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Saturday 4th April 2020 - Palm Sunday
The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ (Matthew 21:9)
Today is Palm Sunday, when we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. ‘They took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord — the King of Israel!’ (John 12:13). Whatever may happen in the days to come, here the crowds proclaim an important truth. Jesus is indeed King and Son of David. ‘Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth’ (Revelation 1:5).
So he enters the city, dismissing the concerns of the authorities and heading straight for the Temple. ‘Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer”; but you are making it a den of robbers’ (Matthew 21:12-13).
We can imagine the scene. The crowd is going wild, greeting Jesus as their king and liberator. There’s a party atmosphere; the air is filled with excitement and expectation. The revolution has begun; freedom from the Romans is in their grasp; he is going to fulfil all their dreams. What a strange paradox: the King is coming, the people rejoice, singing ‘Hosanna in the highest!’ Yet they fail to understand that this King whom they welcome is the Servant King; the King who washes his disciples’ feet; the King who comes not with an army but a weapon so powerful that not even death can resist, the sacrificial love of God laid out upon a Cross.
What about us? What do we expect of Jesus; what do we want from him; what do we want him to do? Is it what he has come to offer and to give? Do we need to raise our eyes and expectations to the greater glory he brings? For ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever’ (Hebrews 13:8).
There is a service for today on our website. It is in three parts: the first part leads up to the Passion Gospel. As this is extremely long I have recorded it separately, or you may prefer to read it by yourself (Matthew 26:14 – 27:end). Finally there is the concluding part of the service. Also the website has a copy of the service sheet you can download or view online in order to join in.
The collect for Palm Sunday:
Almighty and everlasting God
who in your tender love towards the human race
sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross:
grant that we may follow the example
of his patience and humility,
and also be made partakers of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
I remind you that there are also virtual services streamed each Sunday on the Church of England website.
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our witness to the faith. We are the people of God, called to live for him and proclaim him in our lives: ‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’. We ask God’s grace to be and do that ever more effectively.
Saturday 4th April 2020
Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and were asking one another as they stood in the temple, ‘What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?’ (John 11:55-56).
It is the run-up to the Passover in Jerusalem. Everyone is excited, hoping Jesus will turn up and no doubt relishing the chance for a bit of excitement. The trouble is they can’t see him anywhere. That’s because he is at Bethany, moving at his own pace, to be ready at the right time. Sometimes we talk about not finding God or that he’s not there for us. Yet God is always there ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble’ (Psalm 46:1), but he won’t adhere to our agenda or timetable. He moves in his own way, telling us ‘Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honour them’ (Psalm 91:14-15).
In much the same way, we can talk of God not answering prayer. The truth is that he is always there; he always answers our prayers, showing us the way. Perhaps the problem can be that we are not ready to hear him; he is not giving us the answer we would like. We have to learn to listen and to accept that he will act in the right way and at the right time. ‘But it is for you, O Lord, that I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer’ (Psalm 38:15).
Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, when Jesus does finally appear in Jerusalem in a very clear and dramatic way. This marks the beginning of Holy Week. There are a number of resources available to help us observe this week. The Church of England website has services of Daily Prayer. Here at St Laurence we will put more pieces on our website over the next few days.
Palm Sunday is a day when normally we would gather together in celebration and worship. Tomorrow we will be doing this as a Church from our own homes. In preparation here are details of how to make a palm cross at home. There will also be a Palm Sunday service with a service sheet you can download. I will record the Passion Gospel separately as it is extremely long.
Especially on a day such as Palm Sunday we miss gathering together for the Eucharist. I share this prayer, which comes from the Oxford Movement Centenary Prayer Book (Church Literature Association, 1933) courtesy of the Church Times:
O Lord Jesus Christ, since I cannot now
receive Thee sacramentally, I humbly pray
Thee that Thou wouldest come spiritually to my soul.
Come, Lord Jesus, come and cleanse me,
heal me, strengthen me, and unite me to
Thyself, now and for evermore. Amen.
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today I ask you to pray for myself as Team Rector and my family. I greatly appreciate your prayers at this time. Thank you.
Friday 3rd April 2020
‘Here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Through Jesus, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God’ (Hebrews 13:14-16).
The most fundamental aspect of Jesus’s ministry is that it only makes full sense in the context of resurrection hope. Everything flows from that. At this time, more than ever, it is crucial to get our theology the right way around. “Resurrection life” is not an edifying spiritual metaphor for the way Christians should live in the “here and now”. Christian life in the “here and now” is a Spirit-filled anticipation of a Kingdom yet to come.
As we approach Holy Week and the story of Jesus’ Passion, we can face the darkness because we know the far greater light that lies beyond. We can walk the way of the Cross with him because of the hope we have. We know ‘for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings’ (Malachi 4:2). The hope of resurrection beckons as we hold fast to our faith and our God. ‘The promise of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all who take refuge in him’ (Psalm 18:30). As St Peter tells us, ‘Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you’ (1 Peter 5:7).
So ‘let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God’ (Hebrews 12:1-2).
My diary tells me that today in St Laurence we should be holding an end of term service for the school. Like the Church the school is a community. Although it has been scattered physically over these past two weeks, it is kept together through the wonder of modern communications. We continue to pray for their safety and growth.
Let me share with you something from the Bible reading notes I follow: ‘Learning more about God, about ourselves, about the depth of love and forgiveness of which we are capable, is most acutely open to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, whose true character.. is the cosmic Christ in whom we place our faith and trust’ (Church of England Reflections for Daily Prayer, Wednesday 01 April 2020).
God of Promise and God of Hope,
who through your great mercy
have granted us new birth
through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,
we praise your wonderful name!
God of Glory and God of Might
who through your great power
have granted us new strength
to endure all things through faith in Christ our risen King,
we praise your wonderful name!
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our Churchwarden and Deputy Churchwardens. They have an important role in ensuring the Church works well and are a great support to me as Team Rector.
Bishop Nicholas tells us: ‘You might already have discovered that Salisbury Cathedral are posting 10 minute reflections every day at 5.00pm… The cathedral is preparing worship to go online for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday’.
Thursday 2nd April 2020
Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am’ (John 8:58).
Jesus is making an extraordinary claim here. He is claiming divinity. ‘I am’ is the name God calls himself when talking with Moses. ‘God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I AM has sent me to you”’ (Exodus 3:14). Is it any wonder that those around him felt challenged? It can be challenging for us sometimes to realise that this man of whom we read in the gospels is none other than God himself. It is also a great source of strength and comfort – especially at this time – to know that God became one of us and even died for us. ‘Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows’ (Isaiah 53:4).
As we approach the time of Jesus’ Passion, this is a reminder of just who he is and what is at stake. In the words of that iconic Christmas gospel reading: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1:1-5). It goes on to say: ‘to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God’ (John 1:12).
‘I am the light of the world,’ says Jesus. ‘Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’ (John 8:12). We are called to be this light in a dark and uncertain world: ‘‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:14).
In the words of the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, we look ‘to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God’ (Hebrews 12:2).
The prayer for Advent Sunday:
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light,
now in the time of this mortal life,
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for family life - especially for children at home, distance learning. I have met some of them in my walks around the village and they appear to be doing well and relishing the novelty of it all. I enjoy my daily walks and the conversations I have. Yesterday on my way back along The Borough, I stopped to buy food in the Co-Op. There was no queue and not many shoppers. Is this a sign that at least the panic buying is past? I hope and pray so.
In preparation for Sunday, we have a link to some instructions for making your own palm cross at home. In place of a palm leaf, you can do this using either a long strip of paper (2 strips of A4 stuck together works well) or a perhaps long leaf from the garden. There is also a video of me making one. Arts and crafts were never my strong point, so if I can do it anyone can! My apologies for the dark glasses, sunny days do that to them.
Wednesday 1st April 2020
‘Blessed are you, O Lord, God of our ancestors, and worthy of praise; and glorious is your name for ever! For you are just in all you have done; all your works are true and your ways right, and all your judgements are true’ (Prayer of Azariah 3-4).
This passage is from the canticle that is set for today. It is called the Benedicite in the Book of Common Prayer. The Prayer of Azariah is an apocryphal insertion of 22 verses into the biblical book of Daniel in the Septuagint (an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament). There are no Hebrew manuscripts that contain the prayer.
Azariah is one of those three friends of Daniel most commonly known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, names they were given in Babylon. However, their Hebrew names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Thus, Azariah is Abednego, one of the three who were thrown into the fiery furnace. This hymn of thanksgiving is said by all three of the men after God has saved them.
These times of uncertainty bring home to us that we are not as in control of our lives as we may have thought. Forces and events beyond our influence dictate what we can do. The world is not as subject to our command as perhaps we had imagined. In Robert Burns’ famous words: ‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men…’
Our response as the people of God is one of praise as well as prayer. Our great hope is in God alone, who holds all things in his hands. When things are difficult, that is the time when we hold more closely to God, acknowledging his presence and proclaiming his power. We praise him for his greatness, his authority, his glory and his majesty. As the psalmist declares ‘You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust’ (Psalm 91:1-2). While in the great vision of Revelation we have ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory’ (Revelation 19:6-7).
In just over a week we will be celebrating God’s great act of salvation. He has a wonderful future for us. ‘What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?’ (Romans 8:31).
The alternative collect for this week:
you gave up your Son
out of love for the world:
lead us to ponder the mysteries of his passion,
that we may know eternal peace
through the shedding of our Saviour’s blood,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray that we may continue to grow through God’s Word. In the spirit of Paul’s words to his protégé Timothy ‘All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Thank you to all those who brought donations to The Vicarage for the Trussell Trust. We took them to the warehouse yesterday morning, and they were greatly appreciated. Please keep them coming, and we will continue take them in when we have enough.
I mentioned yesterday that the magazine is now available online. This is not intended to be in place of a printed version, although we are unable to produce that while the present situation continues. However, we do intend to distribute printed copies again as soon as we can.
Tuesday 31st March 2020
Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him’ (John 8:28-29).
Today the Church remembers John Donne. ‘John Donne was the greatest non-dramatic poet of his time, and its most admired preacher. He was born in 1571, a Londoner and the son of Catholic parents… In 1615 he joined the Anglican Church, and in 1621 became Dean of St Paul’s’ (https://poetryarchive.org/poet/john-donne/). He died on this day in 1631.
Possibly John Donne’s best-known poem is the one that begins ‘No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main’ (John Donne, MEDITATION XVII Devotions upon Emergent Occasions). This is something that has become very clear for us recently. With so much of the world in shock or denial about the coronavirus, and barriers going up and recriminations flying, we must remember that we are a global community. We also remember our local neighbours around us. We are all in this together and we depend upon one another.
It was only a week ago that I was walking around the village taking down posters saying that the Church is open, and replacing them with ones saying the Church is now locked but we are continuing to pray. Yet already it feels as if we have been in lockdown for much longer than that. The new normal is already developing its own natural rhythms. What hasn’t changed is the need for that to be lived in the presence of God and undergirded with prayer. We can continue to pray for and with one another in our homes. We are not alone: ‘fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God’ (Isaiah 41:10).
Prayer after John Donne (1631):
Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening
into the house and gate of heaven,
to enter that gate and dwell in that house,
where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling,
but one equal light;
no noise nor silence, but one equal music;
no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession;
no ends or beginnings, but one equal eternity;
in the habitations of your glory and dominion,
world without end.
(Eric Milner-White (1963) - https://www.churchofengland.org/)
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our local traders. We give thanks for all they are doing to bring us what we need, but also remember those unable to trade because of the lockdown.
The April edition of our parish magazine, Downton Parish News, is now available on the Parish News page of the website It is free to view or download. Please do let others know.
Coincidentally we had intended already to make it free to all, as a service to the village. As so often there is a sense that God was already leading us where we needed to go. ‘He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake’ (Psalm 23:3).
Monday 30th March 2020
‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake’ (Psalm 23:1-3).
The words of this wonderful psalm are among the best known in the Bible. They tell of God’s care for us. Here we have imagery of comfort, vigilance and protection, of loving renewal and right guidance. God is in control; he knows what he is doing; and he will bring us to safe lodging in and with him.
We are also reminded that Jesus is himself the Good Shepherd. ‘I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep’ (John 10:14-15). Here we have not only the promise of protection and guidance we find in Psalm 23, but also reference to the Cross on which we will be reflecting next week.
It is now a week since the schools were closed. Let us remember all our teachers and the wonderful work they are doing with distance learning and teaching the children of key workers. They are doing a truly wonderful job, working harder than ever and putting our children before all else.
We don’t know when this will end and there is even talk of more stringent restrictions. We must continue to bear in our prayers those who are doing so much for us in so many ways to keep going. This includes charities whose work for the vulnerable is under threat at this time. They are really struggling to make ends meet, with their shops shut and no one out to collect contributions. We may be in lockdown, but we can continue to support them.
Tomorrow we are planning to take donated food to the Trussell Trust. So if you have anything donate, please could you bring it to the Vicarage today. There is a collection basket in the front porch. Alternatively they would always welcome a financial gift.
The prayer after communion for this week:
Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us
that what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters
we do also for you:
give us the will to be the servant of others
as you were the servant of all,
and gave up your life and died for us,
but are alive and reign, now and for ever.
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we remember all who minister to the sick. As we know, they are particularly important at this time and need our prayers.