9. April 2017

From Here to Eternity: The Beginning of the End of the Beginning

Service Type:

‘…In the richness of His Grace God has lavished on us all wisdom and insight…’ (Ephesians 1, 8). ‘Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord…’ (John 12, 13b).

Palm Sunday is as familiar as any event both in the life of Jesus, and in the calendar of the Church. Today we rejoice, we shout ‘Hosanna’, we wave our palm branches; today we join together in witnessing Jesus’ arrival at the gates of Jerusalem; beyond which lies, who knows what? Well we do, because we know how the story unfolded then even as this particular Holy Week unfolds before us now. Yet, there is a sense in which this a never ending story; indeed we might dare to imagine that the story, the real story, our story is only just beginning - today we celebrate ‘The Beginning of the End of the Beginning’. Just months previously Jesus had set His face towards Jerusalem where He had a date with destiny, and as He draws near to the city He is confronted from within by a combination of indifference, curiosity, even mild hostility - the metropolitan elite awaiting Him were a far cry from the seemingly uncultured country folk who had accompanied Him to the threshold of the city. A whole new world awaited Him within. But as easily as the gates were flung open wide for Jesus to enter the city; just as easily they were shut behind Him; they would be no ‘going back’, there could be no ‘going back’: it really was the Beginning of the End as far as Jesus was concerned. Just for a few moments, joy fills the air but just as quickly everything changes and as the week goes on, drawing, as it does, Jesus towards its inevitable conclusion, the mood darkens and a sense of foreboding overshadows everything; very soon it is the silent awfulness of the End that will drown out the boisterous exuberance that heralded its beginning. What is begun today will End on Friday and there is nothing we can do to prevent it, and neither should we seek so to do; rather it is required of us that we ‘watch and pray’ all the while wishing it were different but knowing that it never can be because it never could be. But in spite of all of this; this time next week we will be contemplating a very different scenario. Just as today marks the Beginning of the End, an End that comes painfully, violently, destructively, and with deadly force, so on Easter Day we all will have begun again, for what was brought to its end on the Cross now finds itself beginning again as testified to by the empty tomb. Easter Day is no tidying up of loose ends, no ‘happy ending…’An end is only a beginning in disguise.” -

“An ending is only happening because at some point it was a beginning. And if an ending is dependent upon a beginning, [we] would be well advised to focus on the miracle of beginnings verses the pain of endings.”

The unfolding drama of Holy Week, begun today, this Pam Sunday will come to its end, and we too have to understand that the end of Jesus’ life, His death on the Cross, provides us with an opportunity to bring an end to that which would otherwise prevent us from knowing a new ‘beginning’ in life. It is demanded of us that we ‘die with Christ’, that we might be ‘raised to newness of life in Him’. We are dared to believe that in Jesus’ death on the Cross, God has declared a willingness to bring an end to sin and strife, pain and anguish, hurt and harm, death and destruction; ‘all of this’ says God, ‘ends here’. If we can find the courage to have ourself die with Christ, then a new beginning awaits, ushering in life in all its fullness, eternal Life, life lived in the presence of God, life no longer bedevilled by the interruption of death and its consequences but rather sanctified by the confidence that comes from knowing that from now on God will allow ‘nothing to separate us from the love of Christ.’

There is a fragrance in the air, a certain passage of a song, an old photograph falling out from the pages of a book, the sound of somebody's voice in the hall that makes your heart leap and fills your eyes with tears. Who can say when or how it will be that something Easters up out of the dimness to remind us of a time before we were born and after we will die?” (Frederick Buechner: ‘Telling the Truth’).

In truth, what we are imagining to have begun on Palm Sunday - The Beginning of the End - had its origins in the heart and mind of God even ‘before the beginning’ - ‘The Lamb of God slain ‘before’ the foundation of the world. Likewise, the new beginning, that to which we look forward has been heralded throughout eternity; prefigured in nothing more significant than a ‘mustard seed’, routinely thrown into the ground to die, that it might be ‘regenerated’. But note this; we are talking about the Beginning of the End of the Beginning: Resurrection is not an end in itself; it invites us to engage creatively in ensuring that that of which it is a beginning is of itself brought to its appointed end…

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture of their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centred [people] have torn down, [people] other-centred can build up I still believe that one day [all people everywhere] will bow before the altar of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land.”  (M.L. King Jr). - As good a place as any to start…