Maundy Thursday - 1 Corinthians 11:26-35 & John 12:1-17 & 31-35
I only have one Maundy Thursday sermon and I give it every year. It is a deeply personal sermon, a testimony in many ways, for you see Maundy Thursday is the day, or the event, that above all makes me want to be Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ. And, it is also the day that reminds me of both the enormity and simplicity of our calling - yours and mine.
It is the words that we have heard in the epistle and that are repeated in the Eucharistic Prayer that get to me: ‘On the night before he died.’ Well, we all know what happened the ‘on the night before he died.’ We all know that Jesus had ‘supper with his friends,’ and we all know what fickle friends they proved to be: one was to betray him, one was to deny him, and the others – except perhaps St John – deserted him. Jesus knew how fickle they were to be.
He knew that only the Marys and John were to make it to the very foot of the cross, and yet ‘on the night before he died, he had supper with his friends.’ On the night before he died, Jesus’ concern was to give to his friends, the apostles, the sacrament of the church. He gave them, in the face of his own agony, the means to keep going and to endure. He gave them the means of remembering him, so that we can be like him.
On the ‘night before he died’, Jesus’ only concern was to feed his friends, so that they in turn would be able to feed others, through word and deed. He gave to them the gift of a simple meal; the meal that to this day continues to feed His church. ‘On the night before he died’, Jesus also washed his apostles’ feet. Knowing what a fickle lot they would prove to be, he bathed them, cleansed them and absolved them, in advance. Jesus’ actions ‘on the night before he died’ are the epitome of ‘love so amazing, so divine’, a love which ‘demands my soul, my life, my all.’
So, let’s, this Maundy Thursday, give thanks for the friendship of Jesus, for the simple meal – the sacrament of the church – which he bequeathed to us, and commit to loving as he would have us love, for it is only through loving Jesus and loving one another that the world will know, beyond all doubt, that we are ‘his disciples.’
It is the events of the ‘night before he died’ that above all else persuade me, not only in my head, but in my very guts, that Jesus Christ truly is the Messiah,
Palm Sunday: Matthew 21, 1-11
Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday must have been an interesting place. Unlike today when most of the citizens of our cities are at home, locked down, on that Palm Sunday most of the City of Jerusalem would have been out on the streets. The closest analogy I can think of is derby day in one of our big, football mad, cities.
For you see Jesus was not the only person processing into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, for the emperor’s representative, the Governor Pontius Pilate, was also making his own procession; except it wasn’t his own for he was acting as a mere proxy for the Emperor Tiberius. Whilst Pilate was acting as the puppet of a despot, Jesus was acting under the authority of The Father into whose hands five days later he was to ‘commend’ his ‘spirit.’
Pilate’s entrance would have been through the main city gate and he would have been welcomed with insincere, coerced, praise. Jesus by contrast enters Jerusalem through a narrow gate. Pilate enters the city feted high to give them impression of power and authority. Jesus enters on a donkey, riding low. The donkey is normally thought of as symbolising humility, but it was also the animal used when the message was to be one of peace.
Pilate would have had money thrown into his path; Jesus has palm leaves placed before him. Pilate’s destination is a multi-day imperial banquet; Jesus destination, via an upstairs room, is the cross.
In comparing what we know of the Imperial procession with Jesus’ triumphant entrance what we get to see is something of the nature of the Kingdom that Jesus seeking to bring through his passion, through the majesty of the cross and the power of the resurrection.
Jesus you see isn’t interested in power for its own sake. He is interested in power solely based on what it can do for others. Jesus is all about peace and justice. Jesus isn’t concerned with building a here today gone tomorrow empire but an everlasting kingdom; a kingdom where all who are prepared to follow him and live as he would have us live have a stake and a home. The challenge of Palm Sunday is simply this: to decide whose side we are on. Are we on Jesus’ side and can we sincerely follow in his steps, or are we on the other, seemingly more powerful, side; the Kingdom side or the Imperial side?
The invitation of Palm Sunday goes a little bit further than the challenge, for having decided we are on Jesus’ side we are then invited to reflect on the nature of our discipleship. You see the tragedy of Palm Sunday is that the vast majority of those singing ‘Hosana to the Son of David,’ were nowhere to be seen just a few days later when it looked as though Jesus had lost, or in football parlance been relegated. When we survey the scene from the cross just five days later, what we see is that Jesus' first set of supporters were a fickle lot.
How resolute, committed, and focused are we in our commitment to Jesus is a question we do well to think about.
Jesus entered Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday on a donkey, the animal that symbolised humility and peace. Pilate, Tiberius’ instrument and puppet, came in feted high. Two thousand years later Jesus is still be talked about and the story of his procession still celebrated. Tiberius, by contrast, is a mere historical fact. Pilate, well he is remembered, for being an instrumental puppet in a charade of imperial power.
This Palm Sunday let us recommit to being members of team Jesus and to keep on telling the Jesus story through word and deed for the benefit not of ourselves, but of others, Amen.
Passion Sunday – John 11:1-45
‘What a friend we have in Jesus.’
Today’s gospel reading is a very long reading, forty-five verses, and yet it contains the shortest verse in the bible, a verse that contains just two words: ‘Jesus wept.’
I want to keep my homily short today and focus on what I see as the bare essentials, or the long and short, of the reading. The long and the short of it is that in forty-five verses, what we get to see is the fullness of Christ as both fully human and fully divine. We see the very best of humanity held within the glory of Jesus’ divinity. What we get to see is the offer of the deepest and most enduring friendship. We see the Jesus who is deeply relational; the Jesus who has friends beyond his immediate circle of co-workers, or apostles. We see the Jesus who relates to Martha, Mary and, of course, Lazarus.
Now Lazarus is an interesting character, a character that we can only speculate about. Why, we might ask, did Lazarus live with his sisters; why wasn’t he the head of a household? Well, we don’t really know, but what we can say with certainty was that theirs was a highly unusual domestic set up. Perhaps Lazarus was what we might now term a vulnerable adult?
Whatever the reason for the unusual domestic set up in the household of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, the long and the short of it is that we are presented with the Jesus who cares, the Jesus who has compassion, ‘is all compassion,’ and the Jesus who clearly relates to others beyond the boundaries set by norms and protocols, and we see the Jesus who ‘wept.’ We see the Jesus who is characterised not just by compassion but also empathy. We see the Jesus who knows what it is to suffer loss; we see the fully human Jesus.
As we reflect on this passage, we are invited to pause and think about Jesus anew as not just Messiah, but as friend; ‘what a friend we have in Jesus!’ The friendship we are offered with the ever compassionate, empathetic Jesus, isn’t a here today, gone tomorrow friendship, but an eternal friendship, for as Jesus says to Martha ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’
After he has described himself as the Messiah – the eternal friend – Jesus asks Martha whether she ‘believes this,’ and she replies, ‘yes Lord, I believe that you’re are the Messiah.’ The ever compassionate, always empathetic Jesus is asking the same question of us today; do we believe that Jesus is the Messiah? And if we do, what are the implications of such belief?
For me, the long and the short of it is simply this: friendship. What you and I are invited into is an eternal friendship with Jesus. Not a friendship that is to start at some unspecified time in the future, but a real friendship, one that starts in the here and now, and as the hymn writer John Scriven stressed, ‘what a friend we have in Jesus.’ The long and the short of it, at least for me, is that in these difficult, challenging and isolating times, one of the things we could usefully do is to reflect on the eternal friendship we are offered by Jesus and to then spread something of that friendship, through word and deed, with others; ‘what a friend we have in Jesus.’
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