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Palm Sunday


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When evening came he arrived with the Twelve. And while they were at table eating, Jesus said,

  ✠ I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me, one of you eating with me.

  N. They were distressed and asked him, one after another,

  C. Not I, surely?

“Not I surely?” What could more blatantly expose the guilty consciences of the disciples as they shared the Passover meal with Jesus? NIV translates it: “Surely you don’t mean me?”

The location was an upper room in Jerusalem. There, the dangers of their mission must have begun to dawn. Previously, they had been an insignificant local group. Now, they are in the holy city, site of the central Roman administration, residence of the Roman governor, abode of the chief priests and elders — Jesus’s implacable enemies.

It is hardly surprising that the disciples ask, “Not I surely?” The fact that they ask at all hints that they have realised the possible consequences of their friend’s challenge to the religious and imperial authorities. Perhaps they already thought of deserting him, pictured themselves quietly melting into the faceless crowd. After all, not many hours later, they did exactly that (14.50).

The term, “the Son of Man” occurs four times in this passage (14.21 [twice], 41, 62),  I suggest that, if the article “the” is present (“the Son of Man”), it is safe to say that Jesus is speaking about himself.  The term embraces two ideas: first, that by being human he is subject to death; and, second, that, through his death and beyond it, God will vindicate him.  

Palm Sunday is a good time to investigate what Jesus means by calling himself the Son of Man; for this is when the meaning of Jesus’s life as a human individual shades into what we sometimes call the “Christ-event” — a shift, in other words, between Jesus, son of Joseph, and Christ, the eternal Word. Only when this shift takes place can we begin to ask one of the deep questions of Passiontide: what does Jesus’s suffering and death say about him; and how can it speak to us, beyond what marks the suffering or death of any other human being?

Our answer comes with the fulfilment of the story of “the Son of Man”. Way back in Mark’s Gospel, people had responded to Jesus’s teaching by asking one another, “Where did this man get all this?” (6.2). They have seen nothing in his background, upbringing, education, or work life to make him as different. And yet, after his baptism, his life seems to burst its ordinary human bounds. He calls, communicates, and cures. He guides, challenges, and inspires, in ways that are utterly overwhelming. Jesus teaches about God like one who knows him fully and is at home in his presence.

 The story is being told once again. Forget for a moment that you know the ending.  Love comes to us today riding on a donkey. Let us greet him with palms and songs. And then let us once again journey with him from death into life.

The spiritual and emotional feeling builds towards Maundy Thursday, right up to the moment when the disciples desert Jesus and flee.

Then, we wait: first, for the crucifixion to happen; then, for it to end. Finally, we wait for the tomb in which he was laid to be found empty, so that death can bring us to life once more, beside our friend and brother: beside the Son of Man.

Finally,  Holy Week is the greatest and most important week in the Christian year. I invite you to enter into this week as fully as you can, by making time to worship, and to make this a sacred time in which we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again.

Over the next few days, we do not just recall the death of Christ as an important or note-worthy event external to us. Rather, we encounter the Risen Lord in our midst through the liturgy of the church and enter into the mystery of his Cross through our keeping together of this sacred time

May we encounter the holy this week, and may we find our tired hope refreshed.




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