Psalm 118.1-2, 19-24
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever!
Let Israel say,
‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvellous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
by Kath, a Reader at St. Mary's
The story we have just heard or read from St Mark’s Gospel is one that many people are likely to be at least a bit familiar with, even if they’re not church goers or particularly religious. It’s the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, riding on a young donkey and being hailed and praised by the crowds who were there for a festival. Many of them threw palm branches or even their cloaks on the road, presumably to mark Jesus’ arrival as special and no doubt many of them were aware of, or had even seen what he had been doing in his ministry among the ordinary people like themselves. No doubt too that this outpouring of adulation was genuine for a lot of them. Maybe some hoped that he would cure or help them or their loved ones with one of his miracles that they’d heard about.
For many years at St Mary’s and most likely at many other churches too, it has been our custom to re-enact this event. Sadly this is the second year that we haven’t been able to do so because of the pandemic safety concerns, so let me refresh your memories. Perhaps like me you can picture it in your mind’s eye. Usually I try to envisage the scene as it was for Jesus. In our very English and quite reserved version we start with a palm procession which begins outside the Hall doors where we gather together and hear the reading. We’re all holding our palm crosses and a few people are carrying larger palm branches. Then as we sing a hymn, we process along the road and make our way into church. Perhaps some of the passers by wonder what on earth we’re doing but they leave us to get on with it. Once inside, we process round the church, still singing, and end up in front of the alter where the big palms are laid down. After this most of the congregation return to their seats and others take their places for a dramatised reading of the Passion of the Christ according to one or other of the Gospels. Like many of you, this is a ritual I’m very familiar with. To start with, I was one of the ones sitting in the pews and our only line in the script was “Crucify him, crucify him”. These words have always gone through me and I’ve usually found myself unable to say them. This in itself feels cowardly as I’m leaving these awful words for others to say who probably feel equally distressed by them. But if we all kept quiet, the dramatised reading wouldn’t work.
Over the years, I’ve gradually moved into more “front of house” roles so to speak and I’ve played various other parts with many more lines in the script including the narrator, the evangelist, even Jesus himself and also Judas. But still the hardest words to say are “Crucify him”.
A couple of times I’ve been called on to allocate the roles for this dramatised reading and I found this hard to do too. Trying to make sure that different people got to play the different roles and bearing in mind who felt comfortable and confident enough to tackle the bigger parts. I found it especially hard asking people to play the part of Judas and hoped they didn’t think it was any kind of reflection on them. As I said, I’ve played that part myself and it made me wonder again why Judas did what he did and how he felt, especially when he realised the enormity of what he had done. Our re-enactment, little and local as it is, can stir up in us deep and powerful thoughts and feelings and questions, not only about the past but about today and all the intervening years too. How did Jesus go from being a healer, teacher, worker of miracles and saviour, praised and welcomed by the rapturous crowds, to being dishonoured, tortured and cruelly condemned to an ignominious death by those same people in the space of a few days? How have others throughout history gone from hero to villain in the blink of an eye and suffered all manner of other terrible fates?
It’s no use kidding ourselves that society is completely different nowadays, we have only to look at what happens on social media or in the press or on television or even on the streets where people are bullied, vilified, trolled or torn to pieces by others who are either angry or affronted or jealous or think they have a righteous reason to do this or because they just enjoy doing so. How desperately sad that this is how things still are. Can we seriously delude ourselves that we are more civilised than people were in the past?
At the end of all this, the question I’m left asking myself is, if Jesus comes back while I’m still around and we get a similar situation to that in Jerusalem, which we probably will, will I have the courage to stand by him or will I go along with the crowd? With all my heart I hope it’s the former but I know that I’m not always as brave as I wish to be. Whatever the circumstances I may find myself in, I pray that God will give me the courage I need, when I need it.
Prepared by Veronica
God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Have mercy upon us.
At this time of the year we follow the Passion of Christ, and remember all the times when we have fallen short of living by his teachings. Help us not to be people who shout Hosanna one day, and a few days later shout “Crucify him!” Teach us and all your church to worship you humbly, whether at home or via Zoom in these strange times, and help us to live our lives according to your will as we observe Holy Week in the coming days.
Have mercy upon us.
We pray for the world as it struggles to cope with the Covid pandemic. Help the leaders of richer countries to be prepared to share with poorer ones both vaccines and other treatments shown to alleviate some of the worst symptoms of the disease. We give thanks for all the efforts of doctors, nurses, care workers and all the other front-line workers to meet our needs and keep us safe. We pray especially for all in countries suffering oppression, war, violence and natural disasters in addition to the virus, and for the work of Christian Aid, UNICEF, UNHCR, Oxfam and other organisations working to relieve suffering.
Have mercy upon us.
We pray for our City and our local community of Walkley while so many shops and businesses struggle to survive, and many people have lost their income. We pray for our councillors and all who will be seeking election in a few weeks’ time; may they truly work for the good of all. We thank you for the S6 Food Bank and all the others across the city for their efforts literally to feed the hungry in our midst.
Have mercy upon us.
We pray for all who are ill at this time, whether through physical illness or depression. We especially remember those having to wait longer for treatment or operations because of the current extra strain on the staff and resources of the NHS. Be with them in their suffering that they may know your healing grace won, for us on the cross on Good Friday.
Have mercy upon us.
We remember before you all who have died, many as a result of Covid over the past year, leaving behind many heart-broken relations and friends, often unable to meet to comfort each other or to hold the kind of funeral they would like to celebrate the lives of their loved ones. Give them faith in the Resurrection of Christ that their loved ones are not lost to them for ever.
Lord have mercy.
Grant to us all the grace of your Holy Spirit to amend our lives according to your holy word.
Holy and strong,
Holy and immortal,
have mercy upon us.
Common Worship, Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is included here, is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000.