Given on Sunday 28th March 2021 at Sherborne Abbey by the Revd. Christopher Huitson.
When learning to drive in North London, I was once on a road with cars parked on both sides, not an unusual experience in London suburbs. In the distance a rather expensive looking car was heading towards me. I was confident that there would be enough room for us both to pass each other, but my driving instructor had other ideas and used the dual control pedals to apply the brake. Doubtless thinking of the implication for his insurance he said “We give way to Rolls Royces!” I can still remember the mixture of surprise and annoyance as I realised that I no longer had control of the car. That lack of control was seared into my memory.
In a normal year we would have had as our gospel the very long Passion narrative detailing this last week in the life of Jesus instead of which we have had just the entry into Jerusalem which marks the start of that week.
During that week lots of people thought that they were in control of the situation. Caiaphas and the Jewish leaders thought that they could quietly eliminate Jesus, as had happened to other aspiring Messiahs, and so take out a person who might lead a revolt and thus threaten their position.
Then Pontius Pilate had great power as the Roman governor with the added advantage that he was backed up by his troops who were well practised in quelling any disturbance, for such near riots were not unknown at Passover time. Pilate’s power was often mixed with tyranny.
Even Judas Iscariot maybe thought he had ultimate control in that he could precipitate the intervention of God himself, reckoning that if Jesus were to be placed in the hands of his murdering enemies God would have to intervene to save him and so inaugurate his kingdom as Judas understood it.
So many people thought that they were in control but they all also had something to fear. The Jewish leaders feared the people who were excitable and volatile at the best of times and especially so at the time of Passover and so less easily controlled. They needed to arrest Jesus away from the crowd and in the darkness of night-time.
Pilate too had made a number of blunders during his governorship. Another misjudgement and he might be summoned back to Rome in disgrace.
And Judas – did he fear that he was making a dreadful mistake?
The one who you might think was not at all in control was Jesus as the unfolding week impacted on his life. And yet . . . he amazed his accusers with his silence and unnerved Pilate with his explanation of his kingship and his challenging words about truth.
What is more, Jesus had clearly made quite a few plans in advance. We have just heard about the disciples being sent with a pre-arranged form of words so that a donkey might be collected by them for the entry into Jerusalem. Later on, Jesus had also made arrangements for an upper room to be available so that they might celebrate the Passover meal together. All it needed was for the disciples to make contact with the owner and sort out what they were to eat and drink.
And Jesus clearly knew how his enemies thought that they were in control but also how they were afraid. He knew that Judas would betray the place where he and his disciples were spending the night in the garden of Gethsemane and that he would lead the arresting party to the place where they were. He knew that the Jewish leaders were outraged by his implicit challenge to the status of the Temple and its sacrificial worship. He knew that Pontius Pilate, although wielding supreme power would, nonetheless give in to the clamour of the crowd and accede to their call for the crucifixion of Jesus.
So, of all the players in the drama it is Jesus who seems most in control while others are swept along by the irresistible tide of events. He did not seek death but he knew that it was coming to him for through his sacrifice he saved us all. Jesus knew what was happening but trusted in God, trusting that God would defeat the forces of evil and death.
We know what was to happen. We know that Easter was but a few days away. We know that the new life of resurrection was to be God’s new creation which would be there for us all to believe in and accept with thanks and gratitude.
May these great themes inspire us during the coming week as we recall the events of that first Holy Week before we celebrate again the joys of Easter and the promise of resurrection.