Sermon: Palm Sunday, 29 March 2015, St Mary Magdalene, evening

Reading  Mark 12.1-12

Preacher  Canon Robert Titley

On Good Friday at 1pm we are staging The Passion Richmond, a passion play in the streets and on the riverside of our town. Jesus will move twice through the streets of our Jerusalem. The first time he will ride in: a homespun triumphal procession, the crowd acclaiming him with their hosannas and their palm branches (at St Mary’s, we acted that out this morning, beginning our procession very aptly at Amanda’s flower stall). The second time, he will stumble out, carrying the plank of wood that will be the instrument of his execution, and the crowd will scream, ‘Crucify him!’

In the story of Holy Week as told by Mark, Jesus’ entry and exit are separated by a few days, but in the play these two journeys happen within an hour of each other. As one of the cast who is in the crowd, I find myself switching from cheering to blood-baying with troubling speed, and I am led to ask what it is in me that makes me – or might make me – turn on this good man.

Part of Mark’s answer comes tonight. Jesus tells a story about a vineyard run by corrupt tenants who defraud their landlord, abuse his agents and then then kill his high representative, his own flesh and blood, his son.

Isaiah had spoken of the nation of Israel as a vineyard planted by God, so the elite know this is a story aimed at them as leaders of the nation. They can’t move against Jesus yet, though, because they fear what the crowd might do. So they bide their time and wait for an opportunity. When it comes, Mark says they stir up the crowd to shout for Jesus’ death. So what might stir me up, if not to call for the death of a good man, at least not to stick out my neck and protest?

What might make me find my place first in the cheering crowd and then in that other crowed, the lynch mob?

The first crowd is an easy call. Like you, on this Palm Sunday I have my little palm cross. It is the badge that shows that I want to be in that number, to applaud Jesus, to add my own modest hosannas to the hubbub. Yet on Good Friday, whether I like it or not, I will be among those who call for his death, or among those others who fail to stop the ringleaders. Why?

Well, that is what I do, for Jesus asks too much. He calls me to live by a trust that I cannot quite muster. He tells me that I will meet him best among those people who are on the edge of the circle or at the bottom of the pile, whether they live next door or on another continent. And he says other, equally unsettling things.

I do try, really I do, but eventually comes the point when it just costs too much, when the self – my self – can give no more without losing itself. And then I reject him. I don’t actively oppose him, I don’t cry out against him like the bold people in the story, but I just let it happen: I go along with those who say that, in the real world, where money is spent and elections fought, in that world there is no place for Jesus, because under no circumstances will the meek ever actually inherit the earth.

No resurrection without death, no forgiveness without facing the truth, no Easter without Good Friday. Your task and mine in the days of this Holy Week is to find ourselves in this story of Jesus’ last days, this story of disappointment and fear and betrayal.

You and I need to hear our voices in each of those crowds: both where we want to be, among the proclaimers, and where we always end up (angry or ashamed) among the decriers. And then, perhaps only then, might we find ourselves among that other, Easter crowd, who discover that our fearful world still cannot find a place for Jesus; not even a tomb.

About Canon Robert Titley

Robert became Team Rector in 2010. In November 2015 he takes up a new post as Canon Treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral.
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