Sermon for Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019
The trial of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is what the passion of Our Lord feels like, one long trial with a defendant and lots of interesting witnesses.
Judas had betrayed him. We don’t really know why. I’m sure Judas thought he was doing the right thing at the time. Maybe he convinced himself he was doing it for his people, for his country. Maybe he was mad at Jesus for some reason or another. Maybe it was greed. We don’t really know. We know when he saw the results of his actions he repented and tried to give the money back, but it was too late. The deed was done. Judas despaired and hanged himself, unable to deal with his guilt.
What about the other disciples? They fell asleep, during our Lord’s agony. They didn’t have to suffer as he did; he just told them to pray, but they couldn’t even do that. When they did decide to act and defend Jesus, of course they did the wrong thing. They resorted to violence. And it didn’t take long after Jesus was arrested for Peter to deny him three times. Of course, that’s the last time we hear about most of his disciples until after the resurrection. Most of them have scattered in fear.
The soldiers that arrested Jesus, just doing their jobs right? Just following orders? And yet, before the trial even begins they blindfold him, and beat him, and taunt him, and humiliate him. He was arrested and in shackles. He was no threat to them at this point. They probably didn’t even know him. He had never done anything to them, so why are they taking this sadistic glee in hurting this poor man?
The chief priests and scribes: do they really care what Jesus has to say? Is this a real trial at all? They twist Jesus’s words around and then they outright lie about what he said. They can’t let anything Jesus actually said interfere with what they want to do, so they will twist it, or lie about it. They are tired of this man calling them out on their hypocrisy, so they are going to find a way to get rid of him, preferably a way that they can blame on someone else. So they send him to Pilate.
Pilate isn’t a Jew. He doesn’t really have a dog in this fight. And Pilate knows that these are phony charges, but Pilate is very smart and very career minded. He will make this Herod’s problem.
Herod was glad to see Jesus…at first. Herod wanted Jesus to perform some miracle, or to tell him something that he wanted to hear, but Jesus just stood there. Wouldn’t act, wouldn’t speak. So since Herod couldn’t get what he wanted out of him, he decided that Jesus would serve him best as an object of derision….someone to mock. But of course, people who bully and make fun of others are often just cowards under the surface, and that is what Herod is. So he sends Jesus back to Pilate.
And Pilate, still seems convinced that this man is innocent, and if that is true then why is he more willing to listen to the mob than he is to his own conscience? If Jesus is innocent, as Pilate says, then why does he insist on having him flogged before he is released? If he is innocent he is innocent…why make him suffer more? Pilate doesn’t really care about Justice. Oh he knows the difference between right and wrong, even the Romans had morals, but as so many of us do from time to time, he doesn’t let those morals interfere with his actions. He condemns Jesus to die and sets Barabbas free.
And then the crowd. Mobs are always the same…doesn’t matter if it is 1stcentury Jerusalem or 21stcentury Facebook, mobs always act the same. One of the things I love about the Palm Sunday liturgy, is that it asks you the congregation to proclaim Jesus as your messiah and king one minute and then a couple minutes later cry out for him to be crucified. That may seem strange, but that is how mobs work. I have no doubt that some of the same people that welcomed Jesus on Sunday called for his execution on Friday morning. And you may want to think that you wouldn’t have been a part of that mob, but don’t be so sure. Don’t be so sure.
The enticing thing about being part of the mob is that you get all of the emotion and none of the responsibility, because once the dust settles and you realize what just happened, you can try to convince yourself that you didn’t have that much to do with it…you were just one among many.
And what about the others there? What about Simon of Cyrene? We always talk about Simon carrying Jesus’s cross, but Simon didn’t do that willingly. He wasn’t moved by compassion at the sight of Jesus’s sufferings. He didn’t reach out to provide comfort to a dying man, he was forced too. Simon probably would have been content to not get involved, and who could blame him?
And finally there is the women, who follow Jesus weeping and wailing. If anyone in this story shows some compassion it is these women, but what does Jesus say to them: “do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves.” Their hearts are breaking for this man that has been put on trial and condemned to die. Our hearts may break too when we witness again the trial and passion of our Lord. If there are any characters in this whole story that we want to identify with, it’s these women who mourn for Jesus, but he seems to imply that they are missing something, that they have gotten something wrong. “Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves” Jesus says. The women don’t appreciate what is really happening in this story.
What did he mean by that? The next thing that Jesus says, after he is lead to the place of the scull and nailed to the cross, may give us the clue we need to figure out what Jesus means by “weep for yourselves.” As Jesus is hanging there, probably remembering his whole life, but undoubtedly recalling the events of the past week, and remembering how even his closest friends let him down, how the system let him down, how justice had been a shame and religion a pretense, and how even those with hearts of compassion couldn’t see what was really happening. There in that moment, he says: “father, forgive them.” This is a condemned man. What business does he have forgiving anyone? And yet, here in his final hour, this man whose has been tried and condemned, now starts to sound like an advocate. Forgive them? How Jesus, in that moment are you in a place to say: “forgive them?” You are the one on trial here. You are the one who has been condemned. Now you are starting to sound like a public defender, an advocate. Jesus you are almost making it sound like we have been on trial this whole time, not you.
Maybe, we like the women, have gotten this story wrong. Maybe this trial was about us and we didn’t know it. So many characters in this story, so many roles. I wonder how many of them I have played? The betrayer, the sluggard, the coward, the upward-moving career minded administrator, the convenient Christian, the denier, the accuser, the mocking guard, the disinterested bystander, and even the person who mourns but doesn’t understand. I thought that this trial was about Jesus, while all the while I was the one that was being condemned.
Jesus isn’t condemned in today’s gospel, we are. And we, like those two thieves on either side of Jesus are justly condemned. And what does out advocate have to say to the eternal judge?; what sentence has he recommend?
Father forgive them.