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Sermon for Palm Sunday Eucharist

The Very Reverend Dr John Hall Dean of Westminster

Sunday, 1st April 2007

Philippians 2: 5-11; Passion according to St Luke

Throughout the world, Christians are today re-enacting in the solemn procession of palms the events of the first Palm Sunday. In our re-enactment, we too have heard afresh the enthusiasm of the crowds shouting Hosanna to the Son of David as they tore branches from the palm trees to wave in triumph at the coming of the Messiah. Their enthusiasm would turn to anger as the week progressed, until the same people could shout Away with him! Crucify him! Crucify him! Their disappointment challenges us as to how we respond to the suffering of the Lord this Holy Week.

The Church has begun the great pilgrimage journey, accompanying our Lord Jesus Christ through suffering to the Cross. The Church bids us share in the pilgrimage journey.

On Thursday, Maundy Thursday, we shall eat the Lord's Supper with Jesus and his twelve disciples. As we re-enact the washing of feet we are reminded that the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. Then we shall accompany the Lord present in his Blessed Sacrament to the garden of Gethsemane, recreated here in the Abbey Lady Chapel. We shall hear his words, "Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial." Shall we watch with the Lord?

On Friday, Good Friday, in the liturgical commemoration of the Lord's Passion and Death, we shall hear afresh St John's account of the Passion and, in penitence and humility, venerate the Lord crucified to free us from our slavery to sin. "This is the wood of the Cross on which hung the Saviour of the world. Come let us worship." In the presence of our crucified Saviour, we then pray to God our Father for the Church and world for which he died. We enter into communion with him, receiving the bread and wine consecrated at the Eucharist the evening before. Shall we share in his passion and die to all that keeps us from unity with him?

On Holy Saturday, the Church is empty with the silence of the grave. There is no liturgical celebration during the day. Evensong is sung as simply as possible. We wait quietly by the tomb, stricken with grief.

But on Saturday night, as we celebrate the most ancient liturgy of the Church, we light the Easter candle and hear again the prophecies that bring us from the pain of loss and death to the glory of freedom, hope and Resurrection. Having entered into the death of Christ in our own baptism, we rise with him to the joy and triumph of Easter. This year we shall celebrate the baptism of a member of our Abbey community as well as renewing our own baptismal vows.

So the Church brings us liturgically through a momentous week, the greatest week of the year, from Palm Sunday to Easter Day. We move from today's empty triumph, with the crowd's false expectations of Jesus as a political Messiah exercising worldly power, to Easter Day, when the true Messiah, risen from the grave and triumphant over the cross and death, comes to be seen by those have eyes to see and who love him.

The Church invites us all to join in this pilgrimage journey. We shall hear the echo of the words of Jesus, who invited anyone who would be his disciple to take up the Cross daily and follow him. We shall enter into his death, so that we may enter also into his resurrection. Dying to ourselves, we shall live for him. This is a lifetime's journey. Re-enacting the pilgrimage year by year in Holy Week confirms us on our journey and reminds us of the very purpose for which we and the world were created and for which Christ came to earth: that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.

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