There are some Christians who look for easy answers to situations we face in everyday life, and this is especially so in the current coronavirus pandemic. I’d love to be able to give you a ready-made answer to why this is happening, but I can’t. This is the age-old problem of evil in a world created by a loving God.
What I can do though, is point you to the events of the first Good Friday and suggest that we find the beginnings of an answer there.
I came across this article at the end of March and I’ve been saving it to share here on Good Friday. N. T. Wright is the Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews, a Senior Research Fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University and the author of over 80 books, including The New Testament in Its World.
No doubt the usual silly suspects will tell us why God is doing this to us. A punishment? A warning? A sign? These are knee-jerk would-be Christian reactions in a culture which, generations back, embraced rationalism: everything must have an explanation. But supposing it doesn’t?
Well, you can read the article for yourself.
Good Friday is a day when we reflect on the most profound and spiritual things, and many will have time to do that today in lockdown and I encourage you to do so. You might find poetry and prose helps, music might work for you, maybe paintings or other forms of art.
Let me finish though with one more quote from the article: It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell. And out of that there can emerge new possibilities, new acts of kindness, new scientific understanding, new hope.
Here is a worship song that may help you in your thoughts on this very sacred day.
Let nothing disturb thee,
Nothing affright thee;
All things are passing,
God never changeth!
Patient endurance attaineth to all things;
Who God possesseth in nothing is wanting;
Alone God sufficeth. Amen.
Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), translated Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
You call us to love those whom you would love, and give us the words to say. You call us to bring wholeness to lives that are broken, and give us the words to say. You call us to bring comfort to those who are grieving, and give us the words to say. You call us to bring good news to those who are seeking, and give us the words to say. Your word, living water in desert sands. Your word, blossoming in parched earth. Your word, bearing fruit wherever it is sown. Amen.
We meet for Palm Sunday worship online, socially distant but with an emotional and spiritual connection. The Bible message today is about something of the nature of peace, and it’s linked to Misunderstanding Palm Sunday which I wrote and published here a few days ago.
We start our worship with Song 365: He is the Lord, and he reigns on high
They waved palm branches as He passed And hailed Him as their King; Yet, they knew not of the sorrow The coming week would bring. The glad acclaim would soon give way To jeers and mockery; In Pilate’s court He’d be condemned To a cross on Calvary.
But Jesus knew He was the price In God’s redemptive plan, The Sacrificial Lamb come down To die for sins of man.
The centuries have passed and still He seeks those lost in sin, Pleading with unyielding hearts To repent and follow Him.
On this day we shout our praise, O, let us not delay; The palm-strewn path of long ago Still leads to Him today.
Song 225: Jesus comes! Let all adore him!
Jesus comes! Let all adore him! Lord of mercy, love and truth. Now prepare the way before him, Make the rugged places smooth; Through the desert mark his road, Make a highway for our God.
Jesus comes! Reward is with him, Let the valleys all be raised, God’s great glory now revealing As the mountains are abased. Lift thy voice and greet the Lord, Cry to Zion: see thy God!
Jesus comes! The Christ is marching Through the places waste and wild; He his Kingdom is enlarging Where no verdure ever smiled. Soon the desert will be glad And with beauty shall be clad.
Jesus comes! Where thorns have flourished Trees shall now be seen to grow, Stablished by the Lord and nourished, Strong and fair and fruitful too. They shall rise on every side, Spread their branches far and wide.
Jesus comes! From barren mountains Rivers shall begin to flow, There the Lord will open fountains And supply the plains below; As he passes, every land Shall acclaim his powerful hand.
Prayer: Gracious God, the energy and emotion of a parade can generate joy. Yet the joy of your parade into Jerusalem turned so quickly to pain signalling the sacrifice of your own self. Let this day remind me that while emotions can be fickle, your faithfulness and love remain true. May I see in the giving of your life the power to give myself for others simply for love. When life’s struggle sears my soul or sacrifice strips me of hope, strengthen me with your spirit that strode into Jerusalem to face death even as palm branches were strewn before your path and the crowd cried “Hosanna in the highest.” Prayer source: explorefaith.org
Instead of the Band this Sunday, I give you…
We’ll now take up the Offering and listen to the Announcements: For those of you who give a weekly (or other regular) offering to your church, please save these up as they will be much needed in due course. Additionally, there may be those of you who would like to make a donation to a charity of your choice. Please check your local church for arrangements during this bewildering time, and don’t forget to check back here and the Wallsend Corps Facebook Page.
Palm Sunday is traditionally the day in the Christian calendar when we think about peace, and especially the peace that Jesus came to bring. Jesus rode into Jerusalem fulfilling the words of the prophet Zechariah:
See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Similarly, both Isaiah and Micah looked forward to a day when the nations would beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and look to God and walk in his ways.
Jesus came bringing a message of peace, but the people were so accustomed to war and strife that they rejected it. The people expected him to lead them in military victory over their enemies and vanquish their oppressors. Instead, Jesus offered something far more profound, peace to the human heart.
So Jesus and the crowd were at cross-purposes! They misunderstood that Jesus had come for a CROSS PURPOSE! That was not their purpose, that was the last thing on their minds.
They didn’t understand, their minds were closed to the real purpose of his coming. So when it became apparent that Jesus wasn’t going to fulfil their short-sighted ambitions, they turned against him and he was crucified on Good Friday.
In Luke’s account of these events we see that Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem. Indeed, it was the very nationalism that motivated the people on Palm Sunday that ultimately led to their downfall years later.
In today’s world, we need to be so careful that national pride doesn’t become narrow prejudice. Nationalism and prejudice are so often at the roots of conflict, and they take root first in the human heart.
It’s a troubled world out there, and God needs Christian soldiers who bring his message of peace to others. All manner of conflict starts with us. It comes from within, and that’s the very place Jesus wants to come and bring peace.
On this Palm Sunday we need to recognise that true peace can only be built on a right relationship with God. That’s both the foundation and source of all peace; peace with ourselves, peace with others, and peace with God.
The whole of the Bible testifies to this truth. Psalm 29, for instance, starts by calling us to worship: Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name; worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.
The Psalmist speaks of God’s greatness, which inspires our worship, and concludes with a wonderful promise of peace when we’re in a right relationship with him: The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.
Similarly, Isaiah speaks of promised peace given to the one who seeks after God: You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.Isaiah 26:3
Our human nature often wants to run away from the very thing that can bring our peace. Jesus said, if you had only known on this day what would bring you peace.
We have freedom as individuals, but there’s part of us that desires us to act selfishly, to do what we want rather than what God wants. This tendency to think we know best and do what we want is very powerful, unfortunately it separates us from God.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem to announce the possibility of reconciliation with God and the resulting peace it brings. As we approach Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter, we see very clearly the cost of peace-making. The cost for Jesus was the way of the cross; he died that we might live.
Peace is not something that just happens, it requires action. The very word for peace is active rather than passive. ‘Shalom’ carries the idea of wholeness, well-being and harmony, rather than merely the absence of strife or tension. It’s what God wants for each and every one of us.
It’s astonishing that with the cross looming before him, Jesus was able to speak of peace, and that through the events of Holy Week he was able to demonstrate such confidence and poise. With his betrayal, his agony in the garden, his trial and death so near, he promised peace; peace that the world cannot give, a peace that passes all understanding.
He promised those who follow him an inner confidence and serenity that can overcome any situation life can throw across our path. Our security in the world can be very fragile, but our spiritual security is of an altogether different nature. It comes from God himself; it’s strong and we can rely on it.
It was won for us on the cross. Peace and security can be ours as we enthrone Jesus at the very centre of our lives. Not at cross-purposes with him, but embracing the CROSS PURPOSE for our lives.
For a time of Reflection, Response and Prayer, please read Song 275:
Sing we the King who is coming to reign, Glory to Jesus, the Lamb that was slain, Life and salvation his empire shall bring Joy to the nations when Jesus is King.
Come let us sing: Praise to our King, Jesus our King, Jesus our King; This is our song, who to Jesus belong: Glory to Jesus, to Jesus our King.
All men shall dwell in his marvellous light, Races long severed his love shall unite, Justice and truth from his sceptre shall spring, Wrong shall be ended when Jesus is King.
All shall be well in his Kingdom of peace, Freedom shall flourish and wisdom increase, Foe shall be friend when his triumph we sing, Sword shall be sickle when Jesus is King.
Souls shall be saved from the burden of sin, Doubt shall not darken his witness within, Hell hath no terrors and death hath no sting; Love is victorious when Jesus is King.
Kingdom of Christ, for thy coming we pray, Hasten, O Father, the dawn of the day When this new song thy creation shall sing, Satan is vanquished and Jesus is King.
We finish with Song 135: All glory, laud, and honour
Benediction This, this is the God we adore, Our faithful, unchangeable friend, Whose love is as great as his power, And knows neither measure nor end. ’Tis Jesus, the first and the last, Whose Spirit shall guide us safe Home; We’ll praise him for all that is past, And trust him for all that’s to come. Amen.
It’s exciting to be in a crowd, but it can also be very frightening. The mood of a crowd can rapidly change, the dynamic of the mob can quickly take over. Who knows what the crowd will do next, especially if its expectations are not met?
The crowds surrounding Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem were no different. The emotions and excitement were reaching fever pitch, and the conditions were right for the whole thing to turn nasty.
You can read the story of the first Palm Sunday in Luke 19:28-44.
There would have been thousands of hot, excited, sweaty people all wanting to see Jesus; all wanting to know who he was, all wanting to see what he would do.
Jesus approaches and enters Jerusalem in the full knowledge that both the religious and political leaders were feeling threatened by his teaching and ministry, and that the crowd could easily turn if he didn’t fulfil their expectations and hopes.
The first Palm Sunday was a dramatic and hugely significant day in the life and ministry of Jesus. Prior to this, Jesus had resolutely set his face towards Jerusalem, to very publicly announce the coming of his kingdom.
He carefully chose a time when the people would be gathered in Jerusalem, and he chose a way of proclaiming his kingdom that was unmistakable.
But, as Jesus approached Jerusalem, he wept over it: If you, even you, had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.
These weren’t the words of a human king, but rather the words of divine Saviour whose heart broke because of the spiritual and moral blindness of the people. He’d come to bring true peace, but they didn’t want it.
The crowd in Jerusalem thought they understood as they cheered, shouted, waved, and threw palm branches, but completely misunderstood Jesus’ identity.
They were full of nationalistic fervour and failed to recognise the true nature of Jesus’ kingship. Palms had been a symbol of Jewish nationalism from the time of the Maccabees and appeared on Jewish coins during their revolutionary struggle against the Romans, and now they were oppressed by them.
Jesus showed the people his true identity by riding on a donkey; a sign, according to the Old Testament, of the Messiah coming in peace. The people expected the Messiah to bring victory by force, but Jesus came to conquer by the Cross. The way of Jesus is not one of hatred, force or violence, rather it’s the way of sacrificial love.
The praise and adulation of the crowd was not the glory Jesus wanted, his glory was to come through self-sacrifice and suffering.
On this Palm Sunday, may we make our own decision to set our face towards Jerusalem; resolving to go God’s way, despite the expectations of the crowds, and live like Jesus.
We’re now in the period of the Christian year known as Lent, on the start of a journey towards Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter. It’s a time when we consider the tremendous challenge Jesus experienced in the desert. Forty days when he prepared himself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually for the task he would accomplish on Good Friday; the victory of love over hate, good over evil, peace over violence, life over death.
The temptation to put physical needs or desires before the things of God.
The temptation to use power and influence for our own selfish ends, rather than for the things of God.
The temptation to show off, to imagine that we are better (even spiritually) than others, rather than living a humble life that allows God the glory.
In the desert, Jesus showed us the way of obedience to God.
On the cross, he paid the price that we might know life in its fullness.
So often, we choose the way of imperfection, fuelled by self-interest and pride. How often do we crown our desires as the sovereign of our lives?
Yet Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn us, but to offer us the prospect of salvation and the restored dignity of humankind, a sacred gift of true life.
Once we accept the truth about ourselves and, in humility, reject material goals for spiritual ones, we are walking the way Christ walked for us; and one which, because of the resurrection, he is walking with us today.
Note: You can read the story in the Bible here: Luke 4:1-13
I well remember buying this album in vinyl with its iconic gatefold sleeve, which I poured over as I listened to this amazing music for the first time, wondering what a VCS3 was! Nothing quite like this had been heard before, it’s one of my influential albums.
It’s the ultimate concept album; moving (through its roughly 43 minutes) from birth to death, describing the human condition. It still speaks to us today, and I expect people will be listening to this album long into the future. Life, time, fear, madness, money, war, suffering, solitude, withdrawal, selfishness, relationships, breakdowns, fame, politics and (ultimately) death.
Yet this merely touches the surface of what Pink Floyd manage to squeeze into this magnificent work. The themes are bleak and dark, yet the album is positive in the sense that it’s asking the listener to explore what it means to be human, to embrace our common humanity. There are some great lyrics.
At the end you hear a voice saying, “There is no dark side of the moon really, matter of fact it’s all dark”. To spiritualise it, this is a picture of a Good Friday world, with the possibility of new life, but lacking the means. During Lent and Holy Week Christians reflect on the death and resurrection of Jesus, with the means whereby the dark side of human nature might be redeemed. The following verses from the Bible speak about this possibility:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.