Almighty and everlasting God,
who in your tender love towards the human race sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross:
grant that we may follow the example of his patience and humility,
and also be made partakers of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.



Gospel reading

Matthew 21.1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
   humble, and mounted on a donkey,
     and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
   Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’


Sermon – Gill Persicke

Four Crowds and a Saviour

We all know where we should be this morning – we should be milling around together on Millenium Plain, outside the west doors of the church; we should be part of a big happy jostling crowd; and it should all be nicely chaotic.   That’s no problem - Mancroft is good at “Palm Sunday chaos”!  For example, there always seems to be a kerfuffle over the palm crosses – has anyone actually remembered to order any?   Where did we put the left-over crosses from last year?      And then there’s the choir – are they going to walk outside in a neat orderly procession, like last year? - or just gather together in a haphazard sort of way?   What about leaflets for the outdoor bit of the service? – has anyone given you one?   Is it the right leaflet, or have you been given one from Norwich Cathedral instead?   This year, we were even planning on having a different route for the procession (I can’t quite remember what the new route was going to be!) – and that also would have produced its own little bit of chaos, for sure.   Then there’s the splendid moment when we enter the church, and discover whether the hymn we started outside is a. in tune and b. in time with what Julian is playing on the organ (actually, this bit normally goes pretty well, thanks to Jody!)   But you get the picture – Palm Sunday on Millenium Plain is CHAOS – and it’s absolutely right that it should be.

Because, in our confused milling-around, we’re actually re-enacting the scriptures - that first Palm Sunday was chaos too.   Our gospel reading speaks emphatically of a very large crowd, masses of people in front of Jesus, masses of people behind him.   They’re throwing their clothes around, they’re chopping bits off the trees, they’re shouting and probably arguing with each other – there’s absolute turmoil.  And there’s several reasons why this is so.   The crowds in Jerusalem in the run-up to the Passover are always large and excitable; and Jesus’ reputation, for good or for ill, has gone ahead of him, so that people are falling over each other to catch sight of this controversial man.   Is he a prophet or a king or a Messiah?   Is he a charlatan?   Any chance of one of those healings he’s become so famous for?   Let’s just go along and have a look – and then you get caught up in the fervour and the clamour, and you don’t really know what you think about Jesus any more, you just want to catch a glimpse of him.

We’ve seen two crowds so far, one modern, one scriptural – but I now want to present to you a third crowd which is also vividly in my mind’s eye – a very different kind of crowd.  This time, we’re outside Norwich City Hall, and it’s Remembrance Sunday, eleven a.m. in the morning.   The city hall clock has just chimed, and the crowd, again very large, has fallen completely silent.   We stand there alongside complete strangers, but we’re nonetheless united in our silence, because everyone has committed themselves to the same task – focussing, for just a couple of minutes, on something deeply serious and significant.   We’re a crowd of people standing together, focussing on loss and grief; on violence and guilt; on remembrance and love; on peace and hope.   And all the while, the clouds scud across the sky, and the birds wheel over the silent marketplace.  

And this quieter, more focussed crowd can help us, I think, to understand our fourth crowd - that great crowd of which we are called to be a part during this coming week, Holy Week.  This year, uniquely, I can see, in my mind’s eye, Jesus entering a Jerusalem which is in lock-down, eerie, deserted.  This year, Jesus is a lonely figure, riding his donkey into a vast, expectant silence.  The world holds its breath, watching Jesus on his lonely and painful journey into agony.   

To be honest, I don’t yet know what Holy Week will feel like for me this year – and of course I don’t know what it will feel like for you, either.   But I do believe that, if we attend deeply to the story of Holy Week, God will not fail us in our desperate need.  This year, I sense that God is teaching humanity something we do not as yet understand - something profound, something deeper than anything we have ever understood before.   So I urge you to join a great cloud of Christian witnesses this week, an alert, serious, deeply committed crowd of people all around the world, watching and participating in Christ’s lonely passion.  God is suffering this week, suffering for us, and alongside us.

Right now, you may be stuck at home alone, or with one or two family members who may already be driving you slightly mad.  But please remember this: we’re not alone in this mind-boggling Coronavirus experience - God is in it with us, as She is always with us.   Nothing can separate us from the love of God, and (the greatest mystery of them all), GOD WILL SAVE.



Intercessions – Colin Pordham

Lord God, we come before you today in the most difficult circumstances, unable to gather together side by side in your house but yet, through the wonders of modern technology, nevertheless able to join together in very different ways and still to know your presence with us.

Heavenly Father, at this time when the world is faced with the relentless spread of the coronavirus pandemic, we pray for all those who may be struck down, especially the elderly and those who have underlying health issues.  We give thanks for the dedication of all those in the National Health Service working selflessly and under great pressure and for all those continuing to work to ensure that essential services are maintained.

We pray for your Church and for its leaders at this time of national crisis, that they may be given the strength and courage to speak out in your name to offer comfort and reassurance and hope.  With our church buildings temporarily closed, we give thanks for all those who have taken the lead in bringing messages of faith and hope into our homes and for all who, in varied ways, have continued to keep in touch with regular members of our congregation.

Heavenly Father, we pray for our Queen and for our government at this challenging time.  Give strength to those in authority having to take difficult decisions, and look with compassion upon those who, in this period of enforced closure, may lose their jobs or businesses.  We pray that it may soon be possible to relax some of the present restrictions to enable our workplaces to be active once again.

Father, we pray for a blessing upon our homes, upon our families and friends and upon all whom we love, praying for the renewal of broken relationships and broken hearts.  And we remember the unloved, those with no home, no family or no friends.

Lord Jesus, we commend to your love and care those who suffer in body, mind or spirit and especially those known to us.  Comfort those who are fearful of the coronavirus pandemic. We offer our prayers for those of our congregation whom we know to be ill: Pam Cooper, Simon Crosse, Janet Hemsley, Brian Noble, Martin Pointer and Val Rope.

Lord Jesus, we pray for those who have passed through the perils of life and are now safe in your care, especially John Gibson, Betty Inman and Cherry Winter and from our Book of Remembrance we remember with love David Owen, Edna Colby, James Rowe, James Bushell and Douglas Taylor.

Grant them a share in the everlasting worship offered by the hosts of heaven.

Father, help us to worship you in the Spirit, with our minds nourished by your truth, our hearts opened to your love, our wills surrendered to your purpose; and may all this be gathered up in adoration as we ascribe glory and praise to you alone.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.