This sermon was for a BCP service on Palm Sunday, so the Gospel reading was Matthew 27:1-54, which is his account of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.
Reading the Gospel passage we have just heard made me think when I first heard it about the nature of time, and how we perceive it. Just last Friday, I was being interviewed by HR and being asked when certain events had occurred, and I realised that there were some events where I couldn’t remember if they had happened in August 2021 or August 2020. I suspect I am not the only person in that situation, where lockdown has compressed the whole feeling of time over the last couple of years?
But why did this passage provoke thoughts of time, even before that uncomfortable interview?
I think it is partially because this passage feels like it is being read at the wrong time. This is Palm Sunday – Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem as the messiah, waved and cheered on by throngs of people confident that the day of the Lord had arrived.
Yet our reading, by the vagaries of the BCP lectionary, is a whistle-stop account of the passion and crucifixion. It’s too early to be reading this – this should be next Friday…
Sometimes the lectionary does this because we are trying to compress the whole of history into a single calendar year each year. The Annunciation, biologically correctly nine months before Christmas, always seems uncomfortably close to Easter.
But in the case of Easter, there is no compression of time. We do go from triumph to despair and back again in the space of one week. Creation and salvation are both encompassed in seven days…
How can events move so quickly, we might think, and yet we live in an era where this is exactly what is happening. Events develop with such speed, that time seems to move faster and faster. The pace of modern life is relentless, always moving on, chewing up the next event and the next.
It makes it a sobering thought then that the war in Ukraine is in its sixth week already, and also both terrible and gratifying that it is still making headlines. Terrible because the headlines are driven by death and destruction on a scale that we are not used to in Europe in the 21st century, gratifying that such atrocities still have the capacity to shock us, even if it is only because they are so close to home. Because there are other wars going on, right now, but further away, which have faded from our consciousness; where the compassion fatigue has set in. It is a depressing reality that ‘the west’ is complicit in so many of them, but if the message of Easter is anything, it is a message that we are always all complicit in all the affairs of the world.
The Easter story is terrifyingly relevant even in a secular way today – it encompasses so much of the political behaviours that we still see in the world.
We see the fickleness of the people – one day saluting Jesus as a hero and king, and four days latter calling for his death. Led not by their own reason, but by rumour and propaganda.
We see the temple leaders stirring up this mob with rhetoric and lies, twisting events to their own profit and ends.
We see Pilate, the absolute governor, struggling to control events that he does not understand. Taking the easy route out even when he knows it to be wrong. Expediency trumping truth.
Today we see Patriarch Kiril, blessing a war against other Christians as a holy war – similarly twisting events to bloster his own power rather than listening to the gospel message.
We see President Putin similarly struggling to control the whirlwind that he has unleashed, and that he does not understand, or want to understand.
Easter is a time of despair, and of hope. Death and resurrection. Destruction and renewal.
Let us pray this Easter, all the more, for peace in our world. The peace that we cannot cannot bring, but that only God can provide.