Sermon at Saint Matthias’ Church on Palm Sunday, 16th March 2008
“See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”Zechariah 9:9
I went to an astronomy lecture last Monday evening. I like astronomy, it puts things into perspective. When you think in terms of galaxies and light years, it doesn’t really matter who is Taoiseach or what has been said at the tribunal.
I used to think the universe was an intimidating place, but it has become friendly and reassuring. I look up at the night sky and have a sense of the vastness of real things. Questions do arise: how far does it go? How many centuries would you have to travel to reach the edge? What is there beyond the edge? Imagine if, instead of spending trillions of dollars on armaments to fight over tiny bits of our tiny planet, the nations of the world built a spaceship to go out into deep space. It would take lifetime after lifetime to reach even the nearest stars.
The sheer size of space can be overwhelming. Looking up into the night sky the words of Psalm 8 come to mind,
“When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him?
Infinity is big. When you think about space going on without ever ending life on this planet seems so silly and insignificant. Our lifetimes are no more than the tiniest fraction of a second compared with the life of the universe. A brief, fleeting moment, too short to notice, and then we are gone.
We are so insignificant. Even if President Bush deployed all of his nuclear weapons and succeeded in blowing the planet to pieces it would not register as an event outside of our tiny litt!e solar system. People devote their whole lives to accumulating wealth and property and status and none of it means anything, nothing at all.
What’s the point of our lives in the context or infinity? Maybe it doesn’t do to try to think of the answer to such a question. Yet there is a reassurance in the infinite vastness of the universe. It is our belief that the God of whom we speak is the force behind the infinite. It is our belief that there is a purpose and a meaning in the vast aeons of space. It is our belief that it is not, all just random and arbitrary, but that there is direction. It is our belief that even in the primordial chaos at the beginning of time, there was a force at present.
It is our belief that this God, this force, is interested in the affairs of this miniscule planet and that 2,000 years ago – a brief moment in time broke into the life of this world as Jesus of Nazareth. The extraordinary story of the man from Nazareth reached its culmination this week, probably around about AD 30.
On a Sunday morning the God of all the universe rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. The soul of the cosmos rode into this human settlement on the back of a lowly animal.
The people of Jerusalem knew that the Messiah they expected would arrive on a donkey, it was recorded in the words of the prophet Zechariah that this would be so. But they expected a different Messiah, they expected the Son of God to be altogether different. They expected the sort of man who would have made a five star general in the United States army. They expected military power and political authority, they did not expect what they got.
To think that the God of the universe would be with them as Jesus of Nazareth was unthinkable, it was quite unacceptable. They would not tolerate this man. They could not contemplate a Messiah on a donkey.
The God of infinite time and space, the God of stars and constellations and galaxies, lives his life as a carpenter and goes through the experiences of this coming week because of the regard he has for us, his people.
Compared to this single fact, compared with this truth, that the God of the universe comes into this world to live and die for us, nothing else is important. Money, power, success, all the things this world count as important, count for nothing. What is there in this world that can compare with infinity?
When we think about the universe our mind is left racing. Anyone who says they can think about the universe and not feel overwhelmed has not really thought about it. Yet the sheer magnitude of it all should cheer us up.
Imagine you could live long enough to travel out into deep space. Imagine passing the moon and the planets: the sun gets smaller and smaller as you head out into the galaxy: millions of light years pass and you travel on and on, past galaxy after galaxy, out into the farthest depths of space. Imagine such a journey and every moment of the way you think to yourself, this is our God’s universe.
Every moment of the way you can recall that the God of all of this is the God who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and who died on a cross five days later – for you and for me.