March 28, 2021

The Mystery of God: The Mystery of Joy and Salvation

A sermon preached on Palm Sunday by Rev. Aaron Kennedy

Philippians 2:5-11; Psalm 31:1-6; Mark 11.1-11

Some lines from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke:

If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.


As many of you know, I recently became a father for the second time.

Grace was magnificent throughout the pregnancy and birth,

and I couldn’t be more proud of her,

or my sons Gabriel and Clement.

But being a parent is a journey, a trial, you might say!

It has its ups and downs, its moments of deep joy and satisfaction,

but also times of immense struggle and deep disappointment

– not for me, in my children, but with myself.

Being a parent has taken me to the ends of myself

and left me on my knees, empty handed and desperate for help,

ashamed at my lack of grace, my anger, frustration.

But like anything truly worthwhile in life,

there is no easy solution to the challenges of parenting.

There is no book, trick, technique, form of words, or routine

that will once and for all make me the parent I need to be.

So I hold on. I carry my cross,

and try to persevere, as parents generally do,

however imperfectly and falteringly.


As is so often the case in life

what begins with happiness and contentment,

with cries of joy and delight,

can take us to dark places,

can turn to angry words, and cries of desperation.

But the mistake we often make

is to believe that when happiness gives way to struggle, difficulty and defeat,

that we have come to the end.


This is Palm Sunday,

when we remember the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem.

He has been making his way to this moment for a while,

having “set his face” to go there.

And I suppose that as he journeyed along,

and ministered as he went,

his reputation preceded him.

So that, when he did arrive in Jerusalem,

and mounted his donkey

sitting on the cloaks of his disciples,

the general public spontaneously, it seems

began laying down their cloaks on the road

and cutting palm branches from the fields,

and honouring him with joyful, hopeful shouts of ‘“Hosanna!”’


It is a wonderful moment,

and it must have been amazing to be there that day.

A sense of expectation and hope had been ignited.

You see the Kingdom of Judea was occupied by the Roman Empire,

and the people were desperately hoping and praying for freedom,

for a Messiah, a saviour, to come and liberate them

as their scriptures foretold.

Indeed they would have prayed the words of Psalm 31

which we’ve just heard:

In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;
    do not let me ever be put to shame;
    in your righteousness deliver me.

However, there is a misunderstanding.

Jesus is not running for this office.

And he was certainly not positioning himself as a warrior of any kind.

The donkey that he rode was clearest sign of that.


No, Jesus was positioning himself as the fulfilment

of the prophecy of Zechariah, who said that

the Messiah would come on a donkey to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives –

which is where we are told he came from that day;

there was also a tradition that the sacrificial lamb

used by Jews each year in the Passover celebration

was brought from Bethphage – near Bethany also.


Jesus entry into Jerusalem was not about mounting a political uprising.

He saw himself as a fulfilment, or renewal,

of the feast of the Passover

an annual Jewish ritual in which an innocent lamb is sacrificed

to take away the sins of the people.

Jesus’ reworking of the Passover

is where we get pascha, or paschal mystery,

another name for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus

we celebrate at Easter.


So, obviously the story was never going to end

in the joy of the triumphal entry.

What began in happiness and excitement,

with cries of praise and blessing,

ends with some of the same voices, I don’t doubt,

shouting a different message, altogether, later in the week,

of Crucify him!

I say it ends there.

But of course it doesn’t.

But let’s not pre-empt Easter just yet.


One family who know all about Psalm 31,

who no doubt have prayed fervently for the Lord to deliver them,

is that of Christopher and Chantal Bryan.

When their first son Jonathan was still in his mother’s womb

the car she and her husband – an Anglican priest,

were driving in was involved in an accident.

Jonathan suffered serious brain damage

and was born with cerebral palsy.


As a fairly new parent I can easily imagine

how incredibly dark those first days after the accident might’ve been.

For a start, the physical injuries, the emotional trauma of the accident

and heart-rending fears of the worst for Jonathan.

Then, the nervousness and strain around the birth,

the long stays in the neo-natal unit,

and incessant planned – and often unplanned – visits to the hospital,

all overlaid by weeks of physical recovery for mum,

sleepless nights for both parents,

and emotions on tenterhooks over Jonathan.

Their nerves must have been absolutely shredded.


Would Jonathan survive?

How would he be effected by the accident?

And then came the assessment of Jonathan’s brain damage

which was so severe one MRI technician commented

that it was a shame he hadn’t been on life support,

because then they could’ve turned him off.

Waves of intense sadness, anger, grief

and often enough, I’m sure, utter desolation.

I can imagine it was a truly crucifying experience.

But wonderfully, Jonathan’s mum and dad carried that cross,

and have endured in their love to this day.


The darkness was not complete, however;

it did not last forever.

Jonathan, his parents, and now two little sisters,

have emerged from that experience,

and can tell a story of profound joy

and overwhelming gratitude for the grace of God.


Up until the age of 7 Jonathan was locked in,

unable to express himself without the use of his arms, legs or speech.

But gradually over the years

the family developed a way of giving him voice

through the use of his gaze

to spell out words.

At last Jonathan can speak.

At last his soul has begun to emerge in the world,

confirming his mother’s conviction

that there was someone in there,

in Jonathan’s words, behind the curtains.


I posted a film about Jonathan on the church Facebook page earlier in the week.

And I can heartily recommend viewing it.


There is in this story a glimpse of the grandeur and wonder

the majesty and grace of our God,

which most clearly revealed to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Just as there is in all stories of those,

who like Christ, carry their cross

– their burden of care, of service,

for whatever it is God has called them to.


I believe there is so much more to idea of salvation,

than some notion of a transaction between Jesus and God in the heavenly realms,

with nothing directly to do with ourselves.

I believe that we are called to follow Christ

as well as worship him.

I believe, and I think Jonathan’s story describes this,

that salvation, and the deep, lasting, true joy that comes with it,

is something we must experience for ourselves.

Something that is born out the grace of God

supplied to us in our great need,

in the dark nights of the soul.


St Paul speaks about this I think

when he exhorts us to have the same mind as Christ,

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

We do not peddle a cheap grace.

To be a Christian is to carry a cross.

Is to bow into a life of service to something other than self.

And like Jesus this service will cost us dearly;

but as we surrender to it,

as we see in Jonathan Bryan’s story,

we enter the territory of a deep and wonderful mystery.

A juicy and sustaining experience of the joy of salvation.


We were made by God,

and we will return to God.

Sin, the brokenness of relationship, with God, self, other,

has separated us from the intimate connection with God we were made for.

But as we carry the cross we have been given,

as we shoulder the burdens of care

for ourselves and our families,

our friends and our enemies,

and for our habitat the Earth,

we begin to experience again the divine union

which is our birth right.


Christians are not called to be happy and positive all the time.

We are not called to smile inanely no matter the circumstances.

Anyone knows that happiness is no foundation for life.

It’s great when it comes,

but it is passing,

and depends on things we can’t control.

No, as William Blake wrote,
Man was made for Joy and Woe
And when this we rightly know
Thro the World we safely go
Joy and Woe are woven fine
A Clothing for the soul divine 


This Holy Week may we be given the grace

to feel all our feelings – the good, the bad, the ugly,

so that as we take on the mind of Christ

and bow into his service,

shouldering our cross,

we may know the deep, rich and indestructible joy

of the resurrection for ourselves.


If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.








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