The sixth Sunday of Lent is Palm Sunday. The Lord rides into Jerusalem. We will read the short version of this entry from Mark, but here is the longer one from Matthew:
When they had come near Jerusalem … Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey
The disciples brought the donkey and its foal… and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Matthew points out that the Lord is now doing what Zechariah said he would:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
The Lord is at war, riding out to confront the malevolent forces arrayed against mankind. But this king is so confident in his victory that he does not ride a war horse but a much more peaceful animal.
On that day the Lord their God will save them… The Lord God will sound the trumpet and march forth in the whirlwinds of the south. .. He will cut down the chariots from Ephraim and war horses from Jerusalem and command peace to the nations, so his dominion shall be from sea to sea.
The king is coming into his capital. The Lord in full battle array, has ridden out against all our enemies, and we are amongst them, and he defeats them and brings them and us home with him into his city, to the jubilation of all. But of course his own city is now holding out against him and must be retaken. So this is both a day of rejoicing, and the Day of Judgment and of Wrath, Dies Irae, as Psalm 68 tells us:
Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him. … Let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy. … O God, when you went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, the earth shook, the heavens poured down at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, the God of Israel. The leaders of the [enemy] armies flee away. With mighty chariots, thousands upon thousands, the Lord came from Sinai into the holy place. You ascended the mountain, leading captives in your train and receiving gifts from men…
Your solemn processions are seen, O God, coming into the sanctuary, the singers in front, the musicians last, between them girls playing tambourines: Bless God in the great congregation.
Psalm 68 is telling us what we are witnessing in Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem and about the procession that we are now take part of. We go through the world in procession behind the Lord, alternately rejoicing, and lamenting that we held out against him. He leads, we follow, and restoration and healing appear wherever he goes. The Lord is the bridegroom and Jerusalem and now the Church, is his bride; his arrival is her wedding.
So Jesus also goes into Jerusalem as into the storm. Starting this coming week we watch him enter this narrow defile which becomes darker until there seems no way out. On the third day we see him crash through and emerge out of the other side, and riding on through all his creation, imperturbable victor. The Lord takes us with him through it all, so though this is always a victory procession, for us, in this present, this victory takes the form of this very public confrontation.
For at this moment, for our sake, and for own people’s sake we are heading right into this most almighty confrontation with all those frightened and arrogant disordered powers and institutions that have grabbed what is not theirs to control. We have to take their battering. The extent of the opposition coming our way in this country in the coming years will show just how long we have been neglecting own people. We have not told them what they need to hear; we have not even told one another.
A strong healthy community of any sort, whether a business or a nation, has to hear the truth about itself, repent and abandon whatever policies are not working, and start again. Repenting, praying, thanksgiving: Sorry, Please, Thank you – these three instruments are required to keep any community together. Everything needs regular maintenance. An inspection brings malfunctions to light. Everything needs the caustic of truth, won through the discipline of good self-judgment. But our nation has avoided for this for so long, that it and we are now thrashing around to avoid the one thing we most urgently need.
We were born within a vast covenant of civilisation and of civility, utterly precarious, but also fragile, and now despised and vulnerable. Seventy, maybe even fifty, years ago just enough of the virtues that support that civility was passed on through family and public culture. Now no longer.
The generation-to-generation transmission system has bust. We have created a people without memory or means of resisting the powers, a generation of orphans – adults, but infantile. They don’t want to take guidance from us, and some of them will turn on us. This is our Lent to come. Now we must travel through them behind our Lord, taking on their grief and their fury, in hope that Christ’s resurrection will also be ours and theirs. But we can repent, long and loud, on behalf of those who cannot, for we understand what we have received, can be thankful for it and determined to pass it all on to our children and successors.
In week two we saw that a panicked desire to throw away all that we have inherited has turned into a political agenda – a new correctness and new righteousness – which does not like to explain itself, pushed through by a new political caste that does not care to be challenged. Self-deprecation and self-hatred has been turning into hatred of those who do not share this self-hatred. For these, everything we have inherited is wrong, and must be renounced, and every accepted principle is reversed. Their ideology is becoming cultic.
Since we were born into it, have lived in it all our lives we take from granted this Gospel-given political culture, with its two pillars of fairness and freedom, and do not see how partial or fragile it is. We have not passed on much understanding of this covenant or equipped our young with the identity of free self-supporting citizens, who are able to balance freedom with responsibility. Life outside this Christian-formed political covenant can be savage. Yet we have not passed this political culture on, so our children can only articulate for themselves a much reduced political status, as dependents of vast distant corporations and state.
While we have lived in the political and moral culture that is the product of Christianity, another culture, or another cult, has arisen, the bubble of those who want to suppress public acknowledgement of Christian political culture. Through media, and syllabuses in schools and universities, they do suppress it, belittling all memory of a culture that refuses to bow to them. It is for us to show our young how to gather round the true light who is Christ, and teach our children our history and our culture so that this generous, liberal, optimistic, civil culture may continue and they may be treat one another as co- equal citizens in it.
Our offspring will live in a world, and in a country, in which a vast number of people suddenly discover that the modern world, which seemed to promise increasing prosperity and opportunity for everyone, won’t let them in after all. Millions of people see the door closing, and know that they are being shut out. Trapped in vast urban proletarian cauldrons, as the temperature rises the carnage starts. Many are ready enough to lash out and destroy whatever they can because they fear that our culture has no place for them. We have enemies. Of course we do not like to believe this. Of course, we believe the best from all men. Our calling is to innocence, but not to naivety. Great mischief comes from those are in denial about these threats, and are in power and using that power to prevent us from protecting ourselves.
‘We have not yet gone as far as shedding blood….’ Yet others have. In the last year Christians, our brothers and sisters, in churches in Syria, Iraq and Egypt established centuries before our own, have been attacked and killed, their churches and culture destroyed not just as a by-product of war, but deliberately, as policy. Last summer the archbishop of Mosul, Amel Nona, told us clearly that we do have enemies:
‘Our sufferings today are the prelude to yours,’ he said. ‘Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.’
In the last year it has at last been made plain that some of youngest and most vulnerable are indeed under attack. We pray that all set in authority ‘truly and indifferently minister justice’. Have police, CPS, and judiciary upheld the law impartially, or if you are female, fifteen, and without a father, are you given a lesser degree of protection that leaves you exposed to whatever favoured but predatory group, has risen above the law to become untouchable? When our young people are attacked it is because they have not been equipped with the self-respect and motivation to support and defend themselves. Have we abandoned them to a terrible Lent of their own?
To live through this rougher period, how much more robust will our children have to be than we have been, and how much better equipped? They must learn every word of this bible off by heart and be able to resort to the gospel just to defend their own citizenship.
In week three we heard that:
The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the Elders, the Chief Priests, and the Scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again
Who are the Elders, Chief Priests, and Scribes? Are they not the centralisers and globalisers who want to make us more biddable, less-than-citizens, less conscious of our full dignity as heirs of European and Western culture – less aware of our status as heirs, or as the bible says, as Sons? Have we not been undergoing a long, slow putsch, in which we let go of our responsibilities and dignity while breaking the covenant between a people and their leaders, the power-brokers accumulate our powers into their hands – all simply because they are afraid. Have they not subtly raised themselves above the law and taken their client groups with them? Now there is not one law for all, but one law for some, and another for others. They have divided the nation, into the new more worthy class, the special reserved groups, and the old despised English – too white and too male.
A confident healthy country with a growing economy can absorb new people. But it must purposefully communicate its culture, and that means it must be convinced that its own culture is worth having and sharing. Then new arrivals will be able to agree, adopt that culture and identify themselves with it, and so it will become theirs. But our leaders seemed to have decided that ordinary people are not good enough. Then have made a most appalling mistake. Over their heads they have brought in others to replace them, peoples with cultures that oppose the fundamental tenets of ours. They seem unable to admit what they have done, and it is not at all clear we can recover from this mistake. Why is this a mistake? After fourteen hundred years of Christianity, Britons have arrived at the conclusion that there is one law for all, that is, that there is equality under the law. And so it must be. Either the civilised world civilises the uncivilised – or the uncivilised destroys the civilisation to which they were drawn, to their very great loss as well as ours.
Our law shapes and protects one sort of society, an open and optimistic one in the individual is supreme. Other cultures make for a society which is fearful, in which the small moral space tends to reduce individual responsibility, but individuals are not of equal status, so women for instance are not equal to men, so family life is not based in the mutuality and complementarity of the sexes. We cannot have both equality under the rule of law and its opposite. We cannot have a government or judiciary which is unsure whether our law is really better than the law of others. We have to decide that fairness is better than inequality, and that our law is sovereign and that there cannot be alternative jurisdictions or ghettos here. We have to discriminate between ourselves and others, and we have to promote the universal law that we have inherited over all its challengers. If we cannot uphold that law we will not remain the people sustained by that law who can exercise the generosity, charity and openness that has made this nation to attractive to others.
In week 5 we read Jeremiah 31
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when … they shall no longer say: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” But all shall bear their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.
Perhaps the economy is going down and we all about to become poorer. As long as central banks print money, stock markets stay up and pensions seem secure and it is not be easy to imagine any change. But if it turns out that we have been living in a long debt-inflated economic fantasy, then perhaps we may come out of our decades-long trance. We will have to pick up our responsibilities to one another again. When those paid to educate and care are no longer paid – the functions of care, and education will come back to us, and we will have to take of them ourselves at parish and village level, a task well within our ability.
We will have to take responsibility for one another, ourselves, individually and communally. Everyone of us is of unlimited value, ‘they shall all know me’, and has the direct access of one-to-one friendship with God, and with our neighbour, without mediation of power-brokers or centralisers.
This is the covenant that I will make with Israel: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord.
In Holy week we watch our Lord go through the passion in which he confronts all the out-of-control powers. It looks to all the world as though Christ is on trial, is being tried and found wanting. But that is only how it seems to an upside-down world. In truth, Christ is the judge, and his judges can only see in him a reflection of their own fears and misery, and recoil from this; they see and judge and condemn only themselves. Their judgment bounces off Christ and on the third day rebounds on them.
Our rulers seem to be suffering a low-level dread, rising to panic. In their attempt to shore up things-as-they-are, they are in too much haste. To them we must say ‘Do not be Afraid’. We must laugh at their fears. Christ has conquered death and want. There is enough to go round. We must learn to say that, though living standards are on the way down, we are content, for we have enough, and are well able to look after one another.
We are going to go through a prolonged Lent. But we may start going through it now, willingly and publicly in repentance, before God and before the whole British people. In our lifetimes a fake heaven-on-earth, that has taken hold of everyone younger, less sceptical, and more gullible, than ourselves. We may repent that we have not passed on to them what they now need. We have left our own children defenceless and now they are being robbed. The more TV you watch, the more this fictionalised world seems to be your entitlement. We must charge ourselves with having failed the next generation, and Christians must make this accusation against ourselves publicly and clearly. This is what we do when we pray. We repent both on our behalf and on behalf of our ideological leaders who have being elbowing the ordinary people out of political life. They have attempted to marginalise everything that is – or used to be – regarded as normal, and promoting in its place everything that departs from it, so to make family life and national continuity as difficult as possible. The society that tolerates a leadership that behaves in this way will not survive. Our leaders cannot repent. So we repent for them, and plead on behalf of the faithless leaders of the British. Then maybe our leaders will come to join us in this repentance.
We have a demographic crisis. It is painfully obvious here in Devon. It is even obvious in our churches. Where are the young? They need to take up the apprenticeship and learn from us the skills by which they can protect themselves and their own children in future years. Christian faith is an apprenticeship; it is a skill set as basic to life as dressing yourself and tying your own shoes.
We can bring the young to Christ and to church. What it requires is quite obvious and straightforward obvious; we know the elements, we just have to bring them together. Of it is entirely time-consuming and costly. It will not leave little time for anything else so we would to give up some other commitments. And we have to get over ourselves, for we have become the obstacle between our own young and Christ, and our bringing them to him involves our repentance. And it involves doing all the things by which this country was converted to Christianity in the first place.
So, when the vicar says ‘I publish the banns of marriage…’, we shall say, ‘Aha, a wedding. I shall go that wedding. Let us go together. Let’s go and kiss that bride and tell her how pretty she is, shake the hand of that groom, and tell him how proud of him you are, and do the same for the mothers- and fathers-in-law.’ When we go to that wedding, let’s stand outside, lining the path to church door for the bride. Then we’ll raise the roof with ‘Hark the songs of Faithful Zion’, ‘Jerusalem the Golden with milk and honey blest’, ‘Glorious things of Thee are spoken, Zion City of our God’, until their ears ring. Then we’ll line the path again when they emerge as a married couple. Let us deck them with garlands. Let’s invite the bell ringers and the hand-bell ringers, and the Morris Group and the band and, paying whoever needs to be paid, make a joyful noise. Let us stick money in the pockets of the bridegroom, yes, let’s give them money, for money always has to go from the older to the younger. When the young couple receives money from people with less money than themselves, they will be getting the first instalment of a long message of love that has to go from one generation to another. Let’s us not shower them with confetti, but with vouchers, from the butcher, from Fiona, from the garage, from every business from here to Exeter. And let us do this for every wedding, time after time, and eventually everybody will find it natural.
Let us greet this young bridegroom as Christ coming to receive his bride at last. From their union another generation will come and all creation be renewed. Psalm 68 again: Your solemn processions are seen, O God, coming into the sanctuary – the singers in front, the musicians last, between them girls playing tambourines. We are the singers, musicians and dancers at this great festival; we lead the rejoicing, and so communicate to the young what is important and good. That is how each wedding must be.
So when the Banns are published, let us put the names and photo of the couple up at the back of church, let us include them in the intercessions. Let us take the man aside into the secret man’s club and teach him how to honour your woman, and make her happy. We could give them a copy of our booklet ‘How the Eucharist will save your Life’, and in the weeks before the wedding we run our introductory course – ‘How to get married and Stay Married’. Let us celebrate their anniversary each year, and invite them back with the other couples that got married here the same year.
And when this newly married wife becomes pregnant, let us take her the first baby clothes, and when the child is born, let us garland their front door and thereafter take them round a pie every month. Let us give them an allotment, and enrol them in a revived Mother’s Union, which with the WI helps with food and its preparation and nutrition. Let us initiate them into the Baby-sitting Bank, the Home Work Club for the older children, and the young adult Pizza-Dance-&Cinema Society, which we will call ‘All Saints’, that meets alternate Saturday nights, preceded by young adults’ Evensong. Any couple who produces a third child will be awarded the freedom of the borough.
And anyone around here says that they would like to marry, but they are waiting until they can get a deposit to put on a house, or would like to live around here but can’t afford to, we say Don’t Wait. There are ways of finding a home around here that don’t involve mortgages, because for most there simply isn’t enough full-time work around to make mortgages thinkable. The caravans in gardens and farm yards can be converted to plumbed-in double-wide cabin, rent-free, or for a day’s work a week. The point is to get them started on married life, without being concerned about whether they will come to Church or what financial contribution they will make.
If we kept this up, people would start coming here to be married, the media would scent a story and people wouldn’t be talking about Gretna Green anymore. We would even prosper economically. Of course it will need a budget, but that is no problem to us – for money must go from the older to the younger.
A wedding is a public act of Christian worship. All Christian worship is carried on in public. Imagine that we are meeting on an open hillside. Everyone can see and hear us. Our worship of God is a public act witnessed by the whole world. We walk through the world lamenting our failure and apologising to everyone younger than ourselves our failure to pass on to them what they need – and everyone can see and hear us do so. We sing in counterpoint in the voice of lost England, and in the voice of the Lord, calling and comforting. We sing in tears and in triumph. It is our great dignity to get down on our hands and knees, before God and before England, to ask forgiveness, to intercede and be England’s advocate and friend, and to plead with England’s embittered judges to release England and let her start again.
So what is the take home message of these talks? Go to weddings. Greet the young couple with kisses as you would greet Christ, pick them up and carry them around town on your shoulders rejoicing, for today we are the donkey, and they are Christ come home to us.