Saturday, March 19, 2016

A Touch of the Holy: Reflections on Palm Sunday (20 March 2016)

A Touch of the Holy
Reflections on Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday C
20 March 2016

Saint Faith's Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Click here to listen to the Sermon as preached at the 10.00 Eucharist on Sunday the 20th.

I cannot remember when and where it happened, but I do remember what happened.  I was participating in a celebration of the eucharist that involved a significant number of people.  As the deacon was preparing the table, I recall thinking to myself, "We're going to run out of wine if that's all that's being placed on the altar."  But no one adjusted the amount of wine and the celebration proceeded towards communion.

Sure enough, about two-thirds of the way through the communion of the people, I noticed the worried looks on the faces of the chalice administrators.  Each time they gave someone the wine, the administrators were looking into the chalice and then at the master of ceremonies.  Without any hesitation the master of ceremonies, a lay man, walked over to the altar, took the cruet with what remained of the consecrated wine and disappeared into the sacristy.  In a minute or so he reappeared with a full flagon of wine and began to refill the chalices of the administrators.

Usually when it looks like we're going to run out of consecrated bread or wine, the presider will go to the altar and recite a very short prayer to consecrate additional supplies.  But that didn't happen this time.  I began to worry about what was could be a serious departure from the practice of the Anglican tradition for more than four hundred years.

After the service I had a private moment with the presider, one of the more senior priests in the Diocese in whose parish the celebration had taken place.  I described what I had observed and expressed my concern.  He called the master of ceremonies over and said, "I hear that we almost ran out of consecrated wine."  "Yes," the master of ceremonies replied, "but I did what you taught me to do.  I took what was left of the consecrated wine and poured it into a flagon of unconsecrated wine."  The master of ceremonies walked away and I learned something new yet old.

What I learned is that the touch of the holy can transform the ordinary.  We come to this time in the year exhausted.  The wonder and joy of Christmas has floated away.  The plans for the new year are already eroding.  Lent came too quickly for most of us and we may not have been as faithful to our devotions as we had hoped.  Insult has been added to injury by the change from standard to daylight time, an insult to my bodily rhythms that I am still feeling.  We desperately need a touch of the holy to transform the ordinariness that has begun to claim our souls.

Today we begin our annual journey with Christ during the last week of his life.  For generations Christians have called this 'Holy Week', the most sacred period of time in the Christian calendar.  It is so significant a period of time that all four gospels devote more chapters to these seven days than to the three years of Jesus' ministry that precede it.  Although believers added new stories about what came before this week, the stories of this week still claim precedence and are undiminished in their power.

I dare to go even further.  Without the stories of this week, we have nothing unique to offer the world.  We are who we are as Christians because Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem today and confronted the religious and political powers of his day with the message of God's good news.  We are a holy people because we have chosen to follow Jesus into the city and to be witnesses of the events that follow:  confrontation, betrayal, struggle, trial and execution.

Without the touch of this holy week any experience of the joy of Easter is tepid at best, superficial at worst.  No amount of chocolate, no four-day weekend, no number of bunnies, ducklings and chicks can satisfy the human hunger for the holy, for the touch of the living God, without the journey of the week before us.  This is the week that gives meaning to the entire year ahead of us; it is the small amount of consecrated wine that makes the days, the weeks and the months ahead of us holy.

At the end of the eucharist today we shall bless the palm crosses that remind us of what will happen later in this week.  The triumphal entry will not overthrow the religious and political powers that oppress God's children and deny us the dignity that is our birthright.  We cannot arrive at the empty tomb without walking the way of the cross.  Many of us will take these crosses and place them in our homes and share them with our friends and family.  These crosses will crop up in unexpected places and offer the promise of the holy, the opportunity to taste the new wine of God's love and compassion.  That's all it takes to make our lives signs of the holiness that is just beneath the surface of the ordinary --- a touch of the holy, the promise of God's reign of justice, peace and compassion.

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