St Francis, Terriers - Palm Sunday (20.03.2016)

Tony Dickinson

On Friday we remembered a 4th-century bishop, Cyril of Jerusalem: appropriately, given his continuing influence on the church’s worship at this time of year. Cyril, you see, was a brilliant educator. Christian formation was his thing, and he realised early on that God had given him the most wonderful aid for that work – the city of which he was bishop.

Cyril used the sites where Jesus had taught and argued, suffered and died, as a way of teaching the crowds of pilgrims who were coming to Jerusalem and as a way of preparing candidates for baptism at Easter. He didn’t just tell them the story of what God had done in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, he immersed them in it. He took them, in their hundreds, to the places where Jesus had spent the last week of his life and plunged them into an experience of that week, from Jesus’s triumphal entry into the city to his hasty burial in someone else’s tomb, an experience which was so powerfully moving that it has profoundly influenced the way that Christians have kept this Holy Week ever since.

Each day of the week had its focus. Each day, and especially each of the last three days, was framed by special acts of worship in special places and by the disciplines of fasting and prayer.

More than sixteen centuries after his death we still follow the pattern that Bishop Cyril established. We may not be able to visit those special places, but we can follow the way of the cross in our own church building. We can immerse ourselves in the story as we share in the supper which Jesus left to his disciples; as we watch with him as he awaits his betrayer; as we trace every step from the garden to the grave, via the governor’s residence and Golgotha; as we wait in the anguish and emptiness of Holy Saturday: and as we rise early with the women to discover that the Lord is not where, or how, we expected him to be.

We do all of that, not as an exercise in historical re-enactment, but as a way of allowing God to form in us “the same mind that was in Christ Jesus” and to open our lives to be united with his love. To him, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit …