Homily for Palm Sunday

Today we have been led very far, very quickly. The Gospel we heard outside began with “Jesus going on ahead up to Jerusalem” and the Gospel we have just heard here ends with him buried in Jerusalem. In twenty minutes, we’ve been taken through the whole of Holy Week.

This year, we’re reading St Luke’s Gospel. It’s a Gospel largely framed round the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. It will end with Jesus, risen from the dead, being taken up to heaven in his Ascension, journey’s end. But, on the way to that, in the Passion we have just heard, there is another, intermediate, divinely purposed end. We knelt when we came to it. It was the moment of his final prayer and his last breath. It was the moment when he cried out in a loud voice – for all the world to hear – “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  In the Garden Jesus had been arrested, seized, then hustled here and there, and finally nailed to the Cross – all power of free self-movement taken away. Inwardly, though, he was still moving: “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.”

“Father”, he says. Jesus is using the words of a Psalm, Ps 31, because the Psalms were in his blood. But where the Psalm says “Lord”, he says “Father”. The first words of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke were to his parents at the age of 12, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” His first words refer to the Father and his last words too. This was a rounded life, lived completely within the circle of the Father’s loving purpose.

I’ve read that this Psalm-verse is the first prayer a Jewish mother teaches her child, a night prayer. So here again, beginning and end come together, Mary his human mother and the Father, his heavenly Father.  Mary was present at the Cross in more ways than one.

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus had said, “the Son of man is about to be delivered into the hands of men” (Lk 9:44). Many rough human hands had been doing things to Jesus as he passed through arrest and trial to crucifixion. Kinder hands would take him down from the Cross, wrap his body, the hands of the good women who followed him and of the brave Joseph of Arimathea. But it is into the hands of his Father that Jesus, sovereignly free, committed his spirit. These are the hands that created and carry the universe, that hold the world and shaped Adam out of dust; the hands that parted the Red Sea and brought Israel back from exile: loving, creative, gracious, omnipotent hands, hands that can raise from the dead,.

And what here does “spirit” mean? Certainly, that element in the human nature Christ shares with us which eludes the power of death, our spiritual, immortal soul, the breath of God within us. He returns this to the Father. But “spirit” suggests more too. We talk about the spirit of a person, meaning his or her self or character, who that person essentially is, what comes out of them and touches others. Jesus’ spirit, surely, was his orientation to the Father, his love, his prayer, his holiness, his will to forgive, the kindness and compassion he had shown to the sinful and the sick; the human spirit the Holy Spirit grew within him. This was the “spirit” which moved him to cleanse the leper, heal the paralytic, restore a withered hand, raise the son of the widow of Nain and Jairus’ 12-year old daughter, and finally promise paradise to the repentant criminal. His spirit, in a word, was his power to save, and it was this that Jesus, dying, entrusted to the Father who had given it. And we too were there in this spirit of Jesus, each and all of us. And handed by him into to the hands of the Father.

And how does the Father respond? What does he do with this priceless treasure in his hands? In the Resurrection, he returns it to Christ’s body, raises him from the dead and gives his beloved Son back to us, body, blood, soul (spirit) and divinity in the breaking of the bread. Still more, at Pentecost, by pouring out the Holy Spirit on the first disciples, he pours into the world and into every open heart the saving power, the fragrant grace, the kindness, the joy, the spirit of Jesus.  “Father, into your hands…” It’s a prayer overflowingly answered.

“Father, into your hands…” Sisters and brothers, this is all for us, for every occasion in our lives, and through us for everyone. Let’s go up to Jerusalem, let’s head for the Cross and stand there, kneel there, under the blessed shadow of Jesus’ prayer. Amen.

St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 10 April 2022


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