Sermons for Palm Sunday and Monday of Holy Week
Sermon for Palm Sunday
by the Revd. Fr. William Martin
Sermon for Palm Sunday 2022
The Revd Fr. William Martin
When Pilate was set down upon the judgment-seat, his wife sent
Unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man:
For I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of Him.
(St. Matthew 27. 19)
Holy Week has been set aside from the time of the early Church to ponder our Lord’s suffering in silence. If we approach this time with a determined silence and stillness, we will, no doubt, find that it will interrupt and confound the usual course of human reason and its expectations, as it tears and wrenches the human heart from the fulfillment of its usual expectations. Then, if we sustain the stillness, and with a quiet mind ponder the unfolding drama of Holy Week, the blanket of Divine Otherness might begin to make sense of what seems to be wholly wrong, unjust, and even unthinkable.
Following Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem He had told his Apostles: All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. (St. Matthew 26.31) This Word that was made flesh would be rejected on a number of different levels. Men always find excuses for refusing to allow the Word to be made flesh in human life. In the interests of political expedience, Pilate will convince himself, perhaps, that he has rid the world of a temporary religious nuisance. The Jews’ self-righteous indignation will be justified…or so they think. Jesus’ Disciples will abandon Him out of confused fear and cowardice. Peter will deny Him and repent, and Judas Iscariot will betray Him and hang himself.
In the lections for today, we already begin to see and hear the truth that will emerge through the trial, arrest, and condemnation of Jesus Christ. Pontius Pilate, Governor of Judaea, is confronted with that earthly chaos and confusion that the Pax Romana must never abide, especially on what should be just another peaceful Friday afternoon in an insignificant outpost of the Roman Empire. He seems a reasonable and just enough man, who is neither drawn to nor impressed by the strange religion of the Jewish Aristocracy, which has interrupted his afternoon rest. He is commissioned with enforcing the Pax Romana –the peace of Octavian Augustus, that has brought unimaginable law and order in the now civilized the world. So he will do his best to treat the problem of this Jesus of Nazareth expeditiously with a kind of Stoical calm that the Romans had mastered with fine precision. In the interest of Roman Law, he will rebuke the Jews for their envy, commanding them to judge Christ themselves, or send him to Herod….but to no avail. (St. Matthew xxvii. 14) Then another kind of stillness, silence, and peace will emerge from this strange man, Jesus Christ, whom he must interrogate. Pilate marvel[s] greatly. (Ibid, 14) His wife has the spiritual sense to warn him to have nothing do with that just man (St. Matthew xxvii. 19), not realizing that she will be the prophetess of a new world order.And, in a sense he will try to do just that. But the crowd will demand that Barabbas be released and Jesus be crucified. Pilate’s conscience is nevertheless stirred, for he finds no evil or crime in the defendant. Why, what evil hath he done? (Ibid, 23) Let Him be crucified, the crowd demands. In response to the passionate envy that threatens further chaos and anarchy, we shall read that, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see you to it. (Ibid, 24) The Jews will confess: His blood be on us, and on our children. (Ibid, 25) And they too will prophesy a judgment of themselves that has never since been eradicated.
Many people, including Christians down through the ages, have never had enough time for Jesus of Nazareth, the Word of God’s love in the flesh. As T. S. Eliot reminds us, Christ speaks to them and us:
O my people, what have I done unto thee.
Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the daytime and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice
(Ash Wednesday: Eliot, v.)
But for those who can become contemplatively still and quiet by God’s Grace, the sound and sight of God’s Word of Love will emerge through the suffering and death of Christ, His own Son. From the still and silent center –the heart of the Son of God, who will be suffering and dying not only to the world, the flesh, and the devil enfleshed in others, but also to Himself, the Word will be seen and heard. It will be perceived and received, slowly, even hesitatingly, by those who have chosen to believe and to follow. Even now, as the world and its words assault and kill the Word of God in human flesh, the Word of God endures, to be spoken from the center and through the stillness of His unchanged and unmoved heart. This is the heart whose mind made all things and now intends to redeem them. For this Word made flesh –this Jesus Christ– always sees and hears the Father, and then reveals, communicates, and articulates the Father’s will to the world. He will not cease to do so, and especially through His suffering and death when He will be most challenged not to love the Father’s will and bring it to life in the world. He came from God and He will return to God. But not before He willingly offers Himself to God and man by laying down all claims and rights to Himself.
This morning, with St. Paul, we remember that though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2. 6-8) Jesus Christ empties Himself of His humanity, in order that pure powerlessness might be placed back in the hands of God, the maker and molder of all new human life. He will not desperately grab for, grasp, or clutch on to His Divinity in the hour of His human impotence. Rather He prefers to obey, fear, and follow God with all the humanity that remains in Him. He will become the Man who once again is the servant of God because God’s will and Word alone suffice to secure Man’s unbreakable union with Him. He will be one with the Word of the Father that He sees and hears. This is the Word that has spoken and continues to speak to Him, and through Him to us. And the Word that speaks is the eternal Desire of God for His people. This is the Word of Love that conquers hate, the Word of Good that conquers evil, and the Word of Truth that conquers ignorance.
This week, I pray, that each of us shall make time to travel with Jesus up to His Cross. We can travel with the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John looking and listening, to the Word made flesh, though we might be very confused and bewildered. This Word of God in Christ will be mostly silent. Pilate marveled, and so will we. In this Word who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously (1 Peter 2. 22, 23), we will begin to see the Word of God’s Love in the flesh. This is a Love that first touches and moves the still and silent hearts of those who remain faithful to it. This is the Love that was first seen and heard in miracles and parables, and now from the Cross persists in revealing itself to others in succinct statements of forgiveness and hope as He brings our old man, Adam, to death in Himself on the Cross. Ultimately and perfectly, this will be the Love that dies in order that all men might live. Christ takes on the burden of our sin and death, which we cannot bear. He bears it gladly and courageously, and even in the midst of unimaginable pain -not just the pain of the body, but the pain of the soul and the spirit also which nevertheless are true to God as the forgiveness of our sins and the seedbed of new and Resurrected Life.
On this Palm Sunday we sing Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. And yet it seems that as soon as the jubilant song of praise and celebration fades, new malevolent cries for Christ’s execution grow and swell. Crucify Him. Crucify Him. Let him be crucified. Where will we be this week? Will we follow the Word of God’s Love in the heart of Jesus into suffering and death? Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53. 4,5)
This week, let us listen to the silent Word of God’s Love alive in the heart of the dying Saviour. Let us listen as the Word of Love makes innocent suffering and death the occasion for His persistent pursuit of our salvation. Let us listen to the Word of Love that calls us into death. Let us be determined to die in the embrace of Love which offers Himself to God and to us in that simultaneous knot of fire that purges away all cruelty, malice, malevolence, ill will, envy, and pride. Let us be determined to leave our old selves and the familiar haunts behind that the new Man in all of us may be made alive. And let us remember, in stillness and silence, as contemplating the suffering and dying Beloved the words of Archbishop Trench:
Twelve legions girded with angelic sword
Were at his beck, the scorned and buffeted:
He healed another’s scratch; his own side bled,
Side, feet, and hands, with cruel piercings gored.
Oh wonderful the wonders left undone!
And scarce less wonderful than those he wrought;
Oh self-restraint, passing human thought,
To have all power, and be as having none;
Oh self-denying love, which felt alone
For needs of others, never for its own.
Sermon for Holy Monday
April 11, 2022
by The Revd. Fr.William Martin
But woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born.
We begin our Holy Week with an act of betrayal. Judas Iscariot has betrayed Jesus
Christ out of resentment and bitterness for Jesus’ refusal to be the earthly liberator that Israel has longed for. At least, this is the view of the Church’s Tradition. Judas had thought that the Christ was set to liberate Israel finally from all foreign occupation. Judas was an earthly minded man for whom the affairs of this world mattered much more than the affairs of God and His plan for Man’s salvation. Tonight we contemplate betrayal.
In fairness to the Jews, who had spent well-nigh 600 years awaiting the fulfillment of promises to them, one might be more than a little sympathetic. Foreign domination had characterized the history of the Jews. But Judas, along with no small number of his race then and now, had not understood the true nature of the promises made to Israel. The Jews had become intoxicated with their own thralldom and slavery. It is a temptation to those in every age. Human bondage and the absence of liberty are bound to make any people forever conscious of their own suffering. Yet, Judas and his friends ignored the finer points of what God had promised to His people. In tonight’s Old Testament lesson, Isaiah is full of rage.
And I looked, and there was none, to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me; and my fury it upheld me. I trampled the nations in my anger; in my wrath I made them drunk and poured their blood on the ground. (Isaiah lxiii. 5,6)
The wrath of God fills the heart of the prophet. He hears God intending to make atonement for the bondage that Israel endured. Isaiah hears the Word of the Lord who prophesies that blood must be poured out to rectify Israel with God. But he imagines a spiritual state that far exceeds Israel’s need for any earthly Redeemer. His mind is on God and what God alone can do for His people. Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O Lord, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting. (Idem, 16) The prophet does not know what kind of Redemption the Lord will bring, but his focus in on God, His power and love and that Wisdom that alone can bring Israel to spiritual peace. Far be it for the prophet to focus on earthly things. He in consumed with the spiritual intention and plan of God for His people.
Judas and his kind are always overly consumed with earthly responses to earthly problems. To prefer the earthly to the spiritual is to engage in utter idolatry. God’s first mission to His people will always be spiritual. The nature of the promises themselves is hidden to the prophets. Sufficient it is for Isaiah to be focused on His Lord and the Lord’s nature. To be thus consumed will be the intention of God the Father for His people in His Son. Judas has missed the meaning of the Father’s message as articulated in the life of His Son, Jesus Christ.
We too are far too immersed in the affairs of this life on earth. Christ has better things in store for us. Judas, and so many of us, betray the Word of God with that anger and bitterness that reveal what kind of false gods truly move us mostly. Material happiness and worldly comfort seem all the rage and passion. Jesus responds to Judas and us this night with another kind of promise. Far removed from any kind of earthly hope, Jesus intends to fill His followers with what matters most. Tonight, Jesus redirects our attention to those things above and not the things of the earth.
Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God. (Idem, 22-25)
In response to Judas’ betrayal, Christ bids His Apostles and us to wonder about something as simple as a meal. The promises of God are revealed then and now as something strikingly simple and seemingly earthly. But He speaks of some fragments of bread and a sip of wine as somehow linked spiritually to His Body and His Blood. In some mysterious way He prophesies both His leaving us and His coming to us again. The earthly is not abandoned but will become something remarkably new. Through the elements of necessity -bread, and the cause of mirth and all joy -wine, Christ promises to come to His people and to be with them forever. His Body will be offered to them. His blood will be outpoured for them. And more than this, both will be present to them whensoever they repeat the words of this simple ceremony. And He seals this manual act with the promise that He will not eat and drink with them until He drinks it new in the Kingdom of God. (Idem) This earthly action will be an instrument and means of His ongoing presence with them until they reach His Kingdom. Spiritually, Man will commune with God over a meal that will become a Heavenly feast.
To the ancient Jews, what He said must have sounded like gibberish. But to those who believed then and have faith now, this is the seal of God’s promise to His people. There will be no need for any earthly deliverance from tyrannical rulers. In what follows, He will promise His people that they must trust that this is the way that matters most. What matter most is to repent and believe. What matters most is the Forgiveness of Sins that Jesus Is.
The day following, He will offer His Body on the Tree of Calvary and will pour out His blood for the sins to the whole world. The key to grasping the promises is in trusting God’s promise to be our God and we His people as earth is swallowed up in Heaven’s feast. In partaking of His Body, He will indwell His people with His suffering and death. His suffering and death will remain with them as they blend theirs with His in absolute obedience to the Father. In drinking His Blood, they all shall be quickened and resurrected into new life and virtue. What more can man need for the fulfillment of all his hopes in God’s promises? To eat His Body and to drink His blood fulfill God’s promises to His people. In eating His Body and drinking His Blood, men are invited to participate in the meaning of the Forgiveness of Sins and the Resurrection into the New Life. All is well with Jesus. Nothing more is needed. Jesus’ presence with us depends upon nothing less than His promise. This is. Our task this night is to trust and obey. Our calling this night is to follow Jesus to His Cross so that the bread and wine might be ever so simply linked to His broken Body and poured out Blood on Good Friday.