Question: What’s the difference between a lawyer and a wounded buffalo ?
Answer: A lawyer charges more.
A well-dressed man goes into a pub with a crocodile on a lead and asks ‘Do you serve lawyers here ?’ ‘Yes, certainly, Sir’, says the barman. ‘In that case, I’ll have a pint of bitter for me and a lawyer for my crocodile.”
That was how the minister began his reflection this morning on the latter verses of Mark 12, the condemnation of the scribes by Jesus. The minister in question was himself a lawyer before his ordination, so I guess he knows what he is talking about.
By tradition Newington Churches together have a shared service daily at 7.45am during Passion Week. Held in Craigmillar Park Church of Scotland. The local ministers take it in turns to offer a bible reading and a short-ish reflection, and we sing a couple of hymns. And there is breakfast in the hall afterwards; muesli or cornflakes, white rolls and butter and marmalade, tea and coffee. All served by an efficient team from Craigmillar Park. There are familiar faces from the local congregations, and it seems an appropriate way to mark the transition from Lent into the Passion Story. Although it sometimes feels as if there is a table marked ‘Ministers and scribes only’ !
Palm Sunday has always felt like a significant festival to me. The liturgical colour is red. Which is appropriate for the story of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem with the crowd waving palm branches as they shouted:
“Hosanna to the Son of David.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
We never managed to source a donkey [or two] for the service, neither in Duns nor in Lyon. And I suspect that too often our Palm Sunday liturgy failed to do justice to the excitement and the sense of anticipation and the raw energy of the original entry into Jerusalem. I am reminded of David Leitch’s account [in God stand up for bastards] of his covering the very dramatic, eleven-hour visit of Pope Paul to Jerusalem in 1964, at a time when the Vatican did not officially recognise the state of Israel. A visit attended by hysterical crowds.
But the red also signifies danger. As Harold Wilson once said, ‘A week is a very long time in politics.’And we know as we gather on Palm Sunday that the coming days will bring rejection and betrayal, arrest and a trumped up trial, and [almost] finally a very public execution. Which is why we pray the Palm Sunday Collect:
True and humble king,
hailed by the crowd as Messiah:
grant us the faith to know you and love you,
that we may be found beside you
on the way of the cross,
which is the path of glory.
It was good to be at Melrose Sevens last Saturday afternoon, though cold in the sunshine. I realise that I have been going there on and off, on the second Saturday in April, since 1979. When Stewart’s Melville FP beat Kelso in the final. In recent years the number of guest teams has increased, as has the number of catering outlets. There were certainly some very classy guest sevens on Saturday.
Rugby apart, I am finding Passion Week difficult this year. Partly because of the continuing bad news from Ukraine. The encouragement of the withdrawal of Russian troops from the north and from menacing Kyiv has been totally negated by the uncovering of a succession of war crimes, perpetrated by [very young] Russian soldiers against civilians, Ukrainian women and children. We are doing a talk at a local church tomorrow on our time in Kyiv. And it almost seems indecent to propose to show a lot of photographs of the city and the country as it was prior to the invasion.
Closer to home my younger brother has been in a hospice since last Thursday. His life seems to be drawing to a close, but we have no idea how many days, or possibly weeks, are left. We were very pleased to see him down in Warwickshire last month. And we have no plans to dash down and see him. But his wife and their two daughters are much in my thoughts and prayers. Perhaps relatedly I feel a sense of heaviness in recent days, and find that is much easier to fall asleep after lunch. Meanwhile, I will be taking Communion to Bob this afternoon in the Royal Infirmary where he is recovering from invasive surgery.
I may not make the Passion Week early service tomorrow. But I very much doubt if there will be any jokes about crocodiles.
Collect for Good Friday
in the cross of Jesus
we see the cost of sin
and the depth of your love:
in humble hope and fear
may we place at his feet
all that we have and all that we are,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.