Fr Ray’s Homily for Evensong on Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday Sung Evensong 190414 6.00pm
Psalm 69:1-20. Isaiah 5:1-7. Luke 20:9-19 (see also Matthew 21:33-42/Mark 12:2-10)

From our Gospel reading, at this stage in Luke’s gospel Jesus is already in Jerusalem and he will not leave the city again. He is proceeding towards the Last Supper, and then Good Friday.
The whole of the 20th chapter deals with the coming climax of Jesus’ public life and the situations which led to his rejection and condemnation by the religious leaders of his people.
Jesus’ authority to speak and act as he does is challenged by the governing establishment, the chief priests, the scribes and the elders. He gives them the warning parable about the vineyard owner who let out his vineyard to tenants.
The tenants refused to give the owner the fruits of his own vineyard and actually killed servants who were sent to collect them. Finally, they also killed the owner’s son, thinking that thus they would become permanent masters of the vineyard.
But, Jesus says, the owner will destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others. Jesus’ listeners, knowing full well exactly what he was saying, reacted in horror – “God forbid!”. Jesus of course was the Vineyard Owner’s Son.
And that is just what happened. The Tenants killed Jesus the Son. On top of that, just 40 years after this, the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem and destroyed it and the Temple with it.
Both the First Reading and the Gospel focus on the Lord’s vineyard, that is, the place where God’s people are to be found.
At first, Jesus chose the Israelites to be his own people. He was with them on their wanderings in the desert on the way to “a land flowing with milk and honey”.
St Paul writes “Our Fathers passed through the sea…and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that Spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ”. (1 Corinthians 10:4)
Jesus asks in the First Reading from Isaiah “What could I have done for my vineyard that I have not done?”
But the response of the people/tenants in the vineyard was far from the expectations of the master of the vineyard: “I expected my vineyard to yield grapes. Why did it yield sour grapes instead?”
This rejection of God’s will and of His Suffering Servant, reminds us of the arrogance of humanity. In the Adam and Eve narrative depicting humanity’s rejection of God’s way, humans thought that the knowledge of good and evil would give them power over God.
They dethroned God and Enthroned themselves. And so today! All such arrogance produces sour grapes.
And the killing of the son “outside the city” is a clear reference to Jesus dying on the cross outside the walls of Jerusalem.
Today, we are God’s people. We are the tenants in the vineyard. Now he expects us to produce fruit, fruit that will endure. The obvious question for us to ask ourselves today is: How are we doing? How much better are we than the chief priests, the elders, the Scribes and the Pharisees?
We are specially privileged, by baptism, to be called to work in the Lord’s vineyard. Each week we are invited to gather together to hear the Gospel message and to make it part of our lives. We are all called to be members, active members, of the Body of Christ, the Christian community, the Church.
Our parish is our vineyard. It must not produce sour grapes that no one can eat. It must be open to the various ways the Lord speaks to it, whether those people are Church leaders or prophetic voices which may sometimes say things which are painful to hear.
There is always a temptation for a parish to become too insular – looking too much into itself and refusing to think outside the ‘box’. When that happens, people tend to cling to old, fixed ways of doing things and to resist change. When those ‘old ways’ do not conform to the teachings of the Church, they can be sour grapes.
Happily, we have not been doing that. We have welcomed the initiative of the Diocese in trying to extend our mission by what they call “An Apostolic Partnership” and a Team to reach more young people.
This is an exiting development, providing the Teaching of the Church and our Sacramental integrity is maintained, honoured and remains incorporated into Parish Life.
However, going round the Parish in visiting, home communions and general pastoral work, I sometimes come across some negativity – the gossip sometimes is the Parish is dying/falling apart/numbers are declining/financial problems. These are sour grapes.
All the parishes of the Church of England (and other denominations) are experiencing a hard time – the result of the secularisation of our culture – the de-christianising of England. The only parishes that seem to be flourishing in numbers and finances, appear to be the ‘Charismatic/Evangelical’ ones. We hope a little of that will rub off on us through the “Apostolic Partnership”.
There are signs of new life already. People are coming in, things are happening. There is a spiritual dynamic of renewal and new life already within our Parish by the power of the Holy Spirit. These are the rich, sweet grapes that attract everyone.
We hope (in the Christian sense of hope) the new Vicar and the ‘Team’ will be able to build on that whilst retaining our Apostolic Orders, Traditional teaching, Sacramental spirituality, and the theological ‘Apostolic Deposit of Faith’.
If we talk down our Parish, it will go down! As you know, negativity breeds negativity – sour grapes. Success breeds success. Although the spiritual dynamic is much in force, our human fallibilities are also very much in play. It is easy to see our failures but not so easy to see the Holy Spirit at work. In human terms, failure, negativity, breeds failure. Success breeds success.
It was Cardinal Newman who said more than 100 years ago that “To live is to change; and to be perfect is to have changed often.”
If we are not really making sure that our vineyard produces rich grapes, not only for us but for others, too, to enjoy, then we are falling short as “tenants”. It may well happen that the Lord may ask others to come and take our place.
We have now started our journey of Holy Week. Let us look forward, yes through the Cross, to the Glorious Resurrection of Easter Day and a good harvest from the Vineyard the Lord has entrusted to us. Let the harvest be rich, fine grapes – the Grapes of the Kingdom.