Sermon preached on Palm Sunday (20 March 2016) by Revd Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor

Worship
Today at the Cathedral View More
Temporary closure of Stone and Golden Galleries
7:30am Morning Prayer
8:00am Eucharist
8:30am Doors open for sightseeing
12:30pm Eucharist
3:30pm Last entry for sightseeing
4:00pm Evening Prayer

Sermon preached on Palm Sunday (20 March 2016) by Revd Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor

Ancient shrines and Coca-Cola signs: Canon Michael stresses how the Passion is contemporary 

On pilgrimage in the Holy Land, in January one year

I felt that Holy Week had arrived early because, as we walked in the footsteps of Jesus, the places which he knew and the theatres in which the drama of his life and death were played out brought a sense of immediacy to the well tried and tested story which we consider this coming week, starting today – right now.

We ourselves – the pilgrims – arrived in Jerusalem not on a Sunday but on a Friday but we spent a week, just as we are about to spend a week, steeped in the events of the Passion. 

See photos from St Paul's Palm Sunday Procession and Eucharist

We visited the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane, the House of Caiaphas, the High Priest ...

... we prayed at the Judgement Gate and walked the Via Dolorosa; we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and prayed at the foot of the cross and knelt at the tomb; then we travelled out of the city towards Emmaus and celebrated the Eucharist together where the risen Christ was recognised in the breaking of the bread.

One very major aspect of all of this struck me most particularly: not so much the sense of sacred place, important to me though that was, but the vivid reality of story. In each place, the Gospel account was read against the backdrop of ancient shrines and coca cola signs, of churches and noisy markets, of praying pilgrims and chattering tourists, of the spiritual and of the real – each throwing the other into relief.

I realised more than ever before just how very contemporary is the story of the Passion of Our Lord:

a story of fellowship and betrayal, of desertion and reconciliation, of triumph and disaster.

And I realised too that, striking though the great Renaissance paintings and the Baroque music of the story are, they do not tell the whole story – because these events which will unfold once again in our devotions and worship this week took place very much within the context of the busy humdrum which is this world and that the same marketers who jostled us as we walked the way of the cross that week were akin to the ones who ignored the pathetic figure of Christ as he stumbled and fell along that narrow street which led to Calvary.

This week, we shall enter into prayer and contemplation, drama and ritual, worship and song, and we shall pray as hard as we ever pray – and perhaps harder than usual – for a sense of God’s presence with us and within us.

Holy Week is a real opportunity to do something we’re not very good at doing in England’s green and pleasant land:

to fall to our knees in awe and thanksgiving at the extraordinary truth to which the rough-hewn beams of the cross point – that this doubtful symbol of our salvation is a story of self-awareness, self-sacrifice, and self-preservation. And it is a story like all other stories but with this one great difference: that it actually happened.

And, in the year 2016, whether we were once in the Holy Land or not, it is the story of our self-awareness, of our self-sacrifice, and of our self-preservation – for we are the body of Christ: of our crucified, resurrected and ascended Lord.