15th Sunday (A) 12 July 2020

Dear friends, when I worked as a priest in the Diocese of Leeds I served for seven years in prison chaplaincy. One of the men I met in prison gave me a poem which he’d written himself on a small scrap of paper. It read like this:

This is a prayer for the broken;

A hymn to the rhythm of seeing;

A cry from a fractured hosanna,

To the vastness and mercy of being.

Let me read it again:

This is a prayer for the broken;

A hymn to the rhythm of seeing;

A cry from a fractured hosanna,

To the vastness and mercy of being

Those words speak to me, even now, of a hope that rises out of misery, of a desire for God that ascends from the rock-bottom of pain and regret. When it seems like I’m on my own, God is still with me. When nobody seems to be listening to me, God still hears me. When life – past, present and future – all just seems too much, I can still cry out in prayer.

One particular phrase from that poem continues to fascinate me. I wish I’d asked the man at the time what prompted him to write it. It’s the line: ‘A cry from a fractured hosanna.’

The word ‘hosanna’ has its roots in Hebrew. It means something like, ‘save now, we pray.’ The poem suggests that people’s life experiences – what’s happened to them, what others have done to them, and what they’ve done to others – somehow, these experiences, stop people crying out to God with a fully functioning ‘hosanna.’ To put it another way, in the words of Leonard Cohen, some people have a ‘broken hallelujah.’

Dear friends, perhaps at this moment, you might be feeling fractured or broken: physically, spiritualty, emotionally or mentally.  It could be on the big scale or on the small scale. It might just be that life is hard going, especially after weeks of lockdown. We know that some restrictions are being lifted, but there remains uncertainty for so many people about the road ahead. If any of this rings true for you, then remember the words of hope spoken by the Lord Jesus throughout the Gospels. Words like: ‘Do not be afraid;’ words like ‘I am with you always;’ words like ‘Trust in God and trust in me;’ words like ‘I am the light of the world.’

Words of hope are like seeds scattered by a farmer as he goes out to sow. Sometimes words of hope, like seeds, fall on the edge of a path. They get eaten up, snatched away by the voices of criticism and gloom. They are taken away from us before they have chance to sink in. Sometimes words of hope are like the seeds that fall on rocky ground where there’s no soil. When life gets difficult the words just die away, scorched by pain, by sorrow and by guilt. Sometimes thorns grow up and choke the seeds as they begin to sprout. Worries and obsessions conspire to prevent words of hope from taking root and growing within us.

Hope that God is with us; hope that there is a purpose to our lives; hope that death and destruction never have the last say: this hope can be fragile, even in the heart of a disciple. At different times, and in different ways, we can all know what it means to have a ‘fractured hosanna’ or a ‘broken hallelujah.’ It comes from an experience of sadness or tragedy, or maybe from our struggles and mistakes. Sometimes the tough reality of day to day living steals our hope. Our hosanna splinters, our hallelujah shatters.

My brothers and sisters exactly at moments such as these we need to turn to the Lord Jesus with even deeper faith. Someone once said that the word fear can mean either: flee everything and run; or it can mean: face everything and rise. With all the trust we can muster, asking the strengthening of the Holy Spirit, we need to rise and open our hearts to the Lord of life. Into the soil of inner being He wants to plant the seeds of His love, the seeds of His mercy, the seeds of His presence. The Lord Jesus wants to kindle the flame of hope within us. He wants hope to grow within you.

When we feel fractured or broken, in whatever sense, then our hosanna and our hallelujah must become a prayer. ‘Hosanna,’ we cry out ‘Save now, we pray,’ fill us with your compassionate love. ‘Hallelujah,’ we say, we praise you for your faithfulness and mercy. If these are the only two words we can pray, they are enough. ‘Hosanna, hallelujah; hosanna, hallelujah,’ over and over again.

Dear friends, by our faith we proclaim to the world, to ourselves, and to each other, that we have a hope in the Lord Jesus. He is the mender of splintered lives. He is the rebuilder of shattered dreams. He is divine mercy in person. He is the human face of God’s compassion.

Wherever you are, whatever is happening in your life right now, you are not alone. You have a friend and a Saviour in the Lord Jesus. He loves you and He is with you.

When you wake up in the night anxious, and you can’t sleep, say: ‘Lord Jesus, I hope and trust in you.’

When you’re frightened or worried say: ‘Lord Jesus, I hope and trust in you.’

When you can’t find the words either to ask for forgiveness or to offer forgiveness say: ‘Lord Jesus, I hope and trust in you.’

When you can’t see the way forward, when life seems pointless and ridiculous say: ‘Lord Jesus, I hope and trust in you.’

We live by the certitude of hope, a hope that grows from the words the Lord Jesus scatters from the Gospel and plants in the soil of our hearts.

Dear friends we live by the certain hope of the Lord Jesus. Amen.