Palm Sunday Sermon: The Procession
Rev John Goodwin.
Today we celebrate the procession of Jesus into the holy city as Messiah and King. As he enters the gates of the city, he steps onto the road that will lead to his arrest by jealous, hateful, powerful men, and to his crucifixion; and this road he steps along today is the same road that leads to resurrection.
Five hundred years before the birth of Jesus the Prophet, Zechariah wrote- “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” When Jesus enters Jerusalem, he fulfils this ancient prophecy.
The donkey is a symbol of peace, and the coming of the Messiah was associated with the reign of peace.
Do you remember what the angels sang when Jesus was born – “Glory to God in highest heaven and peace to God’s people on earth.” Well that was at the time of his birth, but thirty-three years later the angel’s song has been changed. For on this Palm Sunday – the people sing “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!”
Note there is nothing about peace on earth in what the crowds sing today. I find that very interesting. The followers of Jesus are no longer promised peace on earth – but there is a promise of peace prepared for them by God in heaven…for it is in heaven where the battle against the demons and evil has already been fought and won.
I wonder who would have been in the crowd that cheered Jesus on, waving palm branches and throwing coats on the road to make a royal carpet?
I think there would have been some who had no faith in the power of humans to bring about justice, and peace. And so, their faith was firmly in God. Looking around the world today at those in power today, I am sure fewer and fewer people have any faith in the power of men and women to bring about lasting justice and peace.
I like to think the crowd that day was made up of the kind of people celebrated by Luke in his Gospel: little, insignificant and poor people like the shepherds – remember it was to them and not the mighty ones or the religious ones thatthe angels announced the birth of the Messiah.
In this crowd there might have been the broken ones; the outcast who found a welcome in Jesus; the lost ones that he searched for; and those who had been demon-possessed until they met Jesus. These are the ones who came to put their trust in him.
Had there been a bus from Galilee, then among those waving palm branches could have been the lepers who Jesus hugged and kissed; and those who had been paralysed and blind ones until they met Jesus. They would have been there if they could; and the widow’s son he had raised from dead; and some who were in the five thousand he had fed with five loaves and two small fishes.
Certainly, there would have been the faithful women who followed Jesus and used their own resources to provide for him and his disciples. There would also have people whose lives had been changed by the mighty deeds they had seen, and whose lives had been touched by his teaching.
Less certain to have been in the crowd were those people of power who had secretly come to Jesus – the rich ones and the educated ones; the Roman officer whose servant Jesus healed; and those Pharisees who had warned Jesus of Herod wanting to kill him. They kept their faith secret as they valued what others thought.
I want to compare this procession of Jesus and the most unlikely people with another one that happened in the same era.
In the days of the Roman Empire, successful generals were honoured with triumphant processions into Rome. Sixty-one years before the birth of Jesus, there was the most magnificent triumph ever seen. It was to honour General Pompey as the conqueror of the whole world. His procession lasted two whole days. Thousands and thousands of people lined the road to see it.
First in the procession came slaves and prisoners in chains – some bound for execution; next came captured weapons, armour and gold; then came huge paintings of the battles Pompey had won; then came the Roman senators; then the general’s twelve special guards; then the chariot with Pompey, drawn by four horses; then the unarmed soldiers of the General, and finally two pure white oxen which would be sacrificed.
The General was treated like a God – he was above all others. And all the temples in Rome had their doors open as if to say the Gods too were honouring the man; and the final destination of the procession was the mighty Temple of Jupiter, the king of the Roman gods. At this place the oxen were killed and sacrificed.
Ninety years after Pompey’s procession, in a far-off part of the same Roman Empire, there is this Palm Sunday procession that was so much smaller. Jesus entered Jerusalem as Messiah and the little people waved palm branches and welcomed him as king.
One of these processions lasted two days and then the General was forgotten except by historians; but the procession begun by Jesus is continuing still, and millions have joined in over the years. And the ones who have joined have often been like the people whom Jesus touched – the forgotten, the outcast; the poor; the ones who put their trust in God, as they have no hope in the rule of men.
The two processions are so different.
In the first is the glorification of war, and wealth and a man is treated like a God by an Empire that ruled the world – an Empire that eventually collapsed and died and all that we have left are the ruins of temples, and broken statues.
In the other procession there are no war-horses or soldiers. Jesus comes on a donkey with twelve disciples and the supporting women.
With Jesus there are no paintings describing his greatness; there are no riches; and there are no prisoners bound for execution, but he comes humbly in the name of the God of love to show people the way back to God.
The end of Pompey’s procession is the Temple of Jupiter, the King of the Roman gods; the end of Jesus’ procession is a temple, a cruel death on a cross, and then God’s raising Jesus to a life that will never ever die.
We are given the choice of joining both types of procession at various points of our lives – the one that honours and bows down to might and riches and the rule of humans, and the other that honours God and treats others with love.
We at St Thomas’ join the billions who have over the years joined the Jesus procession, for we may have witnessed deeds of God’s power, and been touched by a love that will not let us go. We are the ones who have said yes to Jesus who gives life; yes, to praying in his name; yes, to looking after the poor; yes, to a kingdom where the peacemakers and the humble are honoured; yes, to a kingdom where the final battle over suffering and death has already been won.
I know which procession I would rather be part of, even though at times it seems we are a small number, and the world has passed us by.
Stick with this one, and continue to be people of hope and prayer and goodwill – this procession will lead us through whatever trials lie ahead, to resurrection life.
Washing and Eucharist
From “God, Christ and Us” by Herbert McCabe. Chosen by Rev Bob Driver as his Maundy Thursday Sermon.
“And during supper Jesus, knowing that the father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples.- – – -” John 13 3 – 4
When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, he was doing two things. First of all, he was expressing hospitality: these men are his guests; he invites them to share in what he has. When you invited people to eat and drink with you in Jesus’s society, the first thing you did for them as they entered was to arrange for their feet to be washed. They would be hot and dusty from the journey. So, in washing the feet of his disciples Jesus invites his followers to be his guests. But Jesus does not just arrange for his guests to have their feet washed (in the ordinary way you had a slave to do that). Jesus is both host and slave. He washed the feet of his own guests. And this takes any possible sting out of his hospitality. A host is lord of his table. It is he who provides the food and drink. And his guests, in courtesy, must defer to him. But Jesus proposes a new kind of hospitality, one in which the host is also slave, and therefore, not lord; in which the host is also slave and, therefore not subservient. Here is something that is neither lordship nor subservient. Here is the meal of equals.
The washing of the feet by the one who is both lord of the feast and servant is a symbol of a new kind of relationship amongst men and women, a relationship neither of dominance nor subservience but of equality of love, a relationship in which we are equal in love to each other as Jesus and the Father are equal, a relationship in which we are one as he and the Father are one, a relationship which is the Holy Spirit.
St John has his own reasons for leaving it there with the washing of the feet. For him, the Passover marks Christ’s crucifixion. It is his time for being lifted up and glorified. The other evangelists (and St Paul) tell us that Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, his friends. And they tell us that, in doing so, he instituted the eucharist. But the story of the eucharistic meal as the synoptic gospels (and St Paul) tell it brings us further into the same mystery that is pointed to in John’s account of the washing of the feet: the mystery of our new relationship of brotherhood in Christ.
Let’s just look at those words that Jesus said (according to the synoptics and Paul). And, just for a change, let’s look at them the other way around. I mean: let us put the emphasis in a different place. Let us read them as saying: “Jesus took bread and said this is my body for you.” Let us read them as saying: “If you are looking for my body, this is it.” “Body” here certainly doesn’t mean something distinct from soul or blood. It just means Jesus – his real human being. “If you are looking for me”, he is saying, “this is where you will find me; this is where you will find my body.” When you have a friend, it is his or her bodily presence which matters. It is no (or not much) comfort to know simply that your friend exists if he or she is several hundred miles away. What we desire is bodily presence. But if we seek the bodily presence, the real self, of Jesus for us, where do we find him? Jesus says: don’t go looking in the tomb for my body, don’t go looking up to heaven for my risen body, don’t go looking anywhere, look amongst yourselves, look at the food you eat together, look at the life you share together. This is the kind of thing my bodily presence is: when you break bread together.
Of course, all breaking of bread together in friendship, in love, is a presence of the body of Christ. When we say grace at meals, when we thank God, make eucharist, we are thanking God for the presence of Christ. The eucharistic meal is special. This meal is the ultimate in meals, the ultimate in sharing food and life together. The Last Supper was, of course, a Passover meal. The bread that Jesus shared with his disciples was unleavened bread. The way to make bread rise, if you don’t happen to have any yeast or baking powder, is to mix in a bit of the old fermented leaven from the previous baking – that way all loaves are in continuity with the past. But the unleavened bread is new. It does not depend on the past. It has broken with the past. The meal in which it is broken is a meal of a new community, a new creation. That is why unleavened bread is used in the Passover meal, to symbolise the new community of the people of God that was formed at the Exodus. They came out of chaos and darkness and were made into a new people, a new kind of community.
Now Jesus is announcing a new Passover meal and a new people of God. He is announcing the coming of the Kingdom. In any meal we have in friendship, in any act of hospitality, any act of sharing life (feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned, housing the homeless, celebrating with our friends) we are in the presence of Christ. This is his body. In our eucharistic meal we are present to each other (and in the presence of Christ) as we will be in the Kingdom. We enter for a moment into the world of the future, into that kind of society in which we will simply be the body of Christ, in which there will be no admixture of evil, no alienation. Instead of our friendship being a ray of light amongst the darkness of sin, selfishness, cruelty and domination, as it is now, it will be the whole of our life, all of our ways of being together. Into this world we enter for a moment sacramentally in the breaking of the eucharistic bread. When celebrating the eucharist we proclaim that we belong to the kingdom of the future. Or the Kingdom comes and proclaims that we belong there – a kingdom that is a new community, that gives a new meaning to community, where we break the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, a kingdom where we find a new relationship between ourselves.
But in the kingdom, we also find a new relationship with God. As our alienation from each other disappears, so does our alienation, our estrangement, from God. God ceases to be in any way an alien, a stranger. He is no longer even a benign stranger looking down on our life.
In the Kingdom, God will no longer be standing over against us either to judge or to reward us. He will not be the Other, over there or out there or up there. He will be all in all. This is the new covenant with God that we celebrate in the eucharist tonight.
The covenant of the God of the Old Testament with Israel was ratified and celebrated with religious rites, with the blood of animal sacrifices, with special ceremonies set apart from ordinary life. They were set apart because God was set apart. The link with God, the covenant with God, was celebrated in a strange and alien and sacred place with special actions set apart and sacred because God was set apart and sacred. God was a stranger, even though a friendly stranger. Israel was his people. But still he stood over against them and above them.
The new covenant represents a new vision of God. It is not ratified and celebrated with the blood of sacrifice or with any special religious act. It is ratified by what is simply an act of love. An act of love as bloody and horrible as any sacrifice, but first of all an act of love. The new covenant is ratified because Jesus accepted his dreadful death. And he accepted it because he loved us, loved us enough to be close to us, to be close enough to be our victim, close enough to suffer the fate that we impose on love that threatens our world, our world that is based on lies and domination and fear, on anything except love. Jesus died because when we meet love, although we fool ourselves that we will like it, we in fact kill it.
Jesus did not go to Calvary to say mass, to perform any ritual religious act. He was dragged to Calvary because he was prepared to lay down his life for his friends. The blood here is not ritual blood. It is the real blood of a man who was murdered by our police, our soldiers defending our right to love without love. Jesus shed his blood to show that we are his friends, to show that we are friends, in spite of everything, of God.
So, this cup that we bless, that we drink and share, is the sign not only of the presence of Jesus, but of Jesus shedding his blood for us, giving his life for us, founding the new covenant of the Kingdom. It is the blood of Jesus whose murder does what all the ritual sacrifices were trying to do. It overcomes the alienation of God which we call sin.
Israel Falou’s Prediction
Israel Folau posted a tweet on Twitter, which drew much adverse commented recently, and may also have cost him his place in the Wallabies. It is shown on the next page.
Israel Folau claims that the quote comes from Galatians 5 19 – 21 in the King James version of the bible. In fact, Galatians 5 19 – 21 actuallysays this:
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.”
There is no reference at all in Galatians 5 19 – 21 to homosexuals, liars and atheists; and more importantly, there is no reference to Hell awaiting those who transgress in these ways.
One could I suppose draw a fairly long bow, and maintain that these sins are included in Galatians 5 19 – 21 by association, in that many if not all of them are generally regarded as sins. Similarly, we could perhaps agree that Hell is where sinners go, without concerning oneself too much about which sins and under what circumstances we will end up there. Israel Folou could, I suppose, be forgiven the inaccuracies of his statement, by maintaining that in a general sort of way he is correct. Or is he?
Certainly, various acts are declared to be sinful, especially in the Old Testament. Most of them are prohibited in (among other places) the book of Leviticus; and it is true that in Leviticus and other Old Testament books, the wrath of God is generally predicted to fall on those who sin. Israel Folau in that sense is maybe just being a good God-fearing person in the Old Testament sense.
I feel quite sorry for the Jews in Old Testament times. Although some could read, the vast majority of everyday Jews probably could not. Added to which, parchment was incredibly expensive, and only the Church or the very rich could afford to buy and study scripture. The ordinary people were dependent upon the scriptures being read to them in the synagogue. Reading sections which predicted fire, Hell and brimstone probably helped the scribes keep the masses in order!
It was not unusual for Churches in the Twentieth Century also, to preach Jesus Christ as saviour of the world, but to teach that because of our sins we will all go to Hell. Certainly, I can remember from my youth, such a point of view being taught, in bible classes in particular, especially when we wanted to hold bible class dances, which were regarded as being particularly sinful, especially in the Nelson Diocese.
Which is not to say that, in the modern-day Church, sin does not exist; far from it, it is as prevalent now as it ever was – perhaps even more so. We cannot escape from committing sin; personal sin is everywhere, and we can be caught up in corporate sin as well. Try as we may, we cannot avoid sinning. I must admit to sinning much of the time in many ways, and I would be surprised if you do not admit as much yourselves.
Nor is sin to be taken lightly. We should fervently and continuously strive not to sin. The law (by which I mean the codified list of sins one should avoid, as defined by the Scribes – see later) was not abolished by the New Testament, nor by Jesus’s teachings. If you have any doubts about this, read again Matthew 5 17 through to the end of Matthew Chapter 7.
Surely, the fundamental difference between the Old and New Covenants (or Testaments) is simply this: The New Testament makes provision for the forgiveness of sin. The New Testament does not wipe away sin, it forgives it. Our present sin, future sin and past sins including the sins of all those who came before us, and even before Jesus himself, may all be forgiven. Look again at John 7 56 – 58:
“Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham?” “I tell you the truth” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was, I am.”
The price for sin has been paid, on the first Easter nearly 2,000 years ago.
We must still repent of our sin as before; but as we do so, we know we are forgiven. Jesus loves the sinner, but he hates the sin. He himself paid the price for sin. Having our sins forgiven won’t stop us sinning; I personally believe sinning is built into our DNA; but thanks to the forgiving nature of Christ’s sacrifice, confession followed by forgiveness can be everlastingly present in our lives. Thanks be to God.
That’s what Israel Falau and others like him seem to have overlooked. It is good that he stands up for what he believes in – would that more could do likewise. But it was sad that his message and his beliefs overlooked the most important part; God forgives our sins – even until seventy times seven (i.e., everlastingly).
A final point. God’s new Covenant with his people does not render study of the Old Testament irrelevant. Far from it. The Old Testament is still very important in at least 5 ways:
- The Old Testament tells us much about the world as seen through the eyes of early civilisations.
- It is an accurate record of the religious history of the Jewish nation; of their dealings with God.
- It contains some great literary passages, especially in the Psalms and the Proverbs; but not limited to just those two books.
- Without going into what the expression actually means, it is still as divinely inspired as it ever was.
- Most importantly, it contains prophesy about the birth, life and death of Christ, thereby contributing to our belief that Jesus truly was the son of God.
I want to labour this last point, because I think I am beginning to see the relevance of the Old Testament in an entirely new light. One of the blessings that Rev. Bob Driver has brought to us in his preaching and teaching is his insistence that on many occasions, the Old Testament points prophetically to the New. His knowledge of the scriptures is such that he integrates prophesy in the Old Testament, with its fulfilment in the new.
Perhaps as regards sin, the same applies. The scribes of old, wrote whole tomes listing all the actions of mankind that could be construed as sinful (called the Talmud). The entire Talmud consists of 63 tractates (or essays). In standard print it is over 6,200 pages long (i.e., nearly nine times as long as the Old Testament itself!). The Talmud is the basis for all codes of Jewish law, and is widely quoted in rabbinic literature.
Yet in the New Covenant, a simple prayer genuinely seeking forgiveness, is sufficient to wash all those sins away. Now that’s a message the Israel Folau should really have tweeted!
Titoki Healing Centre
One cannot know Joan Osborne for long, without hearing of the Titoki Healing Centre near Whakatane. I knew little to nothing about it. What follows is based on two books about the founding of the Titoki Centre written by Peggy M Fussell, lent to me by Joan, and a handful of tracts.
“I think that this is a stupid motion and that Archdeacon Ferguson is being foolish in the extreme.”
Members of the 1975 Waiapu Diocesan Synod could surely be excused for looking somewhat startled when the Reverend Selwyn Jones stood up and with these words introduced his motion commending the plan for the establishment of a healing centre near Whakatane.
“It is a foolish motion which I am introducing because it suggests that there is a healing which isn’t covered by science or politics or revolutions; that there is a peace and wholeness which really is beyond our utmost understanding. It is stupid because it implies acceptance of the psalmist’s words ‘Be still and know that I am God’.”
It is 39 years since the Titoki Healing Centre was founded. Its early history is largely the history of one man – Archdeacon Donald Thomas Ferguson, formerly of St George’s Anglican Parish, Tauranga.
Don Ferguson was born to a strong Presbyterian mother, in Lower Hutt. After his father retired in 1947, the family moved to Tauranga, where Don became an apprentice watchmaker. His aunt was organist at St Peter’s Presbyterian Church, but she was unwilling to teach Don. So, Don approached Holy Trinity Anglican Church, where he became an organ pupil, and also joined the choir. Don found much that appealed to him in the Anglican tradition, and at the age of 21 he presented himself for confirmation, and also began to think about joining the priesthood. He also met his future wife, Wilma, although they did not marry until 1958, by which time she had qualified as a pharmacist and worked and travelled overseas, and Don had become ordained to the priesthood and was curate at St Augustine’s Church in Napier.
Peggy M Fussell takes up the story:
“When he had not long been priested, Don was called upon to go to the hospital in Napier to baptise a baby girl who had been born with meningitis and was not expected to live. When he had baptised the baby, he anointed her with oil and laid hands on her. It was the first time he had administered holy unction and he knew within himself that something had happened. He thought deeply about it, but did not mention it to anyone at the time. Years later after his ministry had taken him to Rotorua, Opotiki and the Solomon Islands, he was appointed to the parish of St George’s at Gate Pa in Tauranga. In 1972 a family attending a service introduced him to their thirteen-year-old daughter “whom you baptised and anointed with oil as a baby in Napier Hospital”. Don was not surprised that the baby had recovered and lived.”
From then on, he knew without fully realising what it implied, that he was meant to do something in the healing ministry; confirming as it did many of his experiences in the Solomon Islands. There, he witnessed a man who was dying from continuous haemorrhaging, live through faith; and a girl with nothing wrong with her, die through fear after a curse had been placed on her. As Peggy M Fussell continues:
“Such experiences as these brought him a strong inner conviction that he was in the midst of the real gospel at work; that Jesus had come to bring a wholeness to His people and that this involved their relationship to God, to others and to themselves. He realised that physical needs and bodily malfunctions are not solely the realm of the doctor. The health of the body, mind and soul is all one. It is our Western way of thinking which has separated them in our minds. “Soteria” is a word used in scriptures for being saved, and it also means wholeness – a word which includes health of body, mind and spirit.”
“As vicar of St George’s, Don was called upon to hold public healing services, but the concept of such services was anathema to him, as he was afraid of their often-sensational nature.”
Don became aware of the work of the Burrswood Healing Centre in Kent, England, and of the writings of its founder, Dorothy Kerin. Speaking of this time, Don said “Dorothy answered for me, inasmuch as anyone can answer, the mystery of suffering and the perfect purpose and will of God that all mankind should be made whole through the love of God in Christ. … Important words of hers, for me, were ‘He hears our every prayer and answers all, but in His love makes time and ways His own’.”
Don was uncertain what to do next, until he was travelling back from Napier with Selwyn Jones (quoted at the beginning of this treatise), the vicar of St George’s Whakatane, after a somewhat gruelling meeting of the Standing Committee of the Diocese. Again, as Peggy M Fussell records it:
“Don found himself sharing his feelings about this healing centre idea with Selwyn. If he tried once more to let it lie dormant, Selwyn certainly did not. When a ten-acre property near Whakatane come on the market, he was promptly on the telephone to Don. It appears the owners would like it to be used as a healing centre. On that day in January 1975, Don realised that “this was it”. The Healing Centre was born, mid-1975.
The Healing Centre was established and continues to this day, although Don Ferguson ceased to be its founding Chaplin in 1989. In its work it continues to stress that health of mind, body and spirit are necessary for true recovery from illness.
I will conclude with quotes from Don Ferguson himself, taken from “Open Hand”, Titoki’s three-monthly newsletter, of August 1988.
“From time to time we hear of, or have staying at Titoki, people who have been hurt in soul or spirit by others who have ministered to them ostensibly under the ministry of healing of the Church.
They come to us in a frail state, very vulnerable and with their faith in tatters. How has it happened? There are a number of ways well-meaning people, in the name of Jesus, though not in his spirit, can bring disease rather than healing to others.
1 When people pray for a person, giving God instructions, and God does not reply as desired, blame and guilt are heaped on someone, usually the person being prayed for. They are blamed for their lack of faith which, in their already hurt and vulnerable state, only makes their condition worse. This is particularly damaging to people who have degenerative diseases.
While praying for a person, as a general rule, lift the person to our Lord who knows their needs far better than we do or even the one in need does, so that he may infuse them with his spirit and work His perfect will and loving purpose in them in His way and His time.
2 There is a tendency these days to cast out untold numbers of ‘spirits’ in people. Often this is a matter of semantics. By the use of the word ‘spirit’, is generally meant ‘attitude’. I could not agree more that wrong attitudes affect our relationship with ourselves, others and God; but I believe they are to be worked at in partnership with God and with His grace until a ‘whole’ attitude is gradually achieved….To ‘cast out spirits’ implies no effort is needed by the person who is diseased, and again when they are not changed as a result of such ministering, they must be at fault because they have not claimed their release.
3 From time to time people suffer from deliverance ministry that I can only describe as lacking in the love of Jesus. Whenever we minister it is Jesus who ministers, not we, and His ministry is always a ministry of unconditional love.”