Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Palm Sunday 2014, The 'Royal' Sermon

I have deliberately avoided blogging for some months but have discovered that some folk actually follow the blog and expect me to write something - that's an encouraging discovery and as a step toward acknowledging that I am blogging the 'Royal' sermon from Palm Sunday.

On Palm Sunday we start a journey of the imagination and seek to follow Christ.   Who knows where that may lead?
About 35 years ago a Dunedin man, Dunedin born and bred, set out from this city to follow Christ. He cleared his office, packed a few belongings into a pack and quietly set off, barefooted, on a journey that took him nearly the length of New Zealand and, finally, to Jerusalem – not the Jerusalem in Palestine but that other Jerusalem, the old mission station on the Whanganui river.  He did this because, despite misgivings and doubts, he had a hunch that God called him to follow Christ to that Jerusalem.  He backed his imagination – by which I mean that visionary faith-forming capacity latent within us all that makes deep connections beyond the range of reason.  It’s not an alternative to reason, but a deeper intuitive kind of thinking – the kind that might form a saint or make a scientific breakthrough, as Einstein observed “Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” [1]
By now many of you will have identified the man: James K. Baxter, of course.  There are still strong memories of him in this city and his name is prominent on the Writer’s Walk just outside our Cathedral gates.  When Baxter followed Christ to Jerusalem the critical strands of his life coalesced in some remarkable, deceptively simple, poetry. His imagination became a gateway to God: or, remembering the Narnia books, you could say that in Jerusalem Baxter ‘stepped through the wardrobe’.
Which is what Palm Sunday invites us to do: it is about our choosing to follow Christ! We are not required to undergo great hardships or undertake a barefoot pilgrimage but simply, to use this liturgy as a step through the gateway of our imagination and follow the one who is beyond the clutch of concepts or logic.  Don’t wait till you’ve got it all sorted in your head, that never really happens!  Don’t hold back because of doubts and scepticism, hesitancy or half-heartedness: these will always accompany you. But pick up that palm cross and say in your heart ‘I follow Christ’.  That is our step through the gateway of the imagination; that is the start for our adventure of heart and mind as we dare to follow Christ – whatever that may mean.  Will you seriously, deliberately, pick up your palm cross and follow Christ?
Baxter’s Jerusalem poetry traces his experience of following Christ.  It was never easy for him.  Nor will it be for us.  He described the long business of learning to love and getting past the ego, as a ‘dark vocation’.
To go forward like a man in the dark
Is the meaning of this dark vocation;

So simple, tree, star, the bare cup of the hills,
The lifelong grave of waiting

As indeed it has to be.  To ask for Jacob’s ladder
Would be to mistake oneself and the dark Master,

Yet at times the road comes down to a place
Where water runs and horses gallop

Behind a hedge.  There it is possible to sit,
Light a cigarette, and rub

Your bruised heels on the cold grass.  Always because
A man’s body is a meeting house,

Ribs, arms, for the tribe to gather under,
And the heart must be their spring of water.[2]

There are also those moments in the journey where Baxter sets art aside and simply sings his faith. We look for that kind of faith; that deep simplicity.

Song to the Lord Jesus

Lord Jesus, you are like the sun in the sky,
The light shining in our darkness
So that we ourselves can become the light.

Lord Jesus, you died in pain on the cross,
You rose again from the dead.
Now you live within us,
You live our lives and die our deaths with us.[3]

So today we start the journey of Holy Week.  We ‘step through the wardrobe’ to focus on that lonely enigmatic  figure entering Jerusalem on a donkey; the triumphant entry so soon to morph into a broken man lurching under a cross; the shouts of praise ‘Hosanna’ to mutate into a crowd baying ‘crucify him’.
We follow him to the cross on Good Friday and … (eventually) … to the discovery that death is not the end and that the story is not over …  but that it has only just begun.
Take up your cross and follow him.

[1] Also “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
[2] CP,568
[3] CP, 571
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