On Palm Sunday members of St George’s Anglican Church Paddington, the Catholic Parishes of St Francis of Assisi Paddington and St Joseph’s Edgecliff, joined with Paddington Uniting Church for an Ecumenical Palm Sunday Service. As a number of people requested, Rev Bill Lawton has kindly allowed us to reporduce the following address he gave.
I am honoured to be asked to speak at this combined service where each of us acknowledges that what we hold in common is more precious than either our fractured histories or past prejudices. Here we learn to look each other in the eye and celebrate the differences that are the essence of our humanity and that add quality and depth to the faith journey we share.
Today’s Gospel reading [Matthew 21:1-10], with each reading through Holy Week, explores the pathos and tragedy of one man’s journey that remains the centrepiece of our Christian affirmation. It is Jesus’ unique story from Palm Procession to Upper Room to Calvary. Each of us in our own way will reflect on what that man’s dying and re-birth means for our own dying and re-birth. It will awaken in us the power of redemption, a refreshed discipleship, a renewed commitment to be God’s people for our own time.
Suddenly the text demands a different reading. It is not a mere recollection of a past event, nor the celebration of one more martyr for a cause. We may all engage the theology of this text in different ways, we may understand Jesus’ life and ministry within the different frameworks of our upbringing or personal awakening. But the awesome quality of this text is to place the living God at the centre of our discovery of what it means to be human.
Palm Sunday is the story of people distracted by power, arrogance, prejudice, ethnic rivalry and isolation. The image repeats these tensions in each subsequent event that marks the road to Calvary. There is a moment of gathering, where people sit together in an Upper Room, just as we do this morning, sense each other’s presence and embrace the other. But almost at once they too are distracted by power, arrogance, prejudice, ethnic rivalry and isolation. The pattern of life around us tells its own squalid story of the same power, arrogance, prejudice, ethnic rivalry and isolation.
Then and now the question shapes about leadership based on love, acceptance and generosity of spirit. Then and now, the destiny of the Christian community is to challenge the false values that turn our eyes away from each other. There, in the very seeing and inner awareness of the other we are in the presence of God and we discover that our own humanity is bound up with the other. Why else did Jesus so intensely link love of God, love of neighbour and love of enemy.
Here I want to focus the Gospel story in a life-changing experience. My adventures with Australian Indigenous people began with a chance meeting almost forty years ago. On a Western Australian inland track, where the lizard trails skirt the Gibson and Great Victoria deserts, I squatted with a bush man as he sketched a dust map with his finger. We were on a level sacred plain where red dust affirmed the commonality of our shared humanity. We looked at each other eye to eye. We saw each other as equals.
My memories of that first ‘meeting’ is tinged with the pain of unused calf muscles, my feet on the red desert dust beneath me a reminder that I too was a man of the earth. The image has stayed with me all my days and I face the silence of our churches over refugees, ethnic hatreds, prejudice and the isolation of those abandoned by our systems. I learn to live with the determination that the greatest gift we all have is to steadily look each other in the eye and embrace difference.
Meeting each other without pretence and open to fresh discovery is where Easter embraces Christmas. So, out of season yet in the spirit of Easter I offer a summary of today’s address in these amended words from a Christmas prayer:
Blessed are you [Jesus, neighbour and stranger],
that your cradle was so low
that shepherds, poorest and simplest of earthly folk,
could yet kneel beside it, and look level-eyed into the face of God.
Bill Lawton – 17 April 2011
The prayer in its original was composed by Robert Nelson Spencer, Episcopal Bishop of West Missouri, 1930-1949 – for a description of the text see The Anglican Digest, Winter 2010, p.12 – http://www.scribd.com/doc/41547234/Winter-10
Blessed art Thou, O Christmas Christ,
that Thy cradle was so low
that shepherds could yet kneel beside it,
and look level eyed into the face of God.
Blessed art Thou, that Thy cradle was so high
that the Magi could yet come to it
by a star’s pathway,
to hazard their wisdom’s store
into Thy Baby hands.
Blessed art Thou, that having grown to manhood,
and being a carpenter,
Thou didst fashion a Christmas Altar,
like unto Thy cradle,
So that all simplicity and all wisdom,
all poverty and all wealth,
all righteousness and all penitence for sin,
might find sanctuary there.
Be this our Christmas haste,
O Christmas Christ, to seek that Altar,
and, at this season of Thy Birth,
unafraid of the Time’s complaint,
may we be found kneeling still. Amen.