4th/5th April 2020

posted 3 Apr 2020, 04:50 by Parish Office

Homily for Palm Sunday, Year A (5/4/20)


My mother made the observation many years ago that when we celebrate Palm Sunday, the entry of Christ into Jerusalem is over rather quickly, and then we focus at the usual time of the Gospel on the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  The Eucharist and the Passion and Death of the Lord seem to overshadow all that happened on Palm Sunday.


In perhaps a similar way, we might find the coronavirus situation overshadowing Holy Week.  But what we can do, is we can use this time to reverse the effect.  We can use Holy Week to overshadow the coronavirus.    Let’s inject some hope into the situation.


This year, our Gospel reading is from St Matthew.  The two thieves either side of the Cross are given only very brief mention.  St Luke’s Gospel contrasts the two of them:  the one cursed the offer of salvation and mocked Jesus, whilst the other recognised his sin and turned to the Lord for forgiveness, and was given those wonderful words:  “Today you will be with me in paradise”.  In today’s Gospel, instead of the contrast between the two thieves, this year we have the two characters of Judas and Peter.


Like many, more advanced criminals, Judas is something of a complex character; people have speculated both about his motivations, and where he went next:  was he damned for all eternity, or did he manage to scrape through into purgatory?  Judas was not like the communist secret agent Kim Philby, giving the appearance of working for the British government.  Philby was happy to betray so many allied secret to the Soviets and watched as so many allied plans failed.  Judas, meanwhile, after Jesus was arrested, didn’t then go and dine and celebrate with the chief priests and elders.  Instead he gave back the money and said, “I have sinned.  I have betrayed innocent blood.” (Matt 27:3)  He didn’t just put the money back gently.  Instead it says that he flung down the silver coins.  He was filled with remorse.


Contrast this with Peter.  Peter was the impetuous one.  At the Last Supper, when Christ said that all would lose faith in Him, Peter said, “Though all lose faith in you, I will never lose faith. … Even if I have  to die with you, I will never disown you.”  His impetuosity had gotten him into trouble before.  When Christ told them about His forthcoming Passion, Peter’s response had been that this must not happen.  Peter got a rebuke back then.  Similarly, later on, in the garden of Gethsemane.  It was no good these people trying to arrest Jesus, he thought, so he gets out his sword and decides to take control.  But he gets told to put back his sword, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matt 26:53).  Then, at the trial of Jesus, comes the crunch.  He sees Christ condemned, and then everyone having a go at beating Him and spitting on Him.  It’s too much.  Peter is afraid and tries to save his own skin, and denies Christ three times.  Then the cock crows, and it dawns on him what he has done… He is supposed to be the leader of the Church, the one Christ has put in charge, and what has he done?  Rather than show leadership, courage, an example for others to follow, he has betrayed Him.  He has completely trashed the whole thing!  At the time when Christ needed him most, he has abandoned and rejected Him.  In one sense, it’s as if he has excommunicated himself.  I don’t want anything anymore to do with Christ or any of His followers.


Judas and Peter both recognise the wrongness and the gravity of what they have done.  But their response is different.  Judas goes out and hangs himself.  It’s all over.  There’s no going back.  I’m useless.  I can’t do anything good now.  I am rubbish.  If we ever hear those kinds of thoughts in our minds, that is the very moment to repeat the words of Christ:  “Get behind me, Satan!”


Peter’s response is different.  He “wept bitterly” (Matt 26:75) at what he had done.  But it didn’t push him over the edge.  Perhaps he still had at the back of his mind the words of Jesus at the Last Supper:  “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail, and once you have recovered, you in your turn must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).  They had all been told by Christ that they would lose faith in Him.  But that would not be the end.  After his resurrection, He would see them again in Galilee.  Even though they didn’t understand at the time of turmoil, how it would all work out, there was a plan, and God was still in control.  It was predicted that they would betray Him, but God had a plan.  Somehow, things would continue.


Lets look at one more “character”:  Jesus Himself.  He knew no sin, but He had the sins of the whole world loaded on Him.  When He was on the cross, did He despair?  As He died, He said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  On one level, having all the sins of the world, including all mortal sins, perhaps He experienced that sense of being separated from God, which is what mortal sin is all about.  But it wasn’t a cry of despair.  It was a quote from the first line of Psalm 21 (or Psalm 22 if you use the alternative numbering system).  This was a moment of revelation.  If you read through Psalm 21, you can see that it predicts the Passion of Christ.  All that has happened, was supposed to happen.  It was predicted hundreds of years ago.  It is part of God’s plan.  God is in control.


The crucifixion of Christ is a message of hope, not of despair.  Even if our sin is of the magnitude of St Peter, there is hope for us.  Even if it were to be of the magnitude of Judas, there would still be hope for us.  But when we realise our sin, do we react with despair, like Judas, or to we turn to the Lord, like St Peter?  Are we like the bad thief, or do we follow the example of the good thief?


“You will all lose faith in me … But after my resurrection I shall go before you to Galilee” (Matt 26:32).