Homily for Palm Sunday, Year A, 2008
Sunday, March 16th, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: St. Matthew’s Passion Narrative; Philippians 2:5-11
Silence and noise. These two opposites tug at us in our hearing of the Passion According to St. Matthew. On the one hand, there are those who mock our Lord; there are those who deride him; there are those who have much to say about the man hanging on the cross. They speak as if they understand all things, self-righteously pontificating with self-assurance. On the other hand, there are those who stand by quietly, not speaking, not commenting, not editorializing; rather, simply participating in the drama as it unfolds, exhibiting a different sort of righteousness – the faithfulness of discipleship. Noise and silence.
From the earliest moments of St. Matthew’s gospel, it has been the purpose of the Evangelist to teach us about what it means to be a true disciple; what it means to be righteous. But righteousness may not mean exactly what we think it does. No, for in the opening chapters of St. Matthew, we learn of Joseph, a righteous man, who would do the right thing and put away his wife Mary for her alleged infidelity. This would have been the righteous thing. Instead, God directs him on a different path, the path of gentleness, the path of compassion, a path in which he opened himself to ridicule by others – the path of self-offering and self-giving.
And so it is time and time again for St. Matthew. Righteousness is not what we think it is. Consider the temptations of Jesus, as well as the Sermon on the Mount, in each of these stories we learn that righteousness is not about following the right code, but the giving over of self in order that the heavenly kingdom might come on earth.
In the final moments of Jesus’ earthly life, we are witness to this ultimate self-offering. He is accused of being unrighteous, of being a blasphemer, but nothing can be further from the truth. To the accusations leveled against him, he makes no pretense to greatness. As palms and garments are thrown before him acclaiming him king, he comes riding not on a white stead but on a lowly donkey. To the question: “Are you the Messiah?”, comes the self-effacing reply, “You have said so.” As soldiers, thieves and passersby mock him, the noise becomes deafening: “If you are indeed God’s son save yourself; you saved others!” Amidst the noise truth is indeed spoken, albeit ironically, mockingly: He is the king, the Messiah, the Son of God. Ironically, they speak the truth, only they know not of what they speak.
In the shadows stands the one who could speak the truth, the one who acclaimed him as God’s Son. But Peter refuses to step into the light, choosing to remain in the shadows of the flickering fire, denying his Lord. From his lips comes the deafening noise of denial.
Noise and Silence.
Through his condemnation and through his lengthy execution, our Lord spoke but a few words. Amidst the deafening noise of the accusations and taunting, he chose not to acclaim the glory that was indeed his, but took up his cross in order that the righteousness of God might be fulfilled. He took up his cross so that in vulnerability we might find strength, in hopelessness we might see hope, so that in death we might know resurrection.
It is common for us to think of this as a lonely journey in which Jesus was abandoned. It seems all the lonelier due to the incessant noise made by those around the silent Messiah who is led like a lamb to the slaughter. And yet, if we examine the narrative more closely, if we delve into the silence, we recognize that our Lord is not alone. There are others that stand with him, silently, oh so silently, but they also stand with him, faithfully, oh so faithfully. A man name Simon, a Cyrenean, was compelled to carry our Lord’s cross. Does he, like Peter (another Simon) abdicate his responsibility? Does he announce that he does not know the man? Does he refuse? No. Without voice or word he takes up his Lord’s cross and follows him, providing not only respite for a doomed man, but a model of discipleship for all time.
And if we extend today’s narrative a paragraph further than we read this morning, we learn of “many women, looking on from a distance; who had followed him all the way from the Galilee, having provided for him.” Like the angels who came to minister to him after his desert temptation, so these faithful women, not least being Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the Zebedees, stood with him, silently during his final moments. Unlike the men who ran away, who could not watch and pray even for an hour, they stayed and prayed, silently, oh, so silently. Yet, their silence would not remain silence. For simply by being there they became the first faithful witnesses to the saving act of God. While others mocked and derided, in their silence these women watched and prayed. They would be the first to proclaim him risen from the dead; they would be the first to believe; they would be the first apostles of the Resurrection. In their compassion, ministering to him faithfully and consistently from the foundation of his mission, to this his final moments, they teach us what it means to be true disciples of Jesus. They did not run and in the fullness of time, their silence turns to proclamation.
And finally, if we read but another paragraph further, we hear of another selfless man, another Joseph (take note), who like the first Joseph, at great expense and risk to himself, in order to offer loving care to the women around Jesus took a brave and courageous step of compassion. He went quietly to Pilate and asked for the body, which he placed in his own tomb: A quiet, courageous man of some means and position in his society who quietly risked it all to do the right thing -- a model of discipleship.
Silence and Noise.
A generation later, St. Paul wrote, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” And in today’s epistle Paul sings an ancient hymn about our Lord who “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…even unto death on a cross.”
Jesus came not as one with an army or fiery sword. He came as a servant. It is the servant king who redeems us, who brings us to new life, who offers us hope in the midst of our sorrow. This is the righteousness of which St. Matthew speaks. It is not the righteousness of Law, or rule, or doctrine, or forms of worship. No. It is the righteousness of Love, compassion, gentleness, and self-offering. Everything else has the potential to become a clanging cymbal or a noisy gong. The most righteous men of the day put our Lord to death. The most righteous of the disciples denied him in the moment of truth. The most righteous did the wrong thing for the right reason. But there were others who in silent love, silent compassion, silent self-giving followed their lord through the trials of the cross to the glory of the resurrection.
As participants in the Passion of our Lord we find ourselves confronted with a choice. Shall we choose to cling to the noise of our own self-righteousness or shall we choose the silence of eternity interpreted by love? Should we choose the silence, we shall indeed find that we have a voice, a voice that proclaims louder than any clanging cymbal the still small voice of calm. We shall find the voice that in humility hopes all things, bears all things, believes all things, and endures all things. Like the women around Jesus we shall find our voice and it shall be the voice of our Lord that in thought, word and deed, proclaims a love so great, so divine that it demands our souls, our lives, our all.
Copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or resdistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.