuals are often exalted or scapegoated, through no fault or merit of their own. It is a tribute to St Lawrence’s that the response of members of the congregation in the context of social distancing has been so positive, community -minded and caring. The matching scheme I mentioned in my last letter now seems to be working. Inevitably in the process of pairing up eighty people there have been a few glitches, but these have been very few. It has been rewarding to the have appreciative feedback from volunteers and those being supported. The core of the scheme is communication – keeping in touch, being supportive, listening – with any tasks done flowing from that.
Thank you also for your appreciation of the Palm Crosses. With fourteen volunteers, it has been possible to distribute these to almost everyone on the electoral roll. Palm Sunday usually starts with an outdoor procession – this Palm Sunday the symbol of Christ as Saviour and Messiah has been spread through the parish and beyond ahead of Palm Sunday. Fourteen volunteers have been on procession through the parish with signs of Christ’s good news. As I offer blessing of those Palms on Palm Sunday morning just after 10:00, I ask you to hold aloft your palm cross and remember that you are accompanied by a crowd doing the same, proclaiming Jesus as Lord. I want those of you who have received phone calls, palm crosses, or have received my letters and reflections by having someone deliver a printed copy or by reading it over the phone to remember those words, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”. They are spoken by the crowds in recognition of one who brings salvation: the arrival of moral and spiritual nurture from Jesus, directed to their well-being and health. I hope that the acts of care you hopefully experience: you and others keeping in touch by phone; delivering a sign or symbol that can speak of us all belonging, practical care in getting shopping, might be recognised as motivated by love. These things can be signs and symbols of our salvation, of God’s love, greeted with the words, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”
I hope you will be strengthened by the knowledge we are still a praying community and that the Eucharist is being celebrated in the parish. When no-one but me can be physically present, we all feel the distance in a way that is disorientating and brings loss, me included. If you are able to participate, please do, whether through watching the videos on the parish website, asking someone who supports you to deliver copy of a reflection to you or read it to you over the ‘phone, by praying in your own way whilst you know others are praying.
Mindful of this, and to enable your participation, please us the list that follows of services in Holy Week and Easter to join in prayer: 10:00 5 April - Palm Sunday Eucharist: live-streamed with blessing of Palm Crosses 20:00 6 April - Holy Monday Reflection: Stations of the Cross 20:00 7 April - Holy Tuesday Home group: reflection & prayers - access via Zoom 20:00 8 April - Holy Wednesday Eucharist: live-streamed followed by reflective prayer 20:00 9 April - Maundy Thursday Eucharist: followed by Watch (reflection available on website) 12:00 10 April - Good Friday Good Friday liturgy 10:00 11 April - Holy Saturday Ante Communion 20:00 11 April - Easter Vigil Vigil readings and reflection available on website 21:00 Liturgy: new fire and blessing of Paschal Candle 22:00 11 April - Easter First Mass of Easter - live-streamed 10:00 12 April - Easter Day Eucharist: Reflection available on website
Finally, a word about giving. Those who normally give by envelope or by putting money in the plate as it is passed around in services are being deprived of the opportunity to do so by our present circumstances. I know that many of you will feel the loss of being able to contribute in this way.
For St Lawrence, the closure of the hall for rentals and the absence of the collection in our services means that we lose more than half our income whilst the present situation continues. As you know, the ministry of St Lawrence’s hasn’t stopped, even though the building is closed. To keep things going – our ministry to young people; worship in services and reflections online; organising volunteers and phone calls; and to be ready to bounce back when we are given the all-clear - the parish needs everyone’s giving, as far as possible, to continue.
To that end, I am offering to those who usually give cash donations help to continue this vital contribution to St Lawrence’s ministry: please either set up a Standing Order or post a cheque to the Stewardship Recorder via the Parish Office. Instructions on how to do this are available on the parish website, alternatively phone the parish office on 0208 429 1131 and we will arrange for a form to be sent to you with a stamped addresses envelope for you to return it.
Matthew picks up that verse from Psalm 118 in Matthew 21.9 as the crowds greet Jesus entering Jerusalem, but he also returns to it later at Matthew 23.39, when Jesus weeps over Jerusalem’s rejection of God and the prophets. At this moment, he says, “For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’.”
My prayer for our community at St Lawrence as we enter Holy Week follows this insight and Jesus’ exhortation: that we may use this time to remember God’s saving acts of love made tangible in the life of Jesus; to remember the human and divine cost of that love, and that recognising signs of that love and care in our lives, we will be ready to be generous with our love in response.
Hosannah to the Son of David! Hosannah in the highest!