More Than Loud Hosannas
Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. Fr Richard Ounsworth invites us to join Christ on his journey outside the city.
It’s often said that St Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles are two volumes of a single work. Almost certainly they are written by the same author, and they obviously overlap. We might even go further and notice how the Gospel mostly consists of Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem – at least, that journey provides the backbone, as it were, of the Gospel, and then Acts portrays the outward journey, in a sort of symmetry.
As Jesus makes his journey to Jerusalem, he teaches. That teaching is the way in which Jesus brings us with him on his journey – on ‘The Way’, as Acts calls the very earliest Christians. As we listen to Christ and begin to embrace his ethics, his parables, his challenging words of wisdom, we begin our discipleship, our following of Christ.
Then Acts takes us on the outward journey – beginning in Jerusalem, and ending with St Paul preaching his gospel in Rome, symbolically perhaps the ends of the earth. This journey also calls us to follow Christ, to bring the message inspired by his Spirit to every corner of our world.
But in fact it’s not quite so simple. Today’s first gospel reading relates the story of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, and its second – still in St Luke’s Gospel – takes us on a much shorter journey, to the hill outside the city. To the Place of the Skull.
This last journey is much shorter, but so much harder. It is not accompanied by shouts of joy but cries of lamentation. The way out of Jerusalem today is not strewn with clothes people have torn off in their excitement, but only with the condemned man’s sweat and blood. There is no glamour here, just the news that it is all going to get much, much worse. This short journey on the Way of the Cross is a lot harder to stomach.
It is, perhaps, too hard to stomach for many people today. There are so many people who are happy to accompany Jesus on his journey into Jerusalem by embracing – or at least, thinking that they embrace – his teaching. But when the cheering and clapping has died down, do we stay with him? Or would we rather stay in Jerusalem, to enjoy the feast, than follow Jesus to that lonely hill to see him nailed to a tree? Is it not tempting to separate Jesus the Teacher off from Jesus the Martyr? How often have we heard that Jesus was obviously a wise and holy man, but all that religion, all that dogma, that we just can’t buy into…?
We, however, are those who have decided to stick with Jesus as it all gets a lot harder, a lot grimmer. We have stayed for the religion, stayed for the dogma, stayed for all the churchy stuff.
We have stayed because, if we read St Luke’s Gospel carefully, we see all sorts of places where what happens in the Passion, where what Jesus says as he goes to his horrific death, harks back to that long block of teaching that he uttered as he walked to Jerusalem. Or, to be more precise, we realise that as we listened to Christ teaching us on that journey, we were all the time walking in the long shadow of the Cross. It is only by going with Jesus all the way to the Cross that his teaching really makes any sense.
Because it is in his Passion and his Cross that Jesus lives out his own teaching, showing us what a true disciple’s life must be like. We stay with Jesus to this bitter end because he doesn’t say ‘Follow me’ but ‘Take up your Cross and follow me.’
And we are glad that we have stayed. Glad with a deeper, fuller joy than the shrill cheering of the crowd. Glad because staying with Jesus all the way to Calvary means sharing in the bread of life, drinking from the cup of salvation, and hearing Christ say to us, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’