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The Palm Gospel, Collect and Passion readings can be found here:
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‘The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.’
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
Those words come from Saint Augustine’s Confessions, his autobiography. Augustine’s own life was touched intensely by God, which is reflected in his writings, and the words that we have just heard: ‘you dispelled my blindness’, ‘you broke through my deafness’… ‘I pant for you’.
The ‘beauty’ Augustine is referring to is not a thing – not an object – but rather a person: that person is Jesus Christ.
He is ‘ever ancient and ever new’. ‘Ever ancient’ because he has existed with the Father eternally and his work of redemption, his ‘self-emptying’, his death, as we are told in our second reading was foretold from the beginning of time, achieved that first Holy Week – and new for us today until he comes again in glory.
This week we will see the beauty of God’s love afresh: love revealed in the teaching of Jesus the prophet; love revealed in the offering of Jesus the priest, love revealed in the light of Jesus overcoming darkness; love revealed in the freedom won by Jesus the deliverer; love revealed in the sacrifice of Jesus the Lamb; love revealed in the body of Jesus the Temple; love revealed in the victory of Jesus the Lord; love revealed in the resurrection of Jesus, giving ‘new life’ – thus making ancient promises of new life ‘ever new’ – for us and all people today.
Palm Sunday invites us to see Jesus. Do we say ‘late have I loved you?’ Do we say, I have loved you always? Do we say, my love has grown cold? Do we say: I no longer love you, beauty, ever ancient and ever new? Whatever category we fall into, and as we’ve heard, there were all sorts of people, with different levels of devotion in the crowd, we are called today to enter afresh into the loving purposes of God – seeing how Christ ‘humbled himself’ by becoming obedient to death, even ‘death upon the cross’.
Ever ancient were the prophecies of Isaiah. Today, they become ‘ever new’. They are new, because the one of whom they are spoken, is the man in our midst, the one who is today, acclaimed as the Saviour, from the line of David. What would this Saviour do? He would act as the prophet; he would call people to himself, and to God. The ancient prophets would call people for to turn to God in their own time. But this new prophet, Jesus, would call them, definitively, for all time, as the Kingdom drew near.
The role of the prophet was to teach – Isaiah says: ‘the Lord has given me the tongue of a teacher’. What do the prophets teach? They teach the truth of God. Jesus teaches the crowd that he is the ‘Messiah’ as we heard in our reading from the passion. He not only proclaims God’s truth, but embodies it in his flesh, he is the ‘Son of the Blessed One’.
What happens? They spit in his face for speaking the truth, in mockery, they urge him to prophesy. He will prophesy the truth in both his words and his deeds. And to fulfil the prophet Isaiah’s words, Jesus the new prophet, the embodiment of God’s truth, will face hostility, and derision, he will face abuse and attack for the message he proclaims. The courts will find against him, even if God finds him righteous in his mission.
Jesus the new prophet, calling the crowd to repentance, calling us, you, me, to the truth of his identity, suffering undeservedly, is the prophet who calls us to love him, to set out on this journey with him who is ‘ever ancient ‘ever new’. His task – the task of salvation – will lead him not only to speak the truth as the new prophet, but to offer the truth in the flesh, his flesh, as the priest of God, ‘ever ancient, ever new’.
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