April 05, 2020
Palm Sunday. Lent has felt long and today we arrive at a tipping point. We move from Lent, maybe with this pandemic, the longest Lent of our lives, to the Passion week.
I’ll confess, it’s tempting to connect this day and our texts to our own experiences – and make it about us. But, the fulcrum of this day demands we focus on Jesus and our need to respond to being saved.
We started today with Palms symbolizing celebration – the wonder and joy of welcoming Jesus as King into our midst. Then our gospel reading has taken us, beautifully through the chant from Jesus’ betrayal to his death and the plan of burial in the tomb.
There’s so much. It’s kind of chaotic and full - and even the chant of the gospel for today serves to illustrate it. Even in that there is a bit of disconnect – the beauty of the sound and the intensity of the words. Into that you feed the abundance of content and minute descriptions in the narrative. It’s a lot.
So much disjointedness, and chaos, and content…and pain.
Where do we begin?
It tends to be helpful, when we can, to put ourselves in a context. Palm Sunday, as I said, serves as a tipping point into the Passion or Holy week. We refer to the Passion of Christ, the word passion from Latin is patior – meaning suffer. It is what Jesus endured for our redemption, our salvation (Saunders, William. https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/the-passion-of-jesus-christ.html)
Lent is the season that bids us to journey with Christ toward his suffering and death. Holy week – this week before Easter - puts a magnifying glass on Jesus’ last week – from entering Jerusalem, when everybody is so happy, to his death. The Passion of Christ.
Today is an overload of important stuff. And it takes us through really the content of the entire narrative of focus from Maundy Thursday, where we typically think of Jesus’ washing the disciple’s feet, to his crucifixion and death on Good Friday. Prior to that we see in Holy week snapshots that help us dial into the reality of Jesus’ coming suffering.
We begin to see scripture and church history converging in this practice of Holy week. Scripture shows us our reality, and church history bringing practices that help us take it in.
We hyper focus on Jesus’ suffering and death, because as humans we forget how much God loves us. We forget how much God suffered to save us. We need to look, but not only look but look with a state of our hearts that is able to take it in.
In our reading today, after the betrayal and before Peter’s denials Jesus is taken to the chief priests and council where they sought to obtain false testimony – their goal being to put Jesus to death. In exasperation with Jesus’ silence, the high priest stands and says to Jesus: “I adjure you by the living God, that you tell us whether you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
I imagine with Jesus’ silence here in John’s gospel that he perhaps shrugs as he says, “you have said it yourself.” We see Jesus turning the question back on the questioner.
Rowan Williams, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury in his book Christ on Trial: How the gospel unsettles our judgement, in his writing on this passage articulates the gravity of this exchange. Williams asserts: “Jesus question [to the high priest] is this: ‘Do you know yourself, your history? Do you really inhabit the words and the forms you use so fluently?”
‘Do you know yourself…. your history?
Do you really inhabit the words and the forms you use so fluently?”
The high priest is bringing to the table knowledge and practice…but the state of the heart is important to take in who Jesus is. More than knowledge is needed. More than religion is needed.
We see this almost in its inverse 10 chapters earlier in Matthew. In Matthew 16 we read, beginning with verse 13: “13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah,[c] the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.
Both the high priest and Peter are saying the same thing: Jesus is the Messiah. But only one of them gets it.
We can say words but not really know what they mean, not really “inhabit them,” in Williams’ words. And because the Christian life involves all of our lives, what we say about our faith forms us…or not, depending on the ability we have to take things in. Williams’ words challenge us.
Do we know what we say about who Jesus is? Do we inhabit the words with our very lives?
Could it be that the high priest knew about a savior coming but did not know he needed saving?
And there’s the importance of our hyper focus this week. We need more than just the right words or knowledge. We need to know that we need a Savior. It’s then that we’ll be filled with a knowledge of God’s love and power.
And we sure need that right now.
In this Holy Week may God show us where we are the high priest and may God give us the ‘aha’ of Peter.
Truly. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.