Invitation to empathy
Fr Dermot Preston SJ preaches live from St Aloysius' Glasgow, with the Schola Cantorum of St Aloysius' College on this Palm Sunday.
Fr Dermot Preston SJ preaches live from St Aloysius' Glasgow, with the Schola Cantorum of St Aloysius' College on this Palm Sunday. ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ is a cry of desolation. It’s a quote from one of David’s psalms, which seems to describe the crucifixion with uncanny accuracy: the ridicule and insults, his heart melting like wax, his thirst and the gambling for his clothes, and the isolation and despair. Somehow, mysteriously, Jesus was forsaken by his Father so that we could be forgiven. He faced loneliness in its most extreme form so that we never have to. Here is the ultimate act of hospitality: Jesus was displaced from the presence of God so that we could be welcomed into it. Jesus suffered in solidarity with humanity in order to bring us back to God. A link to resources for individuals and groups can be downloaded from the Sunday Worship web pages.
This script cannot exactly reflect the transmission, as it was prepared before the service was broadcast. It may include editorial notes prepared by the producer, and minor spelling and other errors that were corrected before the radio broadcast.
It may contain gaps to be filled in at the time so that prayers may reflect the needs of the world, and changes may also be made at the last minute for timing reasons, or to reflect current events.
Good morning and welcome to the west of Scotland. I am delighted that you are able to join with us in worship and prayer at this Jesuit parish here on Garnethill in the heart of Glasgow, where the congregation is joined by the Schola Cantorum of St Aloysius’ College.
In this Palm Sunday service, as Lenten pilgrims we arrive with Jesus and his disciples at the gates of the city of Jerusalem. With him we will rejoice as he comes into his Father’s House, but also with him we will catch glimpses of darker storm clouds gathering on the horizon; as Holy Week advances we will visit the Passion which will destroy his followers’ dreams.
MUSIC: HYMN –Ride on, Ride on in Majesty (Tune: Winchester New)
VOICE: Student (Girl)
Jerusalem is built like a city,
It is there where the tribes go up—
the tribes of the Lord—
to praise the name of the Lord.
Although John’s gospel sees Jesus making multiple visits to Jerusalem during his lifetime, Matthew, Mark and Luke use Jesus’ final pilgrimage towards Jerusalem as the narrative spine for their Gospels.
On Palm Sunday Luke, in particular, sets up an echo-chamber, rich in the cadences and textures of the Old Testament. He returns to themes in his own Gospel and invites the listener to hear again God’s promise to humankind as Jesus enters Jerusalem at the beginning of the last week of life…
Jerusalem is the city where Luke’s gospel began and where it will end. In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke’s second volume, it will also be the city from which the proclamation of the Resurrection to the whole world will begin.
We call today “Palm Sunday”, because as in the Gospel narratives, palms are cut from the local trees and placed as matting beneath the hooves of the colt which carries Jesus into the city. But as we will hear, unlike Mark and Matthew, Luke doesn’t actually mention palms – he says that the disciples and the people used their cloaks as cushioning for Jesus to sit on, and placed their cloaks under the feet of the colt. The cloak was usually the most expensive item of clothing that a person owned… thus now the supporters of Jesus symbolically place their own personal resources before the arriving King…
VOICE: Mary O’Duffin
As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
‘Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!’
Luke’s text is meticulously composed and the careful listener might find a memory stirred by the disciples’ song. Their little antiphon is actually a response to the song of the Angels over Bethlehem – “while shepherds watched their flocks by night” - right at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel. When then the angels sang of ‘Peace on Earth’ to the shepherds, the disciples on Palm Sunday now take up the response by singing of ‘Peace in heaven’. For Luke the breach between heaven and earth is closing. With the assistance of the angels and the disciples, the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus will heal the brokenness between God and human beings.
Prayer: Reader - Student (Boy)
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we see a world broken and divided; stir up in our hearts the gift of Peace. We pray for those who work in the ministry of reconciliation – for those healing the rifts between nations, those binding up the divisions within our countries, those who facilitate dialogue between people, and those who bring healing to our own hearts…
ALL: Lord, graciously hear us.
MUSIC: HYMN – Travelling the Road to Freedom
But all is not well with Jesus’ arrival… Into this joyous pageant of Palm Sunday a jarring note of opposition and resistance arises. Jesus’ old protagonists from Galilee meet him at the city walls:
VOICE: Michael O’Duffin
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout out.’
At the beginning of the Gospel, Simeon had predicted to the parents Mary and Joseph that the baby Jesus whom they were bringing for blessing was destined to be ‘the fall and the rising of many’ and the Pharisees, the traditional opposition from his ministry in the north in Galilee, politely acknowledge him as “Teacher” but continue to oppose his teachings.
It can be difficult to proceed when faced with opposition and hostility especially when, in effect, you are on your own. Here is Jessie Boston, a young woman on what was meant to be a normal commuter journey, who suddenly finds herself in an awkward place where she had to make a choice to step-in or to back-away…
“As I got on to the train I noticed this commotion happening between this young woman and this man. She was jumping on and off the train and he was doing the same. And the young woman, she went and sat down and the guy remained standing. And this young woman wasn’t responding, she was just sort of ignoring him. And there was just something off about their interaction. At the next stop he said, ‘We need to get off and catch the train to Guildford.’ And she refused to move, so I went over and I sat opposite to her. I sort of said, ‘Are you ok, can I help?’ She replied in a very strong Eastern European accent something about trying to go to the doctor. I thought ‘Hmm, this doesn’t sound quite right.’ And then I pointed to the man and asked, you know, ‘Who is this?’ And he replied, ‘I’m her father’, and that was in like perfect British accent. My inner voice was screaming, ‘Liar, you’re not her father!’ He kept on trying to get her off the train. And each time she would sort of stand up to make it look like she was going to get off the train, and then sit back down again as the doors closed.
I was sort of looking around, thinking who’s going to sort of intervene and potentially offer help for this young woman if she needs it. I just started to pray like, ‘Jesus, give me that kingdom courage.’ I also thought, if this was my own sister, I would want someone to intervene.
I basically said to her, ‘If you need me I can come with you off the train. She ended up jumping off the train and he followed after her as well. And in that moment I just said, Jesus let’s do this, let’s get off the train as well!’ She actually got back in the train one carriage up. And so he followed her back on the train as well, I followed him, and at that point he turned around and said to me, ‘Why are you following us?’ She took advantage of the fact that he was distracted, and jumped back off. The doors closed. He turned and sort of ran to the doors and tried to unlock them but it was too late. And he sort of turned and looked at me and I just remember the daggers in his eyes, kind of thing, and walked down the rest of the train. And I mean my heart was just racing this entire time.
You know, and I don’t know her story, but I’ve heard the stories of countless other young women, children, men, from around the world who have just been – yeh, through hell and back really, in the grip of slavery. I mean I can only imagine, and I don’t want to in many ways. And I think that’s actually quite often a default that we have is that we don’t like to think about the brokenness, the darkness.
… Jessie’s choice was not easy. She intuited that the stranger was in trouble, even though it wasn’t clear what the issue was, but it was her empathy for the stressed signals of another human being that allowed her to step into the breach and take a stand in the face of a radiated hostility. She felt the urge to put herself into harm’s way out of compassion.
As St Oscar Romero, the martyred Archbishop of El Salvador, said on a number of occasions: God asked him to take on this role of prophet for his people; and that if he didn’t speak up, then the dogs would bark and the stones would talk.
Prayer: Reader - Student (Girl)
Lord Jesus, we ask you to give us insight when we face injustice and arrogance. Help us to trust our God-given instincts to empathise with other human beings who are in need and give us the courage not to turn away from their call.
Lord hear us.
ALL: Lord, graciously hear us.
MUSIC: MOTET – Drop, Drop Slow Tears (Orlando Gibbons)
While Jesus was still ministering in Galilee, John the Baptist who was then languishing in prison, sent a question to his kinsman: “Are you the one who is to come or are we to await for another?” Jesus’ response at that time was to point out to the disciples of the Baptist the deeds of great power which were taking place – ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’
Jesus entry into Jerusalem confirms the answer as he reveals that he is the one who is to come and now he is doing it openly at the City of David. Doing something unprecedented – as Luke symbolises it ‘on a colt that had not yet been ridden’ – the King who rules over the enemies of peace – sickness, the demons and death – now arrives into his Father’s house...
Then Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be a house of prayer”;
but you have made it a den of robbers.’
When Jesus stood in the Temple in Jerusalem, among the marble and fine cut-stone, the structure still had something of the feel of a building-site about it: scaffolding, ropes, pulleys and ladders would have been evidence of this being a work-in-progress. Herod the Great, the ruthless King of Israel during Jesus' childhood, was known as 'Great' because of his ambitious building plans, and one of his projects was the restoration of the big, (but rather functional) Jewish Temple, built by Nehemiah after
the exile in Babylon. The Temple project was so massive that, with Herod long-dead, when Jesus swept in on Palm Sunday it had already been under construction for 46 years and it would take yet another 30 years after Jesus’ death before the building was completed.
Luke tells us, that earlier on Palm Sunday, as Jesus made his way down the side of the Mount of Olives, he wept for the city. Like one of the great prophets of the Old Testament, he looked into the future:
‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.’
It is sobering to reflect that Herod's Temple was completed only 7 years before it, and the city of Jerusalem itself, were razed to the ground by the Roman Legions. Many pilgrims had marvelled at the city’s significance, and the evolving beauty of the architecture; and yet, in AD 70, after a brutal two year siege, tens of thousands of people were slaughtered in just a couple of days; the Temple itself, only just recently completed, was reduced to rubble, and the fires from the burning of the artefacts and exquisitely carved woods created a dense and acrid smoke which choked and billowed over southern Judaea.
No wonder tears welled-up in the far-seeing eyes of Jesus as he entered into the city.
As for Holy Week, Luke summarises Jesus’ ministry simply, but with a hint of menace:
Every day Jesus was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.
The very name Jerusalem is rooted in the word peace: -salem . You can see its roots in both Hebrew (‘Shalom’) and Arabic (‘Salaam’), where both words mean peace, and both are used as a greeting and a welcome. Luke doesn’t need to emphasise the irony that while Jesus is now within the City of Peace as the Teacher in the house of God, the official teachers are out-&-about plotting death and destruction.
Prayer: Reader - Student (Boy)
Lord Jesus we ask for a heart able to tolerate differences. We pray that, in our desire to be faithful, we might not be blind to changes that you inspire in our cultures and beliefs and understanding. We ask that your Spirit might protect us from lazy prejudices, and lead us constantly to seek for Truth.
Lord hear us.
ALL: Lord, graciously hear us.
MUSIC: PSALM – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
The excitement and light of early Holy Week darkened quickly as the days progressed. Late on the Thursday night, while away from the safety of the crowds, in a series of manoeuvres, including a betrayal by Judas, one of Jesus’ inner circle, Jesus was arrested. Over just a few hours, the tables were turned and Jesus was pushed through a sequence of trials which exposed both the ruthlessness of the opposition to Jesus and the fragility of his own cluster of friends.
By 9.00am on the Friday morning, when many of his followers were still asleep, Jesus was already pinned to his tree of Crucifixion. Isolated and seared with pain, Jesus spent his last hours of life surrounded by strangers on the hill of Golgotha, hoisted-up, nailed to a plank, squirming beneath the heat of the sun and the spasms of agony that racked his body.
Mark’s gospel account of Good Friday highlights the isolation of the Peacemaker whose only companions were now the indifferent Roman squaddies and the jeering bystanders, who were enjoying the comic twist of fate. No hint of empathy here.
“Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.
When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus screamed with a loud cry, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”
Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.
MUSIC: MASS FOR 3 VOICES – Agnus Dei (Byrd)
In the Orthodox tradition, the ever-present Easter gives colour to even the darkest of shadows of Good Friday, so as we draw to a close let us momentarily eavesdrop on the Resurrected Jesus as he talks to his still shell-shocked disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday. Luke simply relates:
Then Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
Let us pray in the words that Jesus gave to his own disciples...
ALL: LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us;
And lead us
not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
MUSIC: HYMN – When I survey the wondrous Cross
Fr Dermot: The Lord be with you
All: And with your Spirit
Fr Dermot: May Almighty God bless us: Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Fr Dermot: Our Service is ended – Let us go in the Peace of Christ
All: Thanks be to God.
MUSIC: ORGAN VOLUNTARY – Grand Chœur Dialogué (Gigout)