- Thursday, March 29, 2018
- By The Reverend Dr. Marilyn Hames
Passion Sunday—25th March, 2018
Sometimes it is the only response we can muster to events that touch us deeply, and in such circumstances is a gift that kerbs all the silly or inconsequential stuff competing for our attention to let us focus on what really matters. Silence gives us the space to try to make meaning out of all the suffering we see, experience, or maybe caused by turning our back on someone as if we’d never known them, by bad choices we’ve made, mindlessly following the crowd—or the times we have felt alone, in some sense abandoned, or betrayed. Who can listen to Our Lord’s Passion, leave alone take part as we’ve just done without words leaping out of the page triggering memories that remain painful even when they’re long past and seemed to be put to rest—perhaps the death of someone we loved, or a time when we’ve had to stand by and watch helpless as the life drains out of them –times when we’ve wanted to scream God, why have you forsaken me? or pray without words when words fail us, until finally in the silence we find peace—a profound peace that surpasses understanding—the peace of Christ.
The joyful shouts of the crowd that soon turned to jeering were silent now. So was Jesus who’d spent his last days teaching in the temple and telling his disciples what to expect until the time for talk was over—it was time to pray. Praying Father,… remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want, the answer he got was strength—the strength to face what was coming, to carry on, to complete what he needed to do, and not listen to those other voices that yelled Run!
Judas didn’t need to say a word, greeting Jesus with a kiss and faking friendship as he betrayed him and gave the signal for his arrest. Sometimes silence is seen as our assent to what is going on or about to happen—times when we betray our fellow human beings by remaining silent to injustices, failing to say Stop! to injustices affecting vulnerable people, or victims of oppression and violence, Silence! to the tittle-tattle that can demean and damage someone’s reputation, or poking fun of folk, robbing them of their dignity by mocking and dehumanizing them—making it easier to dismiss and ignore them. After all, if they are just objects of fun and ridicule who’s going to take them seriously, or accept their word against ours should things get nasty? On the Mount of Olives, things certainly started to turn nasty when above the clamour and shouting a man cried with pain, clutching the side of his head—collateral damage, another victim of the random of violence when mob rule takes over. Calming the crowd armed with swords and clubs, Jesus ‘went quietly’ while his disciples deserted him, slipping away silently into the night.
Peer pressure, like herd instinct, is capable of carrying folk along in its wake, loosening emotions that make us want to lash out rather than come up with a helpful response. Sufficiently riled, perhaps we too could become impetuous or overly zealous so hurt others without thinking. Or are we are the opposite—so laid-back we cause others pain by seeming not to care? Either way, there’s hope, because thanks to the cross, we can afford to be honest with ourselves, make mistakes and make changes. Through God’s forgiveness we are offered a fresh start as many times as it takes until we figure it out and find the right path.
Accused of all kinds of things, Jesus remained silent, but when the high priest asked him if he was the Son of the Blessed One, he said I am. However it took a Roman centurian watching him die to recognise truly [he] was the Son of God. What do you say? This week, we’ll be walking thro’ these events again in slow motion, reliving the Passion, including the bits we missed today that let us form a better picture of Jesus, and process our own parts in the story. You see, his journey to the cross is also our journey through all those things that cause us pain and confusion—not only the loss of our loved ones or good health, but loss of self-control or respect, our integrity, jobs, independence and 101 other things, can reduce us to a robot-like state of sleep-walking through life.
When his friends slept instead of staying awake to support him, Jesus said Pray that you may not come into the time of trial, but what when life itself is a trial? Like him, we may find the answer to our prayer is the strength to face whatever it is and carry on, but I have found a big part of that strength comes from knowing we’re not alone, that Christ understands because he’s been there, and that’s what we’ll discover this week. It’s as if Holy Week condenses not just the Gospel, but the breadth of life’s experiences, joys and sorrows into a memorable drama that rehearses us for facing all the ups and downs, by discovering there is new life and joy beyond the worst this life can throw at us—even death itself.
Yes, we can fast forward from Christ’s death on the cross and the profound silence of the tomb that helps us digest it, then come back next Sunday to celebrate the resurrection ringing bells and belting out the Easter Alleluias. But we lose a lot if we skip this opportunity to step into the story and let go of worries that pile up—perhaps by letting someone wash our feet, symbolically preparing us for being washed completely clean of our sins, as Peter eventually found out. If we can enter fully into the events leading up to Our Lord’s death thro the services that mark each step of the way, we find we are no different from the disciples—we are just human, and somewhere along the line our own stories merge into the great story of salvation as we are drawn closer and closer to Christ, until we can face the cross. For years I looked on from a distance, clutching my baggage, unable to let it go until I finally got close enough to hear him say Father, forgive them—they don’t know what they are doing. What a relief—to drop all pretence and burdens, and to enjoy the peace when those nagging voices of regret and shame are silenced. It makes you want to shout for joy!