Preacher: The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson, Dean

Here we are – the start of the final week of Lent, commonly called Holy Week. Someone asked last week when Lent was over? Does Palm Sunday mark the end of Lent, or do we have to go right through to Easter Day? If you are desperate for chocolate, a glass of red or your i-phone – depending on your particular Lenten resolution – the bad news is that we are still in Lent. But today, Palm Sunday, the heat, so to speak, gets turned up a little. This morning we blessed the palm crosses and joined the crowds as Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem. Each day this week we hold special services, each drawing us a little closer to the end of Lent. It’s an opportunity to join the journey, to make a pilgrimage day by day. Since very early in the history of Christianity the custom of keeping Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday in careful preparation for Easter Day has been followed.

Tonight’s readings invite us deeper into this journey with Jesus. The few verses from Exodus remind us that the Last Supper was most likely set in the context of the Passover Meal, that annual family gathering where the great rescue story by God was and is told and retold. In these days when so much of our lives is governed by ‘E’ words – email, eNews and so on – it is worth pausing and reflecting on the two great ‘E’ words found in the Old Testament: Exodus and Exile. Both are about people being in trouble and God’s dramatic intervention which brings rescue and new life. It is these two Old Testament ‘E’ words that we should keep in mind as we travel through Holy Week.

The second reading from John 12 is set in the midst of the Passover Festival and all the activity of Jerusalem in full festival mode. Looking beyond the terrible events of Good Friday we get a glimpse of the glory that is to come. But we do have to wait for Easter Day, and try not to pre-empt or bypass the earlier days of this week.

Inevitably, as our focus turns to the betrayal, arrest, trials and sentencing of Jesus, taking us to the heart of Good Friday, the crucifixion, we ought to be asking ourselves some deep questions. Among them these perhaps: Why is there suffering in the world? Did Jesus die – once and once for all – as the hymn says? Where is God in the suffering of Jesus, and in the suffering of the world today?

For two thousand years Christians have been asking these questions and providing answers, some of them still held, others long ago abandoned. I’d like to read to you what a man called Peter Abelard wrote nearly 1000 years ago. He too was asking similar questions. A great story teller, Abelard used stories to draw people into thinking about the big questions, the God questions, of life. I should warn you that some may find his descriptions disturbing – perhaps not a bad thing in a world so used to images of suffering, of death and dying, that we have become inured to it. Peter Abelard is going for a walk with his friend Thibault. Listen to his words:

“From somewhere near them in the woods a cry rose, a thin cry, of such intolerable anguish that Abelard turned dizzy on his feet, and caught at the wall of the huts. ‘It’s a child’ voice,’ he said.

Thibault had gone outside. The Cry came again. ‘A rabbit,’ said Thibault. He listened. ‘It’ll be in a trap. Hugh told me he was putting them down.’

‘O God,’ Abelard muttered. ‘Let it die quickly.’

But the cry came yet again. He plunged through a thicket of hornbeam. ‘Watch out,’ said Thibault, thrusting past him. ‘The trap might take the hand off you.’

The rabbit stopped shrieking when the stooped over it, either from exhaustion, or in some last extremity of fear. Thibault held the teeth of the trap apart, and Abelard gathered up the little creature in his hands. It lay for a moment breathing quickly, then in some blind recognition of the kindness that had met it at the last, the small head thrust and nestled against his arm, and it died.

It was that last confiding thrust that broke Abelard’s heart. He looked down at the little draggled body, his mouth shaking. ‘Thibault,’ he said, ‘do you think there is a God at all? Whatever has come to me, I earned it. But what did this one do?’

Thibault nodded.

‘I know,’ he said, “Only, I think God is in it too.’

Abelard look sharply.

‘In it? Do you mean that it makes him suffer, the way it does us?’

Thibault nodded.

‘Then why doesn’t he stop it?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Thibault. ‘Unless it’s like the prodigal son. I suppose the father could have kept him at home against his will. But what would have been the use? All this,’ he stroked the limp body, ‘is because of us. But all the time God suffers. More than we do.’

Abelard looked at him, perplexed. ‘Thibault, do you mean Calvary?’

Thibault shook his head. ‘That was only a piece of it – the piece that we say- in time. Like that.’ He pointed to a fallen tree beside them, sawn through the middle. ‘That dark ring there, it goes up and down the whole length of the tree. But you only see it where it is cut across. That is what Christ’s life was; the bit of God that we saw. And we think God is like that, because he was like that, kind and forgiving sins and healing people. We think God is like that for ever, because it happened once, with Christ. But not the pain. Not the agony at the last. We think that stopped.’

Abelard looked at him, the blunt nose and the wide mouth, the honest troubled eyes. He could have knelt before him.

‘Then, Thibault,’ he said slowly, ‘you think that all of this,’ he looked down at the little quiet body in his arms, ‘all the pain of the world, was Christ’s cross?’

‘God’s cross,’ said Thibault, ‘And it goes on ![1]




Merciful God, creator of all peoples of the earth and lover of every soul; have compassion on all who do not know you, let your Gospel be preached with grace and power to those who have not heard it, turn the hearts of those who oppose it, and bring home to your fold all who have gone astray; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Lord Jesus, let us be with you, wherever you are crucified today,
Wherever the will of man crosses the will of God,
Wherever the will to violence crosses God’s will for peace,
Wherever lying and corruption cross God’s will for truth,
Wherever greed and possessiveness cross the use of God’s plenty,
Wherever we live not for others but for ourselves,
Wherever ugliness and disease cross the will of God
for beauty and well-being.
There let us find you, be with you and share your pain, and help to bring about that redemption which, by your sacrifice, you have accomplished. (Margaret Cropper)


O Lord, remember not only the men and woman of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all of the suffering they have inflicted upon us: Instead remember the fruits we have borne because of this suffering—our fellowship, our loyalty to one another, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown from this trouble. When our persecutors come to be judged by you, let all of these fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.
(Found in the clothing of a dead child at Ravensbruck concentration camp.) 


Jesus, when you rode into Jerusalem the people waved palms with shouts of acclamation. Grant that when the shouting dies we may still walk beside you even to the cross. Amen.


[1] A Reading from Peter Abelard by Helen Waddell in Celebrating the Seasons. Daily Spiritual Readings for the Christian Year. Compied and introduced by Robert Atwell. Morehouse Publishing (2001)