Message for Palm Passion Sunday, April 5, 2020
Based on Matthew 27: 11-38
Offered by: Liz Bowyer For the people at Mt Paul United Church, Kamloops, B.C.
How do we pray this day, God? Caught between joy and despair, our stories from scripture bring us face to face with the perils of our humanity.
As it was in Jesus‟ time and as it is also in our own times.
Gracious God, hear us as your words from scripture draw us into our own Jerusalem’s-our own experiences of welcome and betrayal, of being challenged to stand firm in what we believe, and of being drawn in by our own and each others’ fears in this time of great uncertainty in our community, our nation, and indeed each and every community in the global village. Amen.
In keeping with it being Palm-Passion Sunday, our readings from Matthew’s gospel this morning remind us of the wide-ranging impact of our actions and our decisions.
Between now and next Sunday morning when we celebrate Easter and the good news that Jesus lives in a new and mysterious way, we have numerous opportunities to just sit with the inconvenience, discomfort, and uncertainty of our present circumstances.
In praying this morning’s text, I found myself drawn to these closing verses:
“Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him.”
This brought me back to the scene where Pilate questions Jesus at verse 11. What follows is what arose in my as result of my own experience of praying over the text.
Pontius Pilate, Governor of Rome, the one residing at Caesarea Maritima with his wife, Claudia never much enjoyed the festival of Passover. He viewed as a time of the year of considerable inconvenience. This, because he was required to travel to Jerusalem to ensure that things did not get out of hand.
This particular year, Pilate found himself face to face with this strange fellow, Jesus, named by some as the longed-for Messiah, by others as the King of the Jews, and by still others, as the very Son of God.
Oh, yes, and what was it his wife, Claudia, had called him?
“An innocent man”, she said.
Gazing at the man now opposite him, Pilate notes that indeed he does look innocent enough. And yet, there was something about his countenance that drew Pilate to him. There was something about him that spoke volumes-an unwavering steadiness of gaze, a certain calm and self-assuredness. This, even in the din of the gathered body’s shouts and accusations.
“Who is this Jesus person?‟ Pilate wondered.
In a nanosecond, a vivid memory from a recent conversation with his wife, Claudia sprang to mind.
This Jesus fellow had certainly set many tongues ‘a wagging, not least amongst their young servant girls.
This Jesus fellow seemed to have a knack for working a crowd with all his talk about equal treatment and inclusion, and in particular, tending to the needs of the poor.
Surely meeting their needs for adequate food, shelter, and purpose would only lead to more trouble for him in his role as governor, would it not?
Bringing his awareness back to his own task of keeping the peace in Jerusalem at Passover, Pilate encouraged Jesus to keep things simple with these words: “Come, then, have you nothing to say in your own defense of these charges about your true identity? Are you, indeed, the King of the Jews?”
In the deafening silence that followed, Pilate was amazed at his own experience of feeling drawn into the something he could not begin to understand or even describe. “Why wouldn’t the man defend himself?”
Suddenly, Claudia’s encouragement to him to ‘not tarry too long’ in the court at Jerusalem came back to Pilate and he shuddered. In the pocket of his robe, he scrunched up her hastily scrawled note to him so recently delivered by messenger.
No need to look at it again. Claudia’s handwritten note would be indelibly etched in his mind forever:
“Have nothing to do with that innocent man for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream I had about him” the note read.
Relying on his own ill-conceived need for expediency, Pilate washed his hands of all responsibility in this matter of Jesus’ conviction.
Giving full authority to the seething crowd’s wish: “Let him be crucified!”, Pilate did just that.
His day’s work now done, Pilate could head back to his home at Caesarea Maritima and his beloved wife, Claudia. Having followed her instructions, he knew she would be happy to see him.
For Jesus, however, there would be no quick fix solutions, no abdication of responsibility, no pleasing a fearful spouse or colleague, no capacity for turning a blind eye, no need for turning back or stemming the flow of what was yet to come.…..But then, Jesus had long since embraced his life’s call and his identity as God’s own beloved Son at the time of his baptism. Named, claimed and commissioned by an inward dwelling relationship with a living, loving God, Jesus had turned long since turned his face like flint to Jerusalem. From that perspective, there was no need to defend himself before Pilate. Dear friends in Christ, in the midst of these strange days of needing to be at arm’s length from one another due to need to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, let us rest in the sure knowledge that we, like Jesus, are not alone. We, too, have been called, claimed, and commissioned as God’s own beloved ones. Just so, we, too can rest in the assurance of God’s indwelling and abiding love. We live in God’s World who has created and is creating. We are not alone. Thanks be to God, amen. As we anticipate re-visiting the stories of Holy Week and as we journey to the cross with our beloved Jesus, let us pray without ceasing for a new world a bornin’
And while we wait, may these words composed by our Regional Minister, Allison Rennie guide and sustain this day and in all the days yet unfolding:
This Week. These Hours. Pray Them-
These Hours, Pray them-
And let this prayer draw you home
along the path that cuts through the tomb-
(whether you noticed it before or not)-so,
why not notice-look, keep watch.
Listen Again-again for Love that dies and,
desperate to Live,
will walk you through the rough stone places
again, again, will you keep watch?
Or did you already miss the moment
when your Soul, longing for the Light, threw back
the binding cloth and strode
out of the deep and into the world.
So This Week. These Hours.
Allison Rennie 2020