Sometimes it snows in April

The Revd Alan Ramsey
Palm Sunday



Matthew 21.1-11

Over the past week I’ve been listening to a song by the American singer and rapper Meshell Ndegeocello. The song is called ‘Sometimes it snows in April.’ It was originally recorded by Prince in the mid 1980’s and has become his unintended eulogy. The song is spare, melancholic and quite haunting and has a lot of mythology surrounding its meaning.

As the title and lyrics suggest the song primarily speaks of loss and sadness, the times when things take a horribly unexpected turn. Just as snow should not be falling in April, so our spring and the beginning of Holy Week should not be like this.

As a church community we would, in normal circumstances, be standing at the Clarendon building on Broad street this Sunday. As we do every year. We should be having our crosses blessed and then making the short procession through Catte street with donkey and tourists in tow towards our church. Who could have imagined a few weeks ago that we would instead spend Palm Sunday in-doors?

Even during the initial days of lockdown in the UK when the sun was shining, it felt like a sudden and severe chill had run through the world. The aerial footage of deserted cities and streets makes everywhere look frozen. Frozen in time, Frozen in collective shock.

None of us saw this coming.

And that is pretty much what the large crowd in our Gospel reading would have said less than a week after they had welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with shouts of Hosanna. This moment of great optimism would have seemed ridiculous by Good Friday.

This crowd often get a bad press. They are depicted as somewhat naïve because they don’t see what’s up ahead.

But often neither do we.

We ridicule them for projecting all their hopes for a warrior king onto Jesus, someone to rescue them from oppressive Roman rule.

But aren’t many of our projections onto Christ just as ill-judged?

These people so desperately longed to have their lives back to how they were in the old days. That’s why they cried “Hosanna to the son of David” They thought Jesus would restore the glory of their nation to its splendour under king David and his son Solomon.

Who can blame them?

Much of our country will be hoping to soon return to the good old days of Britain BC (Before Corona). But those days aren’t coming back. Not in the same way. The world will be fundamentally changed by this pandemic. And we will need to courageously reach out and embrace a new future.

The crowd in Jerusalem hoped and cheered for a world that didn’t materialise as planned. The snow came in the form of crucifixion and everything, for a time, completely froze.

But what did they get right? And what can we learn from them today in the midst of our lives being unexpectedly and shockingly turned upside down?

On one hand their shouts of praise were filled with future-based hope as to what Jesus might be or become. But their excited gestures of honour were also based on evidence from the past. When the city asked them “who is this?” the crowd answered, “this is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Their praise came from what Jesus had done already, in the past. They had heard his progressive life-giving words. They had witnessed his transformative works. Palm Sunday was as much a declaration of what these people had already experienced as it was for a hope of thigs to come. They already knew the power of Christ to bring change, comfort and liberation. They knew that this was the man who had ushered in light to the darkest of situations.

We have no idea how this global pandemic will fully play out. Nor do we know how we will experience God over the coming months. Many of our spiritual rituals, patterns and spaces have been taken from us. The wider church does not have the same visible presence as it might have done in other times of national crisis. It is in lockdown on many levels itself, working out how to be church for such a time as this.

And for many people, for many Christians, the very last thing they may want to do is to create a Palm Sunday fanfare for God. Those who have lost loved ones, businesses or critical social connection may feel abandoned and angry asking, where is the divine intervention in all of this?

Perhaps divine intervention will look different to different people. Some will see Christ being played in a thousand places through the hands and feet of those on the frontline of care.

Some will see it in the form of our natural world experiencing respite with clean water and clear blue skies re-appearing for the first time in a long time. A sign of the stones crying out just as Christ said they would.

But for others divine intervention will be a renewed encounter with the God who acknowledges suffering and joins with us in our grief and pain. The crowd in Jerusalem had experienced the Jesus who came alongside them and acknowledged the depths of their human needs and tragedies.

This was a man who didn’t just do a quick bit of magic and move on but who reached out to the most vulnerable, empowered the most oppressed and comforted the heartbroken. Christ was not the religious robot we often imagine him to be. He was deeply human and probably as he was riding into Jerusalem that day he would have had moments, himself, of being utterly overwhelmed by fear of what he knew was ahead of him, the shock of his thirty-three year old life on the brink of rapid decline in the space of a week. Holy week isn’t just a framework to punctuate our religious calendar, it’s a real story of human tragedy involving families, friends, loss and heartache.

Right now, as we deal with a tsunami of bad news each day, we know that Christ understands how we feel. He has been here too.

This Holy Week we will be praying more than ever, for our health, for the protection of our loved ones, for our grieving friends and for our livelihoods. Our petition prayers will be more pronounced than ever.

But alongside these prayers, there is an opportunity for declarative words just like the crowd who welcomed Jesus. Bold faith affirmations that will move our posture from fear to hope, from desolation to comfort.

Maybe we can do no better than to return to the wonderful poetry of the psalms each day, holding onto them as reminders of God’s faithfulness in the midst of adversity. The one who brings us the peace, tranquillity and shalom that defined Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;
for you are with me.

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the
who made heaven and earth.

The lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?

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.’