Sunday, 1 April 2012

Empty, Obey, Bow and Confess: A Sermon for Passion Sunday with Reference to Philippians 2:5-11 and a Prayer Book Exhortation

I learned something new this week. On Facebook, the Reverend Pilar Gonzalez Gateman, of Christ Church, Fort McLeod, posted this:
Palm anyone foregoing preaching and letting the text speak for itself?
To which, The Venerable Ansley Tucker of Christ Church, Calgary, commented:
This used to be the "received tradition" about preaching on Palm Sunday, as in, "let the text speak" and get out of the way. So you'd be on firm ground if you decided to do this!My own practice has been to encourage people to keep Holy Week, and to ready themselves for the Paschal Mystery. At one time, I used the Exhortation in the American Prayer Book.
So I looked it up. I, too, would like to encourage you to keep Holy Week, so here it is:
Beloved in the Lord: Our Savior Christ, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood as a sign and pledge of his love, for the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of his death, and for a spiritual sharing in his risen life. For in these holy Mysteries we are made one with Christ, and Christ with us; we are made one body in him, and members one of another.
We begin our celebration of this today and we will continue on Maundy Thursday at 7pm when we will acknowledge our LORD’s command to wash one another’s feet, celebrate the institution of the LORD’s Supper and strip the church of its decorations to prepare for the darkness of Good Friday and his death on the cross. On Good Friday, the church will open for silent meditation on the Stations of the Cross from 2 to 3pm (you don’t have to be here for the whole hour). Then at 3pm there will be a Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, The Solemn Intercession and Meditation on the Cross of Jesus which takes about 45 minutes. Why not come, "Having in mind," as the Exhortation continues:
his great love for us, and in obedience to his command, his Church renders to Almighty God our heavenly Father never-ending thanks for the creation of the world, for his continual providence over us, for his love for all mankind, and for the redemption of the world by our Savior Christ, who took upon himself our flesh, and humbled himself even to death on the cross, that he might make us the children of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, and exalt us to everlasting life. But if we are to share rightly in the celebration of those holy Mysteries, and be nourished by that spiritual Food, we must remember the dignity of that holy Sacrament. I therefore call upon you to consider how Saint Paul exhorts all persons to prepare themselves carefully before eating of that Bread and drinking of that Cup. For, as the benefit is great, if with penitent hearts and living faith we receive the holy Sacrament, so is the danger great, if we receive it improperly, not recognizing the Lord’s Body. Judge yourselves, therefore, lest you be judged by the Lord. Examine your lives and conduct by the rule of God’s commandments, that you may perceive wherein you have offended in what you have done or left undone, whether in thought, word, or deed. And acknowledge your sins before Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life, being ready to make restitution for all injuries and wrongs done by you to others; and also being ready to forgive those who have offended you, in order that you yourselves may be forgiven. And then, being reconciled with one another, come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food.
To help with that, I want to draw your attention to four things from today's epistle which will help us to examine and prepare ourselves this Holy Week for the Paschal Mystery and the Easter celebration. Empty, obey, bow and confess. Look at Philippians: First, in v7, Paul writes that Jesus Emptied himself—made himself nothing (NIV)mOf what might I empty myself this Holy Week? Here are some suggestions: of any sense of entitlement. Jesus, gave up his divine authority and power to become a servant. Who shall I serve this week in his name? Who will you serve? There are also some things in the Passion gospel and of which we might well empty ourselves: V3 accusing V10 envy V20, 31 mocking V29, 32 insulting Back to Philippians. Second, as Jesus did, I must (v8) humble myself by becoming obedient. Obedient to what? To what Jesus commands and teaches. Love God. Love neighbour. Forgive. To the point of death. Third, v10, I must bow before him. I must express my humble submission to my Lord and Saviour—spiritually and practically. So must you. Fourth, v11, I must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. I must say it and live it out loud. So, four words for Holy Week keeping: empty, obey, bow and confess. Which brings me back to the exhortation which concludes with these words:
And if, in your preparation, you need help and counsel, then go and open your grief to a discreet and understanding priest, and confess your sins, that you may receive the benefit of absolution, and spiritual counsel and advice; to the removal of scruple and doubt, the assurance of pardon, and the strengthening of your faith. To Christ our Lord who loves us, and washed us in his own blood, and made us a kingdom of priests to serve his God and Father, to him be glory in the Church evermore. Through him let us offer continually the sacrifice of praise, which is our bounden duty and service, and, with faith in him, come boldly before the throne of grace.