The Hound of Heaven

Palm Sunday

Matthew 21.1-11

Isaiah 50.4-9a

Psalm 31.9-18

Philippians 2.5-11

Matthew 27.11-54

                                            ©Suzanne Grimmett

I speak of us living the story of this week…and that is true of what we seek to do through our liturgy, hymns, poetry and rites. Our footsteps will follow in the way of Jesus, beginning as we did this morning, waving palms and singing Hosannas as we imaginatively walk the streets of Jerusalem with cheering crowds. Our feet will find their ways up the stairs to the upper room, tucked underneath us as we recline at the table with Jesus, breaking bread and sharing a cup of wine. Then we will watch astonished as Jesus kneels at our feet, taking them in his hands and gently washing away the dirt and the dust. We slip our sandals back on so our feet may take us then to the garden….where we watch…or where we sleep….before we run as fast as our legs can carry us from the trouble to come. The new day brings horrors which we determine to face, walking behind Jesus to the trial…the mockery. We may follow more closely through the stations of the cross, watching as his feet slip and Jesus falls again and again. Perhaps we may imagine ourselves as Simon of Cyrene, longing for the chance that we may bear the weight of the cross for Jesus, placing our feet one after the other up cobbled streets as Jesus, relieved of burden, follows behind.

What do you hear in those feet keeping pace behind you? Is it the one in whom you put your faith so long ago, and has been a constant through your life? Or was there no moment of intention, but a quiet assurance across your days of a story of beauty that meant something? Or is religion something to be kept in its proper place, an aid in times of need and otherwise a sentimental comfort?

But what if, as C.S Lewis described, we suddenly discovered that there was a real footstep? What if these feet that wandered the Galilee, teaching and healing, and walked with intention down the via dolorosa to surrender to the agony and shame of the cross belonged to what poet Francis Thompson described as “the hound of heaven”? What if we find in our careful enacting and thoughtful reliving of this ancient story we discover that we are actually not directing the show, but find the whole show is directing us?

 We are hardwired to resist anyone who comes to rule over us. This God who seems committed in utter abandoned love for humanity, takes on the frailty of human flesh, humbling himself, as Paul’s letter to the Philippians says, becoming “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” We may resist a king of power who comes to force us to submission, but how long can we stand against a king of love who comes riding on a donkey, surrendering to hatred and violence and enfolding the world in forgiveness and extravagant grace? And what if we find the one who dogs our steps knows us better than we know ourselves and continues to pursue us, offering intimations of freedom and grace that are greater than we could ever expect or imagine for ourselves? C.S Lewis writes of his own encounter with the hound of heaven, conceiving of God in wholly masculine terms as we would expect for his time, but nevertheless, I think, speaking an enduring truth of that moment when we realise that in this story we are opening ourselves to something other than our own carefully curated religious experience and practice;

“Supposing We Really Found Him? It is always shocking to meet life where we thought we were alone. ‘Look out!’ we cry, ‘it’s alive’. And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back—I would have done so myself if I could—and proceed no further with Christianity. An ‘impersonal God’—well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads—better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap—best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband—that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (‘Man’s search for God!’) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?”[1]

To what lengths will God go for love? What ways would God walk to nip under our guard, disarming our stubborn resistance and calling our feet into a dance that may not be of our own choosing? Where are our defences if the author of life is prepared to travel so far as to surrender even to death, ending sacrifice and ushering in an economy of grace?  

Supposing God has found us…not just in history, nor just in our past, but today, catching up to us as we get ready to play our part once again in this ancient story. What if God has been with us all this time, always pursuing, that we may be ever more drawn into a life that dies and rises in Christ…a life utterly transformed by love?

Who ever thought it would come to that?

[1] C. S. Lewis (2009). “A Year with C. S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works”, p.10, Harper Collins