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Sermon given at Evensong on Palm Sunday 2019

Above all, this coming week is all about grace.

The Venerable David Stanton Canon in Residence

Sunday, 14th April 2019 at 3:00 PM

Today is Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week, the week in which we remember and relive in our own lives the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. 

Every other dimension of the Christian life finds its roots and inspiration in this Paschal Mystery.

Our New Testament reading this afternoon from St Luke’s gospel (Luke 20. 9-19) tells us about the parable of the man who planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenants, and went away to another country for a long time.

In scriptural context, Jesus had finished his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem and has made his triumphal entry into the holy city.

His arrival incensed those sceptical of his spiritual authority; he rode into the city on a donkey, like the ancient kings of Israel.

The people spread branches of palm along his way and shouted Hosanna, and when the Pharisees told Jesus to restrain them, he refused.

Far worse from his adversaries’ perspective, Jesus entered the temple precincts and drove out the moneychangers.

Just before he told this parable, the scribes and Pharisees had directly challenged his ministry: Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who is it who gave you this authority. The stage is now set for the telling of this parable.

The image of the vineyard would have been well known to Jesus’ hearers. The fruitful vine was the emblem of prosperity and peace; indeed it symbolized the chosen people of God. They were that vine, taken out of Egypt by God and planted in a choice land.

You will recall our Old Testament reading from the prophet Isaiah (which also talks about the vineyard) and concludes by saying:

“For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” (Is. 5:1-7)

The scribes and chief priests knew only too well that he had told this story against them.

The extraordinary thing about this parable is that the scribes and Pharisees immediately lived up to their part in it.

They immediately took counsel among themselves on how to destroy him. Here Jesus reveals himself not only as the ‘beloved son’ of the owner of the vineyard, but also as the Prophet confronting them.

When the parable ends, Jesus pauses. He lets the tension reach its peak. He makes the connection between this parable and those standing around listening.

He then quotes that well-known psalm: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.’ (Luke 20:17)

No matter what people think of him, no matter how they choose to deal with him, God will build something new.

In many ways this parable is not just about the scribes and Pharisees, its about you and me. 

We are the tenant farmers. Our lives are the vineyards, and God is the one who has given us life. If it were not for Him, none of us would be truly alive.

In a metaphorical sense, God has planted our life like a vineyard. Indeed, it is God who has cultivated our lives, and given us all we have, for without him we are nothing.

This coming week we will enter into the supreme mystery of our Christian faith, and this, of course, is not merely an annual re-enactment of tragic events.

This is spiritual mystery on the deepest scale. Its sacred drama encompasses the depths of sin, human degradation and death, and then carries us forward to Jesus’ triumph over death and resurrection to new life.

These are mysteries we, too, struggle with daily in our lives and which remain beyond our comprehension.

So how can we participate at a significant level? May I suggest two particular ways:

Firstly you could practice an ancient Benedictine form of meditation.

This would involve reading again the accounts of the passion of Jesus in both the synoptic Gospels, Mathew, Mark and Luke, and the Gospel of John, setting aside a section for meditation each day.

The tragic drama of this week (as we know well) is a conflation of all these accounts. Reading them closely will refresh your memory of the events.

Secondly you could place yourself there with Jesus, experiencing those terrible events.

Early Christians, through their worship, tried to enter into the events of the Gospel, to actually experience the drama of what was being recalled in their midst.

This could be a new way for you to approach divine worship during Holy Week, allowing your observance to be more than a passive remembrance of the drama. Asking the Holy Spirit to guide you into the mystery.

Whether you have participated in Holy Week most of your life or only very recently, its worth trying to make this year’s observance a new experience.

Be attentive and truly listen to the Word as it unfolds. In your prayers be as honest as you can with God - about your needs and concerns, and do not forget to express gratitude.

Be especially attentive because God will be speaking to you through the liturgies, through scripture, through sermons and through many other unexpected ways.

Above all, this coming week is all about grace.

God who loves us so much and continually delights in our creation, is continually offering us grace in the form of answered prayers, healing, reconciliation, hope and deeper faith, and in the Paschal mystery has given us the means to triumph over death.

I very much hope that after you open your heart to God and experience the events of Holy Week this year and the glory of the resurrection on Easter morning, it will have been a truly transforming personal experience that brings you to a place of new life, new faith and new joy.

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