Sermon for 9 April
When the excitement fades, the work begins
was about 8 o’clock in the evening and I was working late in my study up at school, where I'm the Chaplain. It’s such a good time to get the
more mundane tasks done, when the bustle of the place gives way to the briefest
of silences. But not this night. My door burst open and two girls, in floods
of tears, asked if they could talk. "Of
course!” I said, consigning whatever task I was working on to tomorrow’s to-do
sat down and I managed to decipher, between the sobs, that they had just seen a
video on Facebook of a boy, about their age, who was terminally ill. He explained his condition and how it had
affected his life, but what had touched them the most was how upbeat he was
about it all. Towards the end of the
video, he made a plea for people to raise money for the charity engaged in
research on his condition, so that others did not have to endure what he had
was why they had come to see me: I have responsibility for the School’s
charitable fundraising and they wanted to respond to the young boy’s call to
arms. I think what struck me was this: their
tears were real and their intent was genuine; they had been cut to the heart by
what they had seen and had to do something.
aware that it was 8:00pm and having a number of years experience in dealing
with late-night teenage outpourings of emotion, I made a suggestion: "Go back
to House, take some time to gather yourselves and with a clear head, come back
to see me with some ideas of what you would like to do.” "Okay,” they said and I sent them on their
told me that once the emotion of this moment had dissipated, we would not speak
about this again. I was right.
Sunday stirs up all kinds of peculiar feelings within me: on the one hand, I’m
giddy with excitement at the thought of the procession through the village with
the donkey, the smiles, the curiosity of those whom we pass by and yet if I
scratch the surface, there lies below a nervousness about what is to come in
the next few days: how quickly we go from "Hosanna!” to "Crucify!”
why do things deteriorate so quickly?
How is it that the anticipation of great triumph we enjoy this Sunday descends
so rapidly into denial, desertion and deceit of Jesus’ inner circle by late
Thursday and the crowd which welcomed him with open arms is asking for his
blood come Friday?
think it is something to do with the excitement of expectation. You see, the crowds, which gathered that day
had a very clear idea in their heads of what the Messiah would look like; in
the Book of Zechariah it says:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the warhorse from Jerusalem;
and the battle-bow shall be cut off,
and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
the River to the ends of the earth.
let’s not forget that today we have palm branches, which for the crowds of the
day would have looked a lot like the military victory of the Maccabees that was
celebrated some 150 years earlier by waving palm branches. There could be no doubt: this was their guy,
the warrior who was going to ride into town, overthrow the oppressors and make
everything okay again. Little wonder
they were excited!
as the week progressed, things began to change.
Jesus’ very next act was to cleanse the temple: to turn the tables over
and say that everything they were doing was an abomination before God. This is followed very quickly by Jesus
telling the crowds to pay their taxes to the Romans, the Romans! And then he questions the authority of the
can imagine the sideways looks and furrowed "Hang on a minute!” looks exchanged
between the people in the crowds. What,
at first glance, looked like the beginning of a victory for the Jewish people
turned into a long list of reprimands from the guy who was supposed to liberate
wasn’t what it was supposed to be like: it was supposed to be easy, it was supposed
to be about that lot over there getting what they deserve. Now, Jesus arrives telling us that we’ve got
it all wrong and it’s we who have to change the way we behave! Well, thanks, but no thanks: we’d much rather
have Roman rule than be told by this upstart that we’re the ones in the
wrong. He’s clearly not the Messiah, he’s
just a very naughty boy and he has to go.”
Put simply, the crowds turned on Jesus because he told them that if they
wanted to see change, it had to start with them.
Sunday is an important and painful lesson for us too as we begin our journey
through Holy Week. How often we can feel
full to the brim with the first flush of religious enthusiasm but eventually,
this gives way to the hard, relentless work of forgiving the unforgivable, of
loving the unlovable, of healing what seems to be beyond repair.
Sunday is an important lesson in realizing that if we want to see the kind of
change promised by God, then it has to begin with us, right here, right now and
we have to keep chipping away at it, even when the thrill of "Hosanna!” has
Sunday is an important lesson in realizing that being agents of this kind of
change is costly, in requires sacrifice and it will take us through denial,
desertion and deceit, all the way to the cross.
Sunday is an important lesson in realizing that it is when the excitement fades
that the work begins.
leave you with the words of the poet Malcolm Guite, from his Sonnet for Palm
to the gate of my Jerusalem,
seething holy city of my heart,
saviour comes. But will I welcome him?
crowds of easy feelings make a start;
raise their hands, get caught up in the singing,
think the battle won. Too soon they’ll find
challenge, the reversal he is bringing
their tune. I know what lies behind
surface flourish that so quickly fades;
and fearful guardedness,
hardness of the heart, its barricades,
at the core, the dreadful emptiness
a perverted temple. Jesus come
my resistance and make me your home.
Posted: 11-04-2017 at 07:56