Palm Sunday 2007

Today, Palm Sunday, marks the start of Holy Week,
the most important time in the Church’s year.
Today we remember the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
On Thursday we will remember how Jesus washed his disciples’ feet,
and how he took the Jewish ritual blessing of bread and wine and lifted it,
transformed it into something quite different that we know today as Holy Communion.
On Friday we will remember his death on the Cross.
And next Sunday we will be rejoicing and celebrating the Resurrec­tion.
That’s quite a hefty programme for one short week!
You might pray very specially for Cameron, and me, and the other local preachers and so on who will be involved.

Holy Week is a very special and important time for us.
Sometimes Palm Sunday we don’t bother with a sermon at all.
Instead, we read the whole story of the arrest, trial and crucifixion,
what’s called the Passion Narratives,
in order to help people focus on the events to come.

We would have done that today had I been around last Sunday, as I'd have organised readers.
But we will do it on Good Friday -
if you want a solo part, see me afterwards,
as I want to get them sorted out today so you can have a good look through.

But for today, though, I want us to focus on three scenes from the story of the Passion, and try to bring them to life for us today.

1. The Entry into Jerusalem

The first scene is at the beginning of the holidays.
Each year there are a few days’ holidays around Passover,
when as many people as possible go to Jerusalem for the biggest festival of the Jewish year.

This year,
you're going, too.
Perhaps you go every year,
or perhaps you can only go once every few years,
if you don't have much money.
this year, you are going to Jerusalem.
Perhaps you are travelling with a large party,
perhaps there are only two of you.
But today is the day you arrive at Jerusalem.
It's hot.
You're walking along,
a bit hot and rather thirsty,
and somewhat tired of walking.
It will be good to get into Jerusalem,
and to your room at the inn.

Suddenly, though,
there is a noise in the crowd.
What is happening?
Everyone has stopped moving.
But there are cheers and shouts going on.
What are people shouting?
Listen, a minute:
"Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest!"
What on earth are they on about?
What's going on?
People are pulling branches off the trees.
They're throwing down their cloaks.
Who is this person coming along, anyway?

It's someone riding a donkey.
How extraordinary.
Why a donkey, please?
How very undignified.
And yet everyone else is cheering him.
Oh well, why not.
"Hosanna", you shout,
joining your voice to everyone else's.
"Hosanna" .
And carried away by the emotion of the moment,
you throw your cloak into the road for the donkey to walk on.

Later, when the moment has passed,
you wonder what on earth it was all about.
Your cloak was torn by the donkey's feet.
It's dusty and spoilt from lying in the road.
Your new cloak,
that you had bought specially for the festival.
It's ruined.
And you were shouting and cheering like a mad thing.
How very odd.

2. The Scene at the Palace

That was our first scene.

Now it is two or three days later,
early in the morning.
You look out of your bedroom window,
and see that a massive crowd has gathered outside the governor's palace.
You step over, to see what all the fuss is about.
"What's happening?", you ask.

"Pilate's going to release a prisoner",
explains the knowledgeable one.
"Like every year.
This year it's going to be a chap called Barabbas,
you know, the terrorist."

"No it isn't," interrupts another person.
"There was a new prisoner bought in last night.
That teacher, the Galilean one.
You know.
They arrested him,
but I gather Pilate wants to release him."

"No way," says a third voice.
"The chief priests won't wear that.
They want him dead."

And then a hush.
Pilate appears on the balcony. A few quiet "boos",
but the crowd is fairly patient.
"Who shall I release to you?" he asks.
"Barabbas!" yell the crowd.
"We want Barabbas.
At first it is only a few voices,
but gradually more and more people start to shout for Barabbas.
"We want Barabbas, we want Barabbas!"
"Well," goes Pilate,
"Are you sure you don't want Jesus who is called the Christ?"
One or two people start to shout "Yes",
but you are aware that there are some heavies in the crowd and they soon shut up, and start the chant again:
"We want Barabbas, we want Barabbas!"

"Then what shall I do with this Jesus?" asks Pilate.
And the voices start, slowly at first,
but more and more people join in:
"Crucify him, Crucify him!"
And you find yourself shouting, too.
"Crucify him, crucify him!"

But why?
Normally you hate the thought of crucifixion.
The Romans consider it too barbarous for their own citizens.
Only people who aren't Roman citizens,
local people,
Only they get crucified.
So why are you shouting for this man to be crucified?

3. Peter

My third scene takes place the previous evening. This time you aren't a holidaymaker, you are Peter.
You're at the Palace,
in the servant's courtyard.
Jesus is in there somewhere.
You'ld like to rush in and rescue him,
but you don't know whereabouts they are keeping him.
Meanwhile you're cold,
and feeling sick.
There's a fire in the courtyard,
and you creep up to it,
staying in the shadows
and listening to the maids flirting with the soldiers,
and being flirted with in their turn.
And they are talking about the arrest,
and the newest prisoner.
You prick up your ears.
A teacher, they say.
A religious nut, more like.

The servants are sneering at your master.
You'ld love to tell them about him,
about the fun you've had,
the travels,
the wonders.
But your voice won't work.
Suddenly one of the maids turns to you:
"Hey, big boy!
You were with him, weren't you? Tell us about him!"
But your voice doesn't do what you want it to.
"No way, no, not me, you've got the wrong chap!"
you hear yourself babbling.

"No, I'm sure I saw you with him," says one of the other maids.
Again, you find you saying it wasn't you.
You begin to sweat.
Why are you telling all these lies?
Can't they just shut up and leave you alone?
What's going to happen, anyway.

"Oh, come on," says another voice.
"You're from Galilee, same as him.
Your accent proves it.
You must have known him, at the very least."

And your temper explodes, and you round on the man,
cursing and swearing.
You fling out of the courtyard.
And the cock crows.
Just as He had said.
"Before the cock crows,
you will deny me three times."
Just what he had said.
Dear God,
what have I done?


Well, those are my three scenes.
The holidaymaker,
or pilgrim,
who starred in the first two scenes was carried along by the crowd.
Peter was carried along by his own fear,
and by the scorn and sneering of the bystanders in the courtyard.
Both did things they did not want to do,
and regretted afterwards.

Don't we all?
It isn't usually our fault.
People do things in groups that they wouldn't dream of doing normally.
We get carried along by the crowd.
And afterwards we regret it.

And sometimes we do things we know we shouldn't even when we aren't part of a group.
Sometimes we really dislike the things we find ourselves saying,
and even thinking.

But that's what Holy Week and Easter is all about.
The fact that, in some mysterious way
God can make it all all right again,
and can help us become whole,
become the person we were designed to be.

Peter, as we know, faced up to who he was and what he had done.
And God was able to help him become one of the earliest and greatest church leaders.
But God couldn't have done that if Peter hadn't been prepared to put the past behind him,
forgive himself,
accept God's forgiveness, and go on.

Maybe we need to do that.
Or maybe we just need to remind ourselves again that the central message of Holy Week is that we are loved.

Let's not waste Holy Week this year.
Let's use it to put whatever we need to put behind us, and go on growing into the person God meant us to be.

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