Event Name Sermon given at Evensong on Palm Sunday 2016
Start Date 20th Mar 2016 3:00pm

The Reverend David Stanton, Canon in Residence

Today marks the beginning of Holy Week. Ever since the fourth century in Jerusalem, the Church has kept Palm Sunday, with faithful Christians carrying palm branches representing Christ's entrance into Jerusalem. We did so here this morning at the Abbey with a procession from outside St Margaret's Church.

Today we recall how many of the same people who greeted Christ with shouts of joy on Palm Sunday would call for his death on Good Friday. It's a powerful reminder of our own weakness, and the sinfulness that causes us to reject Christ.

To the crowds who lined the streets, and indeed to his own disciples, this first Palm Sunday was a triumphant moment. Jesus enters Jerusalem and is hailed by many as the King, the longawaited Messiah, the one who would come in the name of the Lord and re-establish the kingdom of David.

It's only in the painful sequence of events during this week that the true nature of Jesus's kingdom, and our part in it, become clear. His is a kingdom of the Spirit, and we will be invited to take up the cross, just as he did.

We will be encouraged to see our own limitations, suffering, pain, and even death with a new fuller and richer meaning. Jesus will hold out for all of us the revelation of the transforming power of love. So great is his love for us and his Father that he will freely take up the cross, suffer, and die on it for us for our salvation.

In a few days' time we come to the Holy Triduum: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Day. Maundy Thursday is more than just the lead-in to Good Friday; it is, in fact, the oldest of the celebrations of Holy Week. It is the day on which we commemorate the institution of two great pillars of our faith: the holy eucharist and the sacred priesthood.

During the Last Supper, Christ blessed the bread and wine with words we recognise from our liturgies today to consecrate the body and blood of Christ. In telling his disciples to 'Do this in remembrance of me,' he instituted the holy eucharist and made them the first priests. Towards the end of the Last Supper, after Judas had departed, Christ said to his disciples, 'I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.'

At the end of the eucharist, the sacrament is carried in procession to St Margaret's Church for silent veneration. The following day this same sacrament is given during the commemoration of the Lord's passion on Good Friday.

Also on Maundy Thursday, the priests of this London diocese gather with the bishop at St Paul's Cathedral, to renew their priestly vows and to consecrate holy oils, which are used throughout the year for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, holy orders, and the anointing of the sick. This ancient practice, which goes back to the fifth century, is known as the Chrism Mass.

So, we come to Good Friday. From the earliest days of Christianity, the eucharist has traditionally not been celebrated on this day, since it's a celebration both of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and of his resurrection. Instead, we celebrate a special liturgy in which the gospel passion is sung, prayers are offered, and we venerate the cross. This liturgy concludes with the distribution of holy communion. The service is particularly solemn; no electric light is used, the organ is not played, red vestments are worn.

On Holy Saturday the Easter vigil brings to life a passing from darkness to light, giving hope to us all. It marks the end of the emptiness of the day, and leads into the celebration of Christ's resurrection. We sing Exultet with joy and gusto, we celebrate the great sacrament of baptism, we sing 'Alleluia', we proclaim the Easter gospel and we receive the Easter eucharist with all the joy and splendour that the Church can find.

This vigil is so important because it doesn't just commemorate something God did in the past; it celebrates something God is doing today. The Easter vigil is very much the culmination of Lent. The readings, music, candles, procession, and initiation, all remind us that God has accomplished something amazing by loving us so much. This vigil proclaims, both individually and collectively, that we are ready to be renewed and to live out of the grace we've received.

Easter Day is, of course, our primary celebration of Christ's resurrection from the dead. As we know from the gospels, Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day following his crucifixion. His resurrection marks the triumph of good over evil, sin, and death. It is the singular event which proves that those who trust in God and accept Christ will be raised from the dead.

So, with lively faith, let us begin this Holy Week, recognising that the cross that each one of us is called to bear, is a real and true gift from God.

These last days of Lent are an intense period of personal prayer that allows us to enter personally into the central mysteries of our redemption. During these sacred days, I invite you to walk even more closely with Jesus as he makes his way to the culmination of his mission on earth.

The holy liturgy puts us in touch with the saving work of Christ, and we should all make our best effort to be part of these celebrations. Just as we wouldn't think of attending a play without staying for the final act, neither would we want to observe the season of Lent without sharing in these next few days.

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