A sermon for Palm Sunday.
We have heard read to us the story of Holy Week. It’s the story of Jesus, and the last days before his death on the cross.
But it’s also the story of Jesus’ friends – the way they fail to understand, their fear, their betrayal. Perhaps today we can bring to God our own confusion, our lack of understanding, our fears, and our awareness of the times that we have failed to acknowledge him before others, the times that we have kept quiet about being friends of God.
And it’s the story of the Religious leaders – their anxiety, their plotting and manoevering. We might find ourselves sometimes in their place, struggling to find a balance between the good of the whole and the needs of the individual, and the times when we are aware that we have not tried hard enough, or have colluded in injustice, sacrificed a little of our humanity for the sake of what we see as our task or duty.
It’s the story of Pilate, and his soldiers, drawn into something they can’t fully understand – and perhaps don’t want to understand.
It’s the story of the crowds, pulled this way and that by their own desperation, and by the fervour of the moment – their hope and expectation, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. We might sometimes see something of ourselves in them: The things in which we place our hope, our dreams for ourselves and for the world. And then in their condemnation, shouting ‘crucify!’ It is easy to knock down those whom we have raised up, and it is easy to rush to judgement.
It’s the story of two thieves, struggling to come to terms with their own death, and to understand Jesus’ death alongside them. We might on occasion find ourselves on the crosses either side of Jesus – in our times of greatest suffering, we may struggle, sometimes raging at God just to get us out of this, and sometimes finding the serenity to ask for the greater gift of salvation and eternal life.
It’s also the story of Barabbas – inexplicably free, given back his life and left to wonder what to do with the years he never thought he would have. We might put ourselves in his place – using this Holy Week to understand the kind of Love that let Christ accept suffering and death for us and for our salvation.
Each character in the drama of Holy Week sees Jesus differently. Some see a political revolutionary, and are filled either with hope or fear. Some see a victim, who ended up as a disappointment to those who’d pinned their hope on him. Some see a blasphemer, never getting beyond the words ‘Son of God’ to see the reality of it. Some saw a friend and teacher, who they’d hoped would be around for ever, cruelly put to death.
But a criminal and a soldier both somehow, in the midst of what looks like failure, see more.
The Roman soldier looked up at the body on the cross and instead of seeing just another Jewish trouble maker, suddenly saw the Son of God. Perhaps, as a soldier, he had witnessed death countless times, and was able to grasp in Jesus’ own moment of death an insight into who he was, what his life had meant. In that moment of realisation is encapsulated the shift from king of the Jews to King of the world, from Son of their God, to Son of the God. One man’s leap of faith is more significant than the shouting of the adoring hundreds in the palm Sunday crowd.
So, what is the moment for you when you see Jesus as he really is? What is it in the story of Holy Week that gives you the most profound glimpse of God at work? What part of the story touched you most today, and showed you something of what it means to be the Son of God?
This is Jesus’ story, and it is the story of Peter, and Judas, and Caiphas and Pilate, and Barabbas, and all the countless and nameless others, but it is our story too. So where are you in the passion story today, at this moment in your life? Where do you stand on the way of the cross? There were no witnesses to the original Holy Week, only participants. And they could not be left unchanged by what happened. If it is to be our story, too, then we cannot be left unchanged either.