Sermon Preached by the Rev. Benjamin Shambaugh
April 9, 2017 Palm Sunday A: Matthew 26:14- 27:66
The theme for our Lenten Series has been “Putting our Faith in Action.” This morning we have the unique opportunity of doing that by participating in the Palm Sunday Procession and taking our part in the Passion Play. On this most transitional and tragic of days, our cries of “Hosanna” turn quickly to shouts of “Crucify Him,” and Jesus’ story becomes our own.
I have to admit that I am familiar with reading the Passion in church and that joining the crowd in saying “Crucify Him” doesn’t usually have the impact it once did. This year’s version from Matthew, however, shocked me out of complacency with a line that I had not remembered saying before, “His blood be on us and on our children.” These are difficult words, evidence of the conflict in the early church between Jews remained Jewish and the Jews who became Christian. They are sometimes used to suggest that Matthew was anti-Semitic. As a result, churches either tend to avoid using this reading or otherwise to try to “clean up the text.” Though well intended, these actions miss the point made so well in the way we read the passion as a play, that “the crowd” – the people saying these things – are us.
Saying “His blood be on us and on our children” is harsh. One look at the images of those children in Syria, however, is enough to tell us that humans haven’t evolved as much as we might think. If you consider that the response to data which shows that one in every four children in Maine is food insecure has been to cut the funds that would feed them or if you had a chance to see the photos and read the stories in the paper of those who have died from the opioid crisis, you see that lack of compassion isn’t just a Middle Eastern problem. Why would people do these things to their children? Why would we let them happen to our own sons and daughters? Why would we let them happen to the Son of God? 2000 years ago, the tipping point came when the crowds realized that Jesus was not going to give them an easy way out of their problems. Instead, Jesus showed them what they did not want to see: the dark side within them, the areas in their own life that needed to change in order for health and new life to come. In doing this, Jesus confronted them with the reality that the Romans and the temple authorities were not the only ones who guilty of sin. The truth that Jesus brought, the mirror that his life produced, was too much for the crowd to bear. The crowd wanted to blame others. Jesus made them look at themselves. As a result, they were angry, their hosannas quickly turned to calls for crucifixion, and Jesus ended up dead on the cross.
The quick reversal of Palm Sunday is a reminder that dark side of our hearts is nearer that we might think, that we are all in need of forgiveness, and that on our own – even with the best of intentions – it is all to easy to crucify even those who love us the most. This week a friend of mine said, “Jesus didn’t die for our sins. He died because of them.” Palm Sunday shows us just how much this is true. The Good News is that the story doesn’t end there. The amazing thing is that in the Passion, that instrument of death was turned into an instrument of life and that in the darkness light was able to shine. That, however, is a story not for this Sunday but for next. Today’s service, like the Passion, leaves us putting Jesus – and ourselves — on the cross.