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Washing your hands or washing their feet

(This sermon was preached on Palm Sunday at 8am BCP (Matt 27.1-55)

Can I suggest that the take home point for today’s sermon is to literally take home this BCP book. Here are the readings for today (page ??) and you’re then given a set of readings for each day this week. Bring the BCP back for 8am Easter Morning.

Perhaps you were expecting Palm Sunday readings with Donkeys and Hosanna Heysanna?

But the BCP clearly wants to make sure that you don’t skip from Palm Sunday to Easter day without going through the Cross.

Here we have different people and their reactions. I would like you to pause and stand in their shoes for a moment. Is this how you would have reacted?

The Chief Priests – are busy planning how to kill Jesus – it’s a really astonishing thing – their normal agenda is Do we have enough incense and candles for our temple worship and now they’re discussing murder?

Also on their agenda is What to do with this blood money? An odd sort of honour that refuses to take back the money and sees it as tarnished but not that they are tarnished as a result.

Judas – who repents, we have remorse, we have confession ‘I have sinned’ and yet still to us he is a pariah.

Rev Chris Hadfield preached a fortnight ago at the first of the Wednesday Communion and spoke of how Confession is all that is needed.  I suggest that along with the penitent thief you may see them both in heaven. I wonder how we will feel about that.

Pilate – I don’t think he’s especially worried about being a People pleaser. But he is clearly listening to what his wife is saying – maybe there’s a good enough sermon for us there!

 Here we have the original Hand Washing moment. We’ve been doing a lot of that this year, but with different motivation – Pilate does it as a symbolic act of absolving himself of what happens next.

Judas hung himself because he could not absolve himself. He couldn’t live with what he’d done, he couldn’t find peace. Pilate thinks he will find peace in handwashing.

How do we deal with our sins, are we quick to forgive ourselves, do we weigh the cost of our own sins?

The Soldiers mock – it’s a group moment – where because one person makes a mocking comment everyone thinks it’s okay to join in and add to the mocking.

It’s a powerful belittling way to shut people up. Its bullying in the simplest of forms. It keeps the minority down. Over the years this approach has silenced the voice of many, of women, of minorities.

And we who are confident and in control, its easy for us to say Ha! It was just a joke, don’t take it so seriously!

Like the Crowd mindlessly calling out Crucify him! And Release Barabbas! It’s a nonsense. But it is group think.

How do we speak up and challenge? How do we confront ordinary prejudices of sexism and racism, ageism?

Simon of Cyrene – for goodness sake – who on earth is he and why do we get such a small and passing reference to him! Jesus had taught people to go the extra mile – Well, here is the first mile being enforced – a Roman Soldier has stopped him and Simon is obliged to obey.

Does Simon know anything about Jesus? Has he been following Jesus and his teaching? Or more likely he knows nothing and this bloodied and beaten wretch deserves everything he’s getting – we’ve no idea – which gives us ample scope to wonder how we would cope.

The two rebels – its Luke’s gospel where you get the penitent thief- neither are here – perhaps there was a bunch of them getting crucified at the same time. How do they even have energy to crack jokes and mock others in this moment?

 They are bleeding out their own painful deaths and they cant save themselves and yet they mock the one who could save them.

They like the other mockers have a clear sense of who is a winner and who is a loser. And Jesus is a loser.

What sort of saviour is this? This isn’t what we want.

The curtain is torn in two – this is the first moment when Matthew the Writer suddenly shifts us as readers – no one knew this until much later.

There’s a small earth tremor, maybe that was what rocked the temple, maybe that resulted in the huge thick curtain falling down. It’s a wonderful moment that begins to help the reader understand just what sort of Saviour this is.

This is the saviour who reconnects us to God, who opens up access to God, who clears the temple courtyard of clutter so that All Nations, all ages, can be welcomed, can come and worship,

and then Jesus sacrifices himself so that all people – not just high priests – can come close to God,

can worship God fully.

And we have this teasing line about the bodies of many holy people were raised to life! What on earth is this all about – but again note the spoiler alert – Matthew expects you to know, by the time you’re reading this, he expects you to know how this is going to end – with – Spoiler alert – the Resurrection of Jesus.

But we’re not told what sort of raising to life these holy people had – is it like Lazarus – do they come back and continue living a full life before dying again – like Lazarus – and how long have they been in their tomb? Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days and he was already smelly and needed help in unwrapping himself.

Whatever it means, Matthew wants us to understand how Jesus has reconnected us to God,

how death has been broken, lost its sting, –

how all that lovely teaching that Jesus gave us – that’s not even half of what Jesus was about – the death of Jesus, the blood of Jesus – that brings us our salvation.

And it leads to the centurion saying – Surely this was the Son of God.

Oh to say it with the American drawl of John Wayne from Franco Zeffirelli’s masterful film Jesus of Nazareth.

Judas confesses. The Centurion confesses. I think that they will have had good endings. I think Pilate’s wife has the beginnings of faith. I wonder how they will nurture their faith.

I have less hope that the Plotters and the Mockers will change but perhaps some of them did later.

But what of Pilate himself – with his clean hands? And What of Simon of Cyrene and his short moment with Jesus?  Will they have faith?

And how will they nurture it?

And yourself as you walk around this Bible Reading – see if you might grab a short moment with Jesus – and what will be your response?  Amen.

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