Palm Sunday 2017
Today we are struck by the stark contrast between the joyful blessing of palms with its procession and the bleak celebration of the Passion that follows. The spring blossom and blue skies of the abbey gardens are replaced by the sombre interior of the abbey church. This year we have heard the Passion according to St. Matthew: a profound meditation on the events of Holy Week, full of fascinating insights. The king of the Jews, a title we first hear on the lips of the Magi, is betrayed by the kiss of Judas, tried by both Jews and Romans and condemned to death by crucifixion.
There are many interesting details in Matthew's account of the Passion, which seems to echo with the words of the Old Testament. Judas does not want to be responsible for innocent blood, so he gives back the thirty pieces of silver and hangs himself. Nor do the chief priests, who use the money to buy the Potter's Field. Pilate's wife, who remains nameless, receives a revelation in a dream that Jesus is a just man, while her husband washes his hands because he is a scared man. The Jews adopt the legal formula "his blood be on us and on our children" to take responsibility for the death of one they consider to be a criminal. How could they have known that Jesus was innocent? We see judgement and punishment in the destruction of the Temple by the Romans.
Matthew emphasised the importance of the star of Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus being marked by a sign in the heavens. Now the death of Jesus is marked by signs on the earth and under the earth: not only is the veil of the sanctuary rent from top to bottom, but the earth is shaken, rocks split apart (as happened to the Skirrid on the road to Abergavenny), tombs opened and the bodies of holy men and women raised from the dead, entering the holy city after Jesus' resurrection. Human relationships with God are changed forever and the whole of creation transformed for "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself."
A few points, then, for us to think about this Holy Week. Have I, like Judas, betrayed Jesus while still calling him Lord and Teacher? Have I, like Pilate, washed my hands in feigned innocence, while remaining complacent, indifferent and guilty? Have I, like the chief priests, condemned the innocent to death, at least in thought and in word? Have I secured the sepulchre to stop the good news getting out, that Christ is truly risen from the dead? Will Holy Week change my life? Am I ready to rise to new life with Christ this Easter?