Palm Sunday 2022
Palms & Prophetic gestures: Communion service
So here we are at the start of a holy week in which many of us will be praying and praising; pub-attending and film-watching, sharing Maundy meals and Easter breakfasts in person – alongside our online worship to boot. Speaking of which, tomorrow through Wednesday our online input includes daily reflections which will be available on our YouTube channel from 8am each day and which Robert has put heaps of time into making rather special. We’re talking dressing up, green-screens, and teleprompters here! And as I met with him to record some material last Monday, we got to speaking about art and his love of Grayson Perry’s Art Club – one of the successes and survivors of lockdown. It got us thinking about a future sermon series and midweek workshops on faith and art – perhaps in August. More to come!
Anyway, in the course of our conversation, I got talking about Banksy and how I was going to mention this piece of his today. It’s called ‘Seasons Greetings’ and you might remember that it was discovered on a garage in Port Talbot just before Christmas in 2018. It depicts a child enjoying what he thinks is snow on one side, while the other half reveals it is actually ash from a bin fire. I saw it in the flesh, so to speak, when in the town last year and this year, after some attempts to destroy it and failure to secure its future, supposedly by the council, it has sadly been removed and is destined for an English University.
But mismanagement aside, it’s an interesting piece, isn’t it? I wonder what you make of it. What does it say to you? Let’s gather in groups just for 5 minutes to share our thoughts on that and, if you think you answer that quickly enough, perhaps you might like to share what other Banksy art you have seen and admired.
Time to chat
Because of time, I won’t ask for your thoughts but feel free to add them to the chat. I’m sure there was a whole load of interpretations shared there – whether focusing on the impact of pollution on communities, exploring the tension between childish joy and harsh truths, or something completely other. And, very much like the parables of Jesus, that’s often the point of Banksy’s art. To provoke a response. To engender conversation. To subvert expectations and challenge assumptions about money, power, even religion. In these last few pieces, for example, Banksy uses religious imagery to elicit discussions on peace and power; Christ and consumerism –
Of course, whilst he is undoubtedly today’s best known protest artist, Banksy is by no means the first to use visual imagery to provoke, parody, and protest. In fact, two thousand years ago, a radical preacher from Nazareth was causing a few ripples of his own as he used a donkey, some cloaks, and a crowd to make a bit of a scene…
Reading: Luke 19:28-40 – Brian
Notice anything strange about Luke’s description of Palm Sunday? No palms! Interestingly enough, it’s only John who specifically mentions palm leaves. But whether or not there were leaves of any sort, I think it’s pretty clear that Jesus was performing a prophetic gesture – a visual parable – a piece of protest art. For we know that most expected the Messiah to be a great military figure who march into Jerusalem and rid all Israel of the Romans. Besides which, all the mighty men of history – from King Solomon and Alexander the Great to Pontius Pilate – showed how a true leader should enter the city – on a stallion, with legions of soldiers, gleaning swords and beating drums, evoking pride from their supporters, fear from their enemies and respect from all.
In comparison, Jesus’ parade was a joke! Quite literally! For an ass took the place of a stallion; a gang of tax collectors, unemployed fishermen and women of ill repute were the army; a wandering pacifist from Nazareth, the mighty leader. This wasn’t a parade of power, More like a conga of compassion. On that day in Jerusalem, Jesus was revealing and revelling in a very different kind of kingdom in which authority was shown through humility; where branches, not swords, were waved; where joy and humour took the place of fear and resentment. In his parade, Jesus – in a way not dissimilar to Banksy – was identifying with the outcast and overlooked; he was undermining the power of the Empire; he was challenging the expectations of onlookers!
And I wonder, if we’re called to follow Christ this week, could we emulate his use of visual parables? Is there a way that we could enact God’s upside-down kingdom; that we could portray some of the meaning and movements of holy week through a prophetic gesture of our own? After all, the Welsh traditionally excel at this. From the campaigning cross-dressers of the Rebecca Riots to the allegories and allusions of the Eisteddfod; and from the colourful Celtic crosses which were once strewn across the land to the act of decorating graves with flowers – a prophetic gesture of love and resurrection which will be witnessed in cemeteries across Wales on this very day.
It is an open question, that – by the way! If you can think of a way – for this year or another – that we can continue to communicate the wonder of Easter through artistic means, do share it! As those of you who saw me turn tables, tear clothes, and cover myself in mud last Good Friday – I’m up for almost anything! It’s partly why I’m coming from Castle Square today, for, a little later, we will all be invited to participate in a prophetic gesture of our own. To eat some bread, drink a dribble of grape juice, and call it a feast! To use ordinary things of life to convey an extraordinary message. To share a prophetic meal together – in the church building; in outdoor locations, and in homes across South Wales and the world – thanking God for what has been and praying that God’s kingdom come on Earth as it is heaven so to upset dictators, transform lives, offer signs of resurrection and bring hope to the despairing. First though, let’s pray for this to happen.
 Who was possibly mid-march as Jesus and his followers paraded into Jerusalem.
Prayers of intercession
Let us pray…
Ride on, servant saviour, uneasy in your majesty. Enter our world of strutting armies and commercial empires and cure our addiction to worldly notions of power and glory.
As we gather with you this morning, we pray for your Church, that we may offer gestures which reveal your way of peace and love; that congregations may be a home for the lost, a haven for the oppressed, and a source of healing for those broken by life’s circumstances.
We pray for all who do not have the freedom to protest or worship openly. For political prisoners, refugees, widows, and orphans.
We pray for the weary and vulnerable and for those who care for them: nurses and doctors, hospice workers and childcare providers, home carers and social workers.
We pray too for those who are suffering from physical and mental illness. May they be listened to and cared for; may they feel the warmth of your loving embrace.
We pray for those living under the shadow of grief, and particularly think of those suffering from the horrendous consequences of the invasion of Ukraine. We ask that humanitarian aid to reach those most in need. We long for the restoration of streets where your children may dwell in harmony. We cry out that justice, truth and love may prevail for all people.
Sometimes, God, words fall short. Sometimes only actions or visual protests work. Sometimes silence is all we can offer. And so we take a moment of stillness to sit with you, to listen to you, and to bring to you those known by us who are in particular need of your presence and peace this week…
Eternal God – Life-giver, pain-bearer, love-maker,
Give us the wisdom to hear your voice, be an answer to these prayers, and live out your radical love in our actions this week. Amen.
with various voices around the world!
Let the realm of hope draw near now, as we share a Communion meal
So come one, come all.
Come you are hungry for justice and peace; and you are just hungry.
Come you are excited by prophetic gestures and you who still don’t really get them.
Come you who have graffitied grace and you who have protested for peace.
Come the rebel and the repressed; the campaigner and the conformist.
Whoever we are. From wherever we have come. Whatever our story – come to the feast where there’s always a space for you.
Today, we have retold the story of Jesus’ Palm Parade – his divine demonstration against powers and privilege. His jovial gesture that spoke of humility and hope. We have recalled that, with outcast men and forgotten women, Jesus partied and protested and lived out an alternate world where all are welcome, worthy and wanted – God’s kingdom of justice and joy where donkeys would bear kings, mustard seeds could become great trees, and the likes of you and me can shine with the light of God!
But some aren’t keen on mustard trees and others aren’t good with bright lights, so they pointed to Jesus’ feasts and companions and called him a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of troublemakers and sinners! Some got so angry with Jesus’ life of love that they wanted him gone forever!
When his arrest seemed near, Jesus ate another meal in an upper room with his friends. As he had so many other times before, Jesus took bread and after having given thanks to God he broke it and gave it to his friends, this time saying, “This is my body broken for you. Do this to remember me.” After the meal he shared wine, gave thanks, and said, “I will not drink from this cup again until I drink it with you in the Kingdom of God.” The next day, Jesus was put on a cross to die. To his frightened disciples it looked like injustice and violence killed Jesus and his message. But the resurrection provided a new hope. There were many more parties and protests to be enjoyed with Jesus! That last supper wasn’t the last meal – or the last word!
The Kingdom persisted – and persists today – through the many women and men who seek to be the resurrection community. Despite the sadness, violence, and injustice in the world, God continually brings forth renewed hope for love, justice, and grace to and through each of us.
And so, today, we act prophetically again. We take ordinary bread and wine and dare to call them Christ’s body and blood. We meet with companions and comrades from across Wales and the world to break bread, give thanks, and declare that Jesus’ revolution of love rolls on today.
So here, on an island in the Caribbean, we offer this bread on behalf of the world – for all brothers and sisters from the Cayman Isles to Caerphilly and everywhere in between. For those exhausted from the day done, and those waking to a new dawn. For the travellers and tourists, the workers and shirkers, for the newly born and the long in tooth. May it remind us that in God’s kingdom, all people are our neighbours; that no flag or border wall or pernicious policy can stop us from belonging to one another; that I am because we are.
And here, in a pub in Cardiff, we offer this bread for those, like Jesus, who are labelled, judged, and ostracised. For so-called glutton and drunkards. For refugees and prisoners, single parents and those who receive state welfare. For the LGBTQ+ community and all who the Church has shamefully turned away. May it remind us that in God’s kingdom, the last shall be first, the lost found, the stranger made friend.
And here, by a war memorial in Ponty, we offer bread for those, like Jesus, who live under occupation and the threat of violence. For those sheltering in underground bunkers; those leaving homes and families behind; for those who go to bed under the sound of sirens. For the suffering in Ukraine and Syria, for the orphans of Afghanistan and Yemen, for the widows, the wounded, and all whose world has been shattered by war. May it remind us that in God’s kingdom, neither war nor violence will have the final word for justice shall reign, peace be shared, and love will win.
And here, in a cemetery in Glyntaff, we offer bread for the dead. For those we knew, those we didn’t, those perhaps known only to God. For those who have died through illness; those lost to natural disaster; to those who have been killed through human mistakes or violence. May it remind us that in Jesus’ kingdom, mourners will be comforted and the dead will live again for nothing – not even death – can separate us from the fierce love of God.
And here, in homes across the world, we offer bread on behalf on one another. For those we can see on screen, those gathered in a building in town, and for those unable to be at either. For our friends in care homes and family in hospitals. For those on shift and those on holiday. For those we love and those we sometimes struggle to love. May it remind us that in Jesus’ kingdom, we are all sisters and brothers, called to love one another and to share that love with all. So let us pray…
We pray to you, God of palm parades and prophetic gestures, and give you praise.
We thank you for the gift of your son Jesus Christ, whose love pursues us our life long and beyond.
We thank you, Jesus, for giving your life to us in word and deed, for stirring up ‘good trouble’ in the cause of love and paying the cost by dying as a criminal on the cross.
We rejoice that human violence did not have the final word but that you rose again. When you ascended, you promised us a mysterious and mischievous advocate who would help us to provoke, protest, and proclaim your coming kingdom afresh.
So come Holy Spirit, once again, feed us with your love that we may be strengthened to be symbols and signposts of God’s kingdom today.
All this we pray in the name of the radical from Nazareth, Jesus the Christ, who taught us to pray, saying – Our Father / Ein Tad / Отче наш…
The body of Christ, broken for us all. We do this in remembrance of him
The blood of Christ, given for all. We do this in remembrance of him.
Though we are scattered, we are made one in God.
Let us eat, drink and give thanks.
We continue in prayer.
Living God, we give thanks for this meal of love.
We pray that your grace would empower us to do justice, to offer mercy, and to do so with humility.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
We will follow Jesus to the cross and beyond.
So may the God of Peace inspire us,
May the God of Justice empower us,
May the God of Hope encourage us to live the Good News this week.
Let us go now…go in the power of the Spirit.
Go, and do not try to separate politics and prayer.
Go, not to escape, but to engage with God’s world.
Go, to live prophetically, as people of hope. Amen.