Sunday’s sermon: Passion

To listen to audio, push play (triangle).

Call to worship

Holy Week starts on Palm Sunday with Jesus weeping over the people of Jerusalem before entering it – not as a warrior on a war charger – but as a person of peace on a donkey that had never been ridden before. 

The crowd goes wild – for the Healer, the Teacher, the Miracle-maker, the bread-and-fish-breaker, the Calmer of Storms has come. How we might long to slip into their midst and wave our palm branches in greeting – our “Hosanna” song rising to heaven on the lips of the throng:

Give thanks to the Lord, 
for He is good!
His love endures forever!

Psalm 118:1 New International Version

But Palm Sunday has another name with words so much harder to hear that we would rather wash our hands of them. Instead, I invite you to open them wide where you are sitting and to hold within them the passion and the pain of the Psalmist’s prayer:

Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress;
    my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
    my soul and body with grief.
My life is consumed by anguish
    and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,
    and my bones grow weak.
Because of all my enemies,
    I am the utter contempt of my neighbors
and an object of dread to my closest friends—
    those who see me on the street flee from me.
I am forgotten as though I were dead;
    I have become like broken pottery.
For I hear many whispering,
    “Terror on every side!”
They conspire against me
    and plot to take my life.

But I trust in you, Lord;
    I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hands;
    deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
    from those who pursue me.
Let your face shine on your servant;
    save me in your unfailing love.

Psalm 39:1-16 New International Version


If you are listening to this an audio reflection, I invite you to pause it for a moment to light a candle and join in the hymn below by singing along or speaking the words out loud:

Born in the night,
Mary’s child,
a long way from your home;
coming in need,
Mary’s child,
born in a borrowed room.

Clean shining light,
Mary’s child,
your face lights up our way;
light of the world, 
Mary’s child,
dawn on our darkened day.

Truth of our life,
Mary’s child,
you tell us God is good;
prove it is true,
Mary’s child,
go to your cross of wood.

Hope of the world,
Mary’s child,
you’re coming soon to reign;
King of the earth,
Mary’s child,
walk in our streets again.

Together in Song 323


Blessed be you, Divine Peacemaker,
seeker of justice, 
the One who weeps with and for us 
as we fail to see how dazzled we are by the trappings of status
and how distant we have become from your passion for the world.
Give us eyes to see what is scandalous, 
voices to speak up for those without worth, 
courage to confront both power and pride,
and enough care to place in Your hands 
the burden of the wrongness of this world
which we name before You now.

In Jesus’ name.

Reflecting on Scripture

Today we reflect on a portion of the Gospel reading for Passion Sunday in which Jesus appears before Pilate who washes his hands of him.

Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer.Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.

Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.

While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”

But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.

“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.

“Barabbas,” they answered.

“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.

They all answered, “Crucify him!”

“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”

Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

Matthew 27:11-26

It is something that I learned to love in South Africa: the provision of a beautiful bowl of warm water, often strewn with pretty petals or a few drops of scented oil, for a guest to wash their hands in before a meal. More than a practical act of cleanliness, it was a measure of hospitality as well. 

How different our preoccupation is with hand washing now as we sing or pray our way through a twenty-second scrubbing as we seek to be safe and keep others safe in a world where others might bear the cost of our unsantized touch.

Perhaps it is this regular, relentless act that first drew me to this reading. 

Perhaps it is the injustice of it all that pulls me in – for surely the world is not so unfair, the crowd so bloodthirsty, our leaders so quick to do the wrong thing if it means retaining their power and popularity. 

Perhaps it is my frustration that the Living Word offers no words really in his defence and that all the articulate theological arguments around why the salvation of the world must come about through such a brutal story still make little sense to my heart. 

Perhaps it is because I know how many times, at the end of a long day, I have run myself a hot bath and allowed to slip away words that I have spoken to influence or injure, the names of people I did not get around to calling because I’ve put so many other priorities on my plate, deep questions about love and life and faith that I am not yet ready to consider, good intentions that have amounted to nothing beyond a brief thought, the truth of how great a divide there is between who I am and who Christ calls me to be. I wish that I could say that I at least wallow in these things for a while, but with the warmth of the water they are fast forgotten – particularly when paired with a good book.

I wonder if it was that way for Pilate – or if the guilt and shame ate away at him over time. Scripture is clear in telling us that he knows the motives of the crowd are false, that he is warned by his wife of Jesus’s innocence, that he gives up the truth when he sees that he is getting nowhere. 

His act of washing his hands and declaring that he is innocent of Jesus’s blood is ludicrous – for though the crowd has asked for it – he is the only one with the power to have Jesus flogged and handed over for crucifixion. So, what is its significance? Why waste time on such a meaningless ritual? 

As I wonder these things, I am struck by the difference between the passion of Christ and the pretence of Pilate. Between an act of loving servanthood in which Jesus took basin and towel, got down on his knees, and washed each disciples’ feet and this pointless gesture of hand washing in which one with great authority takes absolutely no responsibility for his choices. Between one who is willing to lay down his life for the liberation and healing of others – and one who is unwilling to risk anything at all for the sake of justice or peace.

It is a story of contrasts which speaks radically to me of what it means to be Church as we enter into Holy Week, to be a people made new by baptism and nourished each day by the living waters of God’s Spirit instead of a people who wash our hands of the world that God has given us responsibility for. 

As you listen to or sing along with the next hymn, I invite you, as you are able, to pour a bowl of water and – as you wash your hands – slowly consider what significance this action might take on in your life right now.

For me, I am reminded of the words of Trevor Hudson who speaks of each one of us as sitting beside a pool of tears. As I dip my hands into the water, I choose not to give up responsibility for a world that is hurting, but to open myself up to stories of heartache and pain so that, together, we might find healing and transformation.

Jesus Christ, I think upon your sacrifice
You became nothing, poured out to death
Many times I’ve wondered at your gift of life
And I’m in that place once again
I’m in that place once again
And once again I look upon the cross where you died
I’m humbled by your mercy and I’m broken inside
Once again I thank you
Once again I pour out my life

Now you are exalted to the highest place
King of the heavens, where one day I’ll bow
But for now I marvel at this saving grace
And I’m full of praise once again
I’m full of praise once again
And once again I look upon the cross where you died
I’m humbled by your mercy and I’m broken inside
Once again I thank you
Once again I pour out my life

Thank you for the cross
Thank you for the cross
Thank you for the cross, my friend

Matt Redman


May the blessing of God who fashioned and formed us 
be upon us in the place of pain and the pool of tears
that we may never forget the world’s suffering 
nor forsake God’s great love, 
but seek to do justice,
love mercy,
and walk humbly with God.

Looking ahead through Holy Week …

Next week, instead of the daily pattern of prayer, a short reflection will be offered each night on the lectionary readings that lead us to the cross. I do hope that you will join me on this sacred journey. 

Yours in Christ

1 thought on “Sunday’s sermon: Passion

  1. So look forward to your message, Yvonne. Thankyou Your rmesage left us in silent contemplation for sometime.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: