Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
PALM SUNDAY, 1934.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The opening words of the Epistle give the note for the day. "Let this mind I be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." The Palm Sunday procession presents a brave array. It is the array of the army of the Son of God. It looks, at first sight, like the triumphant procession of a returning army. But it is not. It is the procession of an intrepid army going forth to war. The victory lies ahead. But it will be a costly victory. The Leader is going to His death. The mind that is in Him is in the minds of His followers. They too are set for obedience unto death, even the death of the Cross.
The victory waits on the far side of the Cross. Crucifixion will be the common lot. After that their victory will quake the earth and rend the rocks and shatter the foundations of hell. The Name of their Leader will be the Name above every name, before which every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth. The other ceremonial processions of the Church signify what has been or will be. The Palm Sunday procession signifies present realities. It presents the pageant of life as it is. It explains life and lends it dignity. It faces the facts of life. It does not minimize the grim realities. But it reveals the possibilities by exhibiting the splendor of sacrifice.
In the light of the Passion we can see the meaning of so many experiences that otherwise would be blank, bleak, futile, sheer disasters. In so far as we identify our lives with the Passion, we gain a certain clarity of vision which makes it possible to classify our experiences with approximate accuracy. These experiences which bring suffering of one kind or another may fairly, I think, be recognized as coming under one of three heads. Penances—Disciplines—Sacrifices. If we can get as far as this recognition, we have a motive and a method for action. We know what to do. And why. We may occasionally make mistaken classifications, but it will make no difference really in the end.
What I mean is this. There are experiences of suffering which are clearly temporal consequences of past sins. Sometimes they are physical; sometimes mental. The sins may be forgiven sins. But forgiveness, while it delivers us from the eternal consequence of sin, does not render us immune to the temporal consequences. If these consequences are rebelliously received they become punishments. If they are voluntarily accepted, they become penances and have purificative efficacy. If they are endured patiently, they work restorative results. The sting of sorrow is extracted. The penance yields penitential joy. The true penitent ceases to be sorry for himself and becomes sorry for his sins. He is sorry for the sufferings that his sins have caused His Saviour. He becomes inspired with a desire to share his Saviour's sorrows. He becomes keen for Calvary. In that approach to the Cross there is no one who follows with more eager step than the penitent bent upon the adventure of expiation.
Sometimes the suffering is disciplinary. It calls for faith, hope, fortitude, ,patience, courage, self-control. It develops humility, charity, gentleness, sympathy, a whole train of virtues hitherto not aspired to or indeed consciously desired. The suffering need not be physical. It may arise from the difficulties of uncongenial environment, trying responsibilities, personal anxieties, and, most searching of all, temptations hard to endure, and long continued. Whatever they may be, they may be recognized as opportunities for discipline rather than as occasions for despondency. In the approach to the Cross there is no one who follows with (firmer step than the disciple who has learned to endure hardness.
Sometimes the suffering is sacrificial. It is borne for the sake of another. Then it becomes pure joy. It is not only willingly accepted but eagerly sought. It is the test of the love which lays down its life for a friend. This marks the arrival at the top of the Hill of Charity—the objective of the Palm Sunday procession.
Affectionately in Our Lord,