I once read an article by a prominent Anglican clergyman which emphasized the dangers of complacency in the Christian life – how if we’re not careful we can manufacture in our minds a ‘sugar-coated gospel’. I agree with what he said, and admit to being aware in myself of the dangers of dwelling on the soft options, of taking to heart the beautiful promises of Jesus whilst ignoring the ‘if’ clauses. ….. God wants to move us all the time, and in order to grow … we need to be challenged constantly.{DELIA SMITH: A Feast for Lent: The Bible Reading Fellowship: 1983: Page 96}

 

The same author in a later work

{JOURNEY INTO GOD: Hodder & Stoughton: 1988} has an incisive Chapter entitled The Cuddly-Bear God. Therein she described this god as the one “who provides all who follow him with rose-coloured spectacles – his congregation can be like spoiled children. …. The problem with the real God is that he might just want some kind of radical change of heart.” {Page 37}

We have now completed five weeks of this Lenten journey – and, surely, we have not been involved with any ‘sugar-coated’ observances and focuses? Palm Sunday and Holy Week are not concerned with soft options: both these are intended to challenge us in a fundamental manner. Here there is no room for the cuddly-bear god, behaviour of spoilt children or rose-coloured spectacles.

On Palm Sunday there is a need for us to recall Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush.

(EXODUS 3: 1 – 6). Moses “said to himself, ‘I must go across and see this wonderful sight’ ….. When the Lord saw that Moses had turned aside … he called to him … take off your sandals, the place where you are standing is holy ground.” So, are we really going to take Holy Week into account, and make a personal decision to go and see this wonderful sight? Indeed it is a wonderful sight. The real God sees us when we do turn aside and he will call to us. However, his call will remind us, forcefully, that in Holy Week we stand on holy ground and must be prepared to take off something of ourselves. Saint Augustine once observed: “we cannot win our crown unless we overcome, and we cannot overcome unless we enter the contest.”

Palm Sunday introduces us to the contest and invites us to enter into it. The

GOSPEL OF THE PALMS [MATTHEW 21: 1 – 11] tells us “go into …. and immediately you will find …. the disciples went and did as Jesus had directed.” In the Mass, the OLD TESTAMENT READING [ISAIAH 50: 4 – 7]explains another element of the contest when it says “I was not rebellious, I turned not backward … the Lord God helps me … I have not been confounded.” The NEW TESTAMENT EXTRACT [PHILIPPIANS 2: 6 – 11] confirms that Christ entered into the contest, “taking the form of a servant … obedient unto death … therefore God has highly exalted him … bestowed on him the name.” Certainly Jesus took something off!

Then, of course, we hear (and hopefully participate in)

MATTHEW’S PASSION [26: 14 – 27. 66]. There we will find no cuddly-bear God. It is certainly counterproductive to read the Passion with rose-coloured spectacles. We have, like the Lord himself, to enter the contest. Once Palm Sunday is over, I need to translate for myself a sentence which appears almost at the end of the Passion reading – “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.”

I have to BE THERE

when Palm Sunday is completed. I am there not merely in hopeless desperation or exhaustion but with a sense of excited expectation. The contest is not over and I have not withdrawn or cancelled my entry. Now is not the time for spoilt children. Rather, I could profitably ask myself whether there is not at least one radical change I could make before journeying further into Holy Week. The problem with the real God is that he might just want some kind of radical change of heart.” Let it not be said of me that I withdrew my entry at the last moment. The lament of Psalm 55[or 54] should not be applied to me: “but it is you, my own companion, my intimate friend! How close was the friendship between us. We walked together in the house of God.”

As we sit opposite the tomb waiting for the week to develop, it would be helpful if during the first three days we read, over and over again, all the scripture readings of Palm Sunday’s Mass – especially Matthew’s Passion. There is high drama in all three, and this will keep us in the contest until the last few days begin – starting with Thursday’s Mass of the Last Supper.

However, Palm Sunday arrests our attention and participation by inviting us to “see now your king comes to you. He is triumphant, he is victorious.”

{Zechariah 9: 9 – 10}

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