Palm Sunday.  28 March 2021.  Saint Luke’s, Augusta, GA

Saint Matthew 27 verse 42 – Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

In Saint Matthew’s Passion our Lord on the cross is mocked by people three times: first, by ‘they that passed by’ (39); secondly, by ‘the chief priests…with the scribes and elders’; and, finally, by ‘the thieves also, which were crucified with him’ (44).  And all of this mockery occurs beneath the silent mockery of the ‘accusation written’ and ‘set up over his head’, reading ‘THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS’.

Man proposes, but God disposes; and, the saying goes, God is not mocked.  The passers-by and chief priests and thieves may mock, but God replies with earthquake and eclipse and the rending of the temple veil.  Consider only one of these replies:  ‘Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land’ (45).  The crucifixion plunges the world back to the primordial chaos and darkness of Genesis 1, from whence God called forth the world at creation.  The crucifixion brings back for three hours the horrible darkness which was the penultimate plague of Egypt and lasted three days: ‘that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt,’ as God says to Moses (Exodus 10.21).  Darkness comes with the cross, and so is fulfilled the word of the Lord to the prophet Amos:

The end is come upon my people of Israel; I will not again pass by them any more….Shall not the land tremble for this…?  And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day….  (8.1, 8, 9)

Man mocks, but God will have the final word.

But also notice that even in their mockery, the priests of Israel are revealing the truth.  This fact is noted explicitly by Saint John when he tells us of the hatching of the plot against the Lord.  Caiaphas, the high priest, John tells us, inadvertently prophesies that ‘Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God’.  Caiaphas ‘this spake not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied’ (12.50ff.).  There is the power of ordination in spades: the high priest is a prophet, even as he plots to destroy God. 

If Saint John proclaims the high priest a prophet, let us consider again when the high priests say about the Lord upon the cross: ‘he saved others; himself he cannot save.’  There is another prophecy, another truthful saying from the lips of those who mean to mock.  The only flaw in its truthfulness is the modal verb, ‘cannot’.  It would be perfectly truthful if they had said, ‘he saved other; himself he will not save.’  As the great hymn of this season puts it, ‘Born for this, he met his passion, This the Saviour freely willed’ (Pange lingua).  Our Saviour freely and willingly accepts the cross.  With this single change, the mockery of the chief priests, scribes, and elders is turned into a proclamation of the meaning of the cross.

We may again alter the prophecy slightly to consider even more deeply the meaning of the cross.  ‘He saved others, because he does not save himself.’  And how often that is the case.  Self-sacrifice occurs all the time in our world, when a parent or a spouse or a friend or even a stranger gives his own life for the sake of another.  Some years ago a priest of our diocese gave up a kidney so that his son would not have to spend a life on dialysis.  That is not the ultimate self-sacrifice, but it is a pretty big one.  He helped his son precisely with willingness to suffer a loss himself.  This is the exchange, the self-giving of love, and it is the heart of the cross.  The inner meaning of the Passion and cross is conveyed in the mockery of the scribes and priests.  Strip away the scorn that was intended, and it shows us that salvation comes from God precisely because, as Saint Paul puts it, he

…made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.  (Philippians 2.7f.)

Or to put the same thing in another way, we may summarize today’s meaning in Saint John’s most familiar words:  ‘So God loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son.’ 

He gave himself, so we are loved.  He humbled himself, so we are exalted.  Himself he did not save, so we are saved.  Darkness came at noon, that the light might shine in the night.   He died, and so we live. 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

2 thoughts on “Palm Sunday sermon, 2021

  1. Thank you, Father, for that Palm Sunday sermon. I was not able to attend Mass. If I can find an open Church I hope to go on Easter, mask and all. God bless you Sir.

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