Homily by His Grace, Archbishop Bernard Longley
Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord.
This morning, I am grateful that the staff and seminarians from Oscott are with us to begin Holy Week and that we shall be together for the liturgies of this week. We began our liturgy this morning by enacting the triumphal procession of our Lord into the city of Jerusalem. Our own procession, carrying our palm branches, symbolises the mission that we have received to witness to our faith within our cities and towns.
Our Lord knew that he would face opposition and rejection as he entered the city. When we witness to our faith we also have to face up to the real challenges that lie before us in contemporary British society. One of those challenges is today’s widespread but simple ignorance of the basic facts of Christian belief. Many people have either forgotten the story of the life of Jesus, or they have never yet heard it, or they can only half-remember a few isolated episodes. We have to re-present this story for the people of our own day and in such a way that they can grasp and understand it.
Today we have been re-telling the story of the dramatic events of the last week of our Lord’s life. In the first Gospel and the procession of palms we recalled liturgically how Jesus was recognised as the anointed one by the people of Jerusalem. They welcomed the coming of God’s Kingdom in his Messiah: Blessings on the coming kingdom of our father David! All of this takes on a particular poignancy when we view it in the light of everything that happened within a few days.
We have just narrated the story of the passion and it is a most compelling account, full of the best and the worst of which our human nature is capable. As a story it has the power to capture everyone’s imagination and to touch their emotions because it is the culmination of the Lord’s life-work, the final working out of God’s eternal plan of salvation. It contains many elements that we can readily recognise through our own experience.
Everything that is negative, harmful or sinful in this story reflects the experience of our own lives – the misunderstandings and disagreements, the deceits and betrayals, the selfishness and fears, together with the Lord’s own painful sense of abandonment – all of these are swept up in Christ’s suffering on the Cross and they are transformed. And this is not a fictional dramas – this is real and it has the power to change us.
This is the story that we are part of and that we must tell again to others so that their lives can be transformed as well. In this morning’s Office of Readings there is a beautiful reflection by St Andrew of Crete which can be a guide for our journey through Holy Week:
We must spread ourselves under Christ’s feet, not coats or branches or lifeless shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours. But we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, or with the whole Christ – ‘for as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ’ – so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet. As those who were formerly scarlet from sin but became white as wool through the purification of saving baptism, let us offer not palm branches but the prizes of victory to the conqueror of death.
For more images see: https://www.stchadscathedral.org.uk/gallery/