St Francis, Terriers - Palm Sunday (09.04.2017)

Tony Dickinson

“Enough already!” More than enough of death and destruction in these last days. More than enough of human suffering, whether it’s in Syria, or Somalia, Stockholm or South America, whether it’s caused by natural disaster or by human violence. Dear God, please make it stop!

But God won’t make it stop. In a sense God can’t make it stop. God can’t make it stop because like any loving human parent, God gives his children their freedom – and does so in the agonising knowledge that that freedom can be used for good or for ill. What God can do, what God does, is to enter his own creation in a human life and model what it means to be truly human.

What it means to be truly human, as St Paul recognised, is self-giving to the point of self-emptying. Charles Wesley takes up the imagery of our reading from Paul’s letter to Philippi in one of his greatest hymns: “He left his Father’s throne above, so free, so infinite his grace, emptied himself of all but love and bled for Adam’s helpless race.”

In a world obsessed with the myth of redemptive violence, that message cannot be proclaimed often enough or clearly enough. As we follow the footsteps of Jesus along the way of the cross we are following the way of suffering, self-giving love, a way which avoids the kind of gesture demanded by the chief priests and the scribes and the elders, and by the passers-by and the bandits who were crucified with him. “Do something, preferably something spectacular. Then we might believe”

But Jesus doesn’t. He just keeps silently soaking up the cruelty, the mockery, the rejection, even the sense of separation from God. He becomes everyman, soaking up all human suffering and carrying it into the heart of God. And he does it for the sake of the very same people whose failures, whose fear and greed and cowardice, have brought him to the cross. He does it for us. He models for us what it means to be truly human. He invites us to follow his way, wherever it may lead us. And he promises us that the way down is the way up, to the glory which is his in the presence of the Father, and to him, with the Father…