Pilate said to them, “and what shall I do with Jesus called the messiah?” All cried out, “Crucify him!”
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the most important week of the Christian year. Today we begin the traumatic experience of sharing the final days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Today we make the transition from Jesus the man, the Son of God, to Messiah, the one who offers salvation to all people. Today we will join with the disciples rejoicing in the magnificent entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. We wave our palms and we give thanks that the messiah has arrived.
Little did the disciples know that the palms waved with joy were destined to become the ashes of repentance and grief. Even now, in some parishes, the palm crosses are recalled prior to Ash Wednesday and burned for the imposition of Ashes marking the very beginning of that great penitential season, Lent.
The service today can be very confusing. Our emotions are toyed with in the meanest of ways. Before the Eucharist begins we re-enact the joyous entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem. We carry our palms and we sing that wonderful and joyous hymn, “All glory laud and honour to thee redeemer king” and we are glad. We are glad for our Lord has come to Jerusalem. We rejoice with the disciples and the people, for Jesus, the Messiah has come, and with him comes freedom and hope. If only we could return home at that point. Our hearts filled with joy and excitement; Salvation on our lips and in our hearts. Sadly, this is not to be.
Together with the disciples we are plunged into the pain, grief and brutal death of this same redeemer king. In a very short time we are confronted with the account of the passion, the crucifixion, the shameful death.
The change of direction is violent and in many ways unexpected. To witness this service for the first time can be very confusing and confronting. The shift from joy to sorrow and shame, is immediate and crushing. Those of us who have been in the church for many years are somewhat prepared for that which is to come. Spare a thought for those who are experiencing this for the first time. Spare a thought for the disciples travelling with Jesus who found themselves plunged into desolation and loss overnight. They did not have the luxury of hindsight and scriptures to assist them in their understanding. As far as they were concerned it was all over. Jesus was dead and they ran and hid. They abandoned him to his fate.
As soon as the passion begins we know that we are entering Holy Week. And through Holy Week we are progressively confronted with the desire of God, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. From today to Good Friday we will be brought closer and closer to the cold, painful death of Jesus Christ; the man we know as Lord and saviour, the only Son of the Most High God.
The people who lived at the time of Jesus have coincidentally played a crucial role in the salvation of humanity. They could not have known that Jesus was aware of the death he was to die: Although he told them of it many times. They could have no idea that God would use their boorish and murderous behaviour for the good of all. For them the crucifixion of Jesus was an interesting interlude in an otherwise uneventful life: Slightly more entertaining than the thousands of others who were crucified and left to die by the roadside. This man had a story behind him. He was accused of being a blasphemer: The Son of God indeed. “Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days!” “Ha!”
The religious leaders succeeded in having Jesus condemned to death as a political antagonist. However the governor, Pontius Pilate, could find no evil in him. In other gospel accounts Pilate called for water to wash his hands; for to wash the hands is an age old custom for abdicating responsibility.
As soon as he called for water the people would know that Pilate was going to step away from any decision to do with the fate of Jesus. After all, in his mind he had done all he could do. He had offered a way out for the people; and no doubt for himself. He had offered to release Jesus. But the cry from the crowd was strong and insistent. “Crucify him!”
“What shall I do with Jesus called the Messiah?” All answered, “Crucify him!” We may wonder whether Pilate thought that he could dispense so easily with Jesus. Offer to release him, and then to wash his hands of the whole affair is as far as he is capable of going. In his mind there is nothing more to be done. And yet his action, or inaction, is crucial to the continuation of God’s plan for our salvation.
I suspect that Pilate discovered that it is not so easy to be done with Jesus. Once Jesus has touched a person’s life there can be no more ignoring him. There is no more the possibility of life being the same. Jesus touch is life changing, more than this, it is life transforming.
Pilate has been remembered in a negative way for as long as the world has known of the fate of Our Lord. He is remembered as the one who condemned Jesus by his inability to make a decision. Is it expedience or is it desperation that causes Pilate to ask what he is expected to do with a man he identifies as innocent of the charges laid before him? What indeed can he do with him?
It is pure irony that he wrote the title, “King of the Jews” over the head of Jesus. In other gospel accounts the Jews asked that he change it to “This man says he is the king of the Jews” Pilate refused to change the definite title he had bestowed. Perhaps Pilate recognised something in Jesus that the Jews did not.
In the end God’s Will shall prevail. Salvation will be offered through Christ, even from the cross. More to the point salvation will be offered because of the cross.
If Pilate did not know what to do with Jesus, then how much more important is that question for us. What are we to do with Jesus?
We know that Jesus is the Christ, we proclaim him as the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is the Messiah, the one who has saved us through his obedience and self sacrifice.
Unlike Pilate, we cannot wash our hands of Jesus. Nor do we want to, for we know that in him is our salvation. We also accept that individually and collectively we are called to be the Church. And the church as we know is the Body of Christ. We are his hands and his feet and his voice. He is the head of the church and we are its members.
We proclaim during this very service that we are the Body of Christ. When we say this are we stating a vibrant and terrifying truth? Or are we identifying ourselves with a decomposing body in the tomb. Do we understand that as the Body of Christ we have an exciting role to fulfil? And this role is to make Christ known by whatever means we have at our disposal. It is so sad that for many parishes evangelism has become a plea for the other people within a community to come to church so that we can pay the bills. “We need more people to come so that our income will increase!” Sad, but all too often, true. It would be far better to convince people of the promise of salvation in Christ, perhaps then we would see an increase in attendance.
Do our homes and places of work have something, anything, indicating what we believe? Do we teach our children and grandchildren about our Lord Jesus? Have we ensured the ongoing understanding of the faith? Do we talk to our friends about that which we believe and hold close to our heart? Or do we shy away and justify our stumbling with shallow excuses. “I was raised with the understanding that it is impolite to speak of religion, sex or politics” After all, we are Church of England.
Being the Body of Christ is more than being regular at worship and diligent in our own prayers: Although this is an excellent beginning. We are to speak of that which we believe. We are to talk about our faith in this Jesus called the Messiah.
“What will we do with Jesus called the Messiah?” We will reach out to the world with love and compassion, for this is the example he gave us. This is what he did for us. We can do no less than try to do the same for him.
During this Holy Week let us be determined to be ready to speak of our faith. Let us be prepared to speak out loud. Let us openly speak of our Lord Jesus Christ and the truth of the Easter Message. Contrary to common belief it is not a chocolate shopping spree. We proclaim Christ Crucified and in him is our salvation. For in this proclamation we just may convince another person to turn to Christ and to become convinced of their salvation in him. And what a great joy that would be.