Reading: Matthew 21.1-11
Last night, while making the soup for the Lent Lunch at the Vicarage today, I listened to the football phone-in on BBC Radio 5 Live. One topic of debate concerned the effect of the home crowd on their team: how sometimes their support can be (as the pundits put it) a ‘twelfth man’; how sometimes they can pass on their anxiety to the team, or even (as the pundits also say) how they can ‘get on the team’s back’.
Crowds are powerful and fragile, and they can have short memories. Today’s crowd sees Jesus entering the city of Jerusalem and cries, ‘Hosanna!’ Friday’s crowd will see him on trial and shout, ‘Crucify!’ Crowds are easily committed, easily swayed.
‘Committed’ is a preacher’s kind of word, and rightly, because what you or I make of God is the question which matters most in life and death, and you can’t be non-committal about it for ever. It may seem that Holy Week is a kind of commitment test: it’s as if our noticeboards and website are saying, ‘Look – services every evening, an all-night vigil on Thursday, three hours of worship on Good Friday…how committed are you going to be?’ Be part of as much of it as you can, but let us all remember, the aim of all this is not to demonstrate how committed you are. The aim is to follow as closely as you can the last days and hours before Jesus dies, so that you can know just how committed God is to you.
On Good Friday, the crowd who cried ‘Hosanna!’ shout ‘Crucify!’. That is what you do, and I do, that is what the world we belong to does, and does to God. Some sin boldly against the light, some get committed to the wrong things, and many others know what’s right but lack the conviction to hold to it. And whenever any of these things happens, people get hurt and God suffers.
Very well, then. We cannot be perfectly committed to God, any of us. But God is perfectly committed to us, in the wrong that we do and in the wrong that we suffer. Jesus shows us that, as one day follows the next in this Holy Week, and Good Friday comes. We talk about ‘nailing your colours to the mast’ as a sign of commitment, but God’s very life will be nailed to ours as Jesus’ hands are nailed to the wood of the cross. And that wood, like the sinking timbers of some doomed ship, will drag Jesus down into the deep waters of death.
But wrecks can be raised. If we can walk with Jesus in these coming days, if we can in heart and mind follow him down into those waters on Good Friday, then let us see what God will raise up in us when Easter comes.
These thoughts owe much to the late Austin Farrer’s sermon, ‘Committed Christians’. See Austin Farrer: the Essential Sermons, edited by Leslie Houlden, SPCK, 1991.