Sermon: March 20 2016 (Palm Sunday)

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Spirit. Amen.

If only our story ended on Palm Sunday.

As indeed the Scriptures foretold, the Christ approaches the holy city from the Mount of Olives; triumphant, he comes—Maccabean, even—what with the palm branches, and the singing. Maccabean, but with less of the guerrilla warfare, and the death. No, this heir to David’s throne will be a peaceful one: he rides on a donkey, and not a warhorse.

If only our story ended here. Maybe with that quip in Luke’s gospel about how even the stones would cry out, were everybody else silenced. So glad is all of creation at the coming of her saviour that even the dirt come to life.

But, no. That’s not the happy ending that we get. St Luke, bless him, the great killjoy, he moves swiftly on from Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem to his lamentation over it. The King of the Jews, he weeps over this place and this temple, which will, not long from now, be broken, crushed.

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The King of the Jews, so Pilate says, arrayed in gorgeous apparel, silenced, but no rocks cry out on his behalf.

The crowds are gathered and excited, but no longer do they hymn this son of David. They have no need for a prince of peace; in his place, they choose a killer, a strong man, a man with a strong name: the son of the father, it means, which is kind of fitting, in a perverse sort of way. That’s just the kind of messiah we want, with our bloodlust, disguised as a desire for the kind of peace that really is just the cessation of conflict, which looks more or less like everyone looking and sounding and behaving like us, or else. Or, it looks like the friendship between a Jewish vassal king and his Caesar’s Roman apparatchik, bound by precariously shared power and united in common enmity of this puzzling pretender from, of all places, Nazareth. Surely, nothing good could have come from there? It’s hard to believe that anybody ever hailed him king of anything. It could hardly be surprising that his followers, we have scattered like ash in the wind.

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And then, of course, we kill him.

If only our story ended on Palm Sunday.

But, of course, it couldn’t have. I mean, what did we think was going to happen? He rides, quixotically, into the occupied territories, looking very much like a conquerer, just underfunded and very badly prepared. They probably thought the donkey thing was an economic necessity, rather than an erudite political statement: and fair enough.

What did we think was going to happen? It’s not as though the soldiers, upon sight of him, were going to beat their swords into ploughshares. That would be like the scene in the book of Jonah, where the prophet half-heartedly demands repentance, and suddenly even the beasts comply. But Jonah is a comic fairy story, and this is real life. Itinerant preachers don’t get to prance around on ponies, looking like royalty, during Passover in Roman Palestine without consequence. Come think of it, it’s still probably a bad idea over there.

So, we kill him. Of course, we do. Everything in history prior and hence tells us that that’s exactly what we do to good men and women: we marginalise them, or we murder them. What did we think was going to happen to Jesus, the goodest of all good people? The source of all goodness that comes from the Father.

Our story, it couldn’t possibly have ended with Palm Sunday. So, instead, we get this gruesome scene. With the beating and the mocking and death and the darkness and the mother and her tears.

Well, that’s not quite right, of course.

The rocks, they are, even in the darkness, silent still, but there is this one guy, a Roman soldier, whose lips cannot quite hold their praise. And that’s not nothing. Intimations of great things to come. 

Welcome to Holy Week. Watch this space. 

+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.