28 March 2010

Homily for Palmarum (2010)

I think it must have been in second grade. I remember it like it was yesterday. A classmate of mine wanted me to do something and I refused. His solution was to go to the teacher and tell her that I had called his brother a “retard.” Understand, Theron’s brother was developmentally disabled, but I’d never said that and at that point didn’t even know Theron HAD a brother. I protested my innocence to no avail. The teacher still insisted I had to write a report on mental retardation. I appealed to my parents, and shockingly to me, they said: “Do what the teacher said; even if you didn’t do it. It won’t hurt you and you need to obey your teacher.” I remember being about as angry at my mom and dad as I was at my teacher and most of all at Theron. How DARE he get away with it? And after I turned from turning in my little piece on mental retardation and he gave me that smirk I was ready to punch him one. “Not fair!” my little second grade mind screamed out. “It’s not fair at all.”

We are all, I think, born with a rather keen sense of what’s “fair” and we get rather upset when we think we’re not getting a fair shake and often we are quite vocal about it, and when we're not vocal, we still stew and simmer.

But then there is the Man in today’s Gospel reading. He stands there silently as the accusations shower around Him. He doesn’t look the least bit angry or upset. If anything He looks sad. He stands there and takes it. The abuse heaped on Him.

The Governor is astonished. “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But all he got in response was silence.

Pilate, the Governor, is not a bad sort. A weak man, it’s true, but not malicious. And he has been deeply troubled by the manner of this Man before him. He knew the crowd smelled blood and he could see no reason for it. He offered an exchange. He’d let go Barabbas (whose name, by the way means, Son of a Father) or Jesus (who, of course, is THE Son of the Father). Take your pick - either one, he tells them.

He purposefully had picked a notoriously wicked man, thinking that they’d certainly relent and NOT want a known criminal walking their streets again. But no. They insist: Give us Barabbas.

Even more astonished the Governor asks: “But what about this Jesus? What about his man called Christ?” Their answer is vehement: “Let him be crucified!” Pilate is aghast: “Why, what evil has He done?” The answer, of course, is none. But they cry out the louder: “KILL HIM!”

Pilate, as I said, was a weak man. He bowed to their pressure. The pitiful water could not wash the blood from his hands. He ordered the execution of a man he knew and confessed to be innocent just to please an unruly crowd. In vain he protested: “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” The crowd shouted back: “His blood be on us and on our children.”

Still He stood there silent. Silent as the governor’s soldiers took him to the headquarters and scourged Him. Silent as they dressed Him up in scarlet, and mocked Him with false honor. Silent as they spit in His face, as they struck His head, as they led Him away to be crucified.

The silence of our Lord is the great feature of Saint Matthew’s telling of the Passion. He is silent as He is crucified and His garments divided. Silent as the passer-bys jeer at Him: “You, who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Silent as the chief priests and scribes mock Him: “Others He saved; Himself He cannot save.” Silent as the robbers nailed beside Him mock Him.

Silent until the sorrow burst out of His heart and then He doesn’t offer the protest: “It’s not fair! I haven’t done anything to deserve this! I’m not guilty!” Instead the sorrow of His fathomless loneliness as He had been left alone with the sum total of human sin: “Eli, eli, lama sabachthani?” The only cry from the Cross that Matthew records. Words of Psalm 22, being fulfilled as He prayed them from His sacred lips. And then with a loud voice He shouts and yields up His spirit.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Why? So that the curtain that divides the most holy place from the holy place can be torn open - so that sinful men like you and me could have access again to the Most Holy God. Why? So that the earth would groan at death’s destruction and the dead themselves be raised and set free - appearing after His resurrection - the promise and foretaste of OUR resurrection. Why? So that the unbelieving can be brought to faith and confess: “Truly this was, rather, this IS the Son of God!”

So, you can be like William Weedon as a fuming second grader, and knuckle under with resentment and smoldering anger and a grave sense of injustice - and you four must know that there are grave injustices you will experience in this world, things that are not your fault or your responsibility in any way, and yet you will suffer them. Or you can receive the life that the Silent One, that Jesus gives you - a life where there is no need to defend self, for You have a heavenly Father's who got your back. Where suffering may be injust and evil and downright awful, but yet a merciful and loving heavenly Father can overrule it and make it to serve His purposes and use it astonishingly to bring unexpected, unguessed blessings from His hand.

You four, today I strongly suggest that you follow the way of the Nazarene, the way of your Jesus, and learn through His silence His trust in the Father, so that you can rejoice to stand with the Centurion beneath His cross and join in confessing “Truly, You are the Son of God” - as you will shortly do before this His altar. As you do, you’ll discover that His mercy is infinitely more than “fairness” and that He has gifts for you that far, far exceed anything you could ever imagine or desire or certainly deserve. Amen.

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