The Civic and Parish Church of Bournemouth

Palm Sunday – A Sermon from the Rev’d Bryan Apps – Choices

It is estimated that over two million people crowded into Jerusalem for the Passover Festival and a very large number of them enthusiastically greeted Jesus, waving branches of palm and crying, “Hosanna” or “Save now,” as he rode on a donkey into the city with a handful of his disciples. Matthew tells us that the whole city was shaken. All the people must have heard of his miracles and of how, most recently, he had raised Lazarus from the dead. He came, as Zechariah had prophesied the Messiah would come, riding on a colt the foal of an ass, and their hopes regarding Jesus were raised when he cleansed the Temple, just as Judas Maccabaeus had done more than a century before, driving out from it all the money changers and sellers of doves who had been overcharging the poor while lining the pockets of the high priest. But Jesus was not another Maccabaeus, and he had no intention of driving the Romans out of Palestine as Antiochus had been driven out more than a century before. Jesus was the Prince of Peace and he told Pontius Pilate at his trial that his Kingdom was not of this world. So, the people were disappointed and changed their collective mind and, when they were invited by the Roman Governor to choose between Jesus and Barabbas they made the wrong choice, asking for Barabbas to be freed and for Jesus to be crucified. They failed to understand that Jesus was the Prince of Peace and that his Father was the God of love. 

In the eyes of the Jewish establishment Jesus was an outlaw with a price on his head, the thirty pieces of silver which would be paid to his betrayer, Judas Iscariot in return for his arrest. From the time that Jesus had set his face to go to Jerusalem he had the intention of challenging the Jewish leaders and he knew that this would provoke them to violence. As was well known to the authorities, Jesus had taught the people that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath and, furthermore, he had healed the sick on the Sabbath day. At the time of his birth the Roman census resulted in little town of Bethlehem being overwhelmed by great numbers of people, and Jesus chose to come to Jerusalem at the time of the Passover when the Jewish people would have gathered together in unimaginable numbers. He would give his life as a ransom for many and, when the High Priest said that it was necessary that one man should die for the nation, he didn`t realise that it was in another sense that his words were actually true.  

The people were offered a choice and got it wrong, but is it possible that Pontus Pilate the Roman Governor changed his mind too, when he presented Jesus to the crowd with the words, “Behold your king?”

In St. Matthew Chapter 27 verse 19 we read that the wife of Pontius Pilate sent a note to her husband that said, “Have nothing to do with that just man; for I have suffered many things in a dream because of him.” 

Many years ago, Cleverley Ford, with a creative mind and some Biblical insight, imagined the probable circumstances which may have provoked the Lady Claudia Procula to say this to her husband. He pointed out that the wife of Pontius Pilate was in Jerusalem during Passover Week and that this suggests that she cared for her husband and was prepared to listen to his worries and even to share the hazards of government with him. She had no religion, no knowledge of a personal God who could involve himself in the world, but in Jerusalem that week she was constantly reminded of Jesus. You turned a corner and your chariot couldn`t proceed until a way was cleared. She heard snippets of conversation in the bazaar about Jesus of Nazareth. Either he had healed someone or restored another`s peace of mind. He had floored in argument those Pharisees who had made life so difficult for her husband. When her Jewish maid came to do her hair, it was always Jesus she talked about. Did her ladyship think they would kill him or would the Galileans rise up to protect him? The Lady Claudia saw runners constantly bringing messages to the Governor`s headquarters. Nobody moved in Judaea, or preached in Galilee, but the report went back to Pilate. All that could be known of Jesus was known by her husband, and in the evenings, when the lights were low she asked him what was the latest news of Jesus of Nazareth. “What does he look like?” Perhaps one day she borrowed her hairdresser`s cloak to slip into the streets to watch Jesus and hear his voice. At nights, with the candles burning low, she gently asked Pilate about Jesus. 

Then the wife of Pontus Pilate had a dream about Jesus. Perhaps she saw in her dream an inscription nailed on a cross, and the body of Jesus hanging from a cross, so she sent her message to Pilate. “Have nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.” Did she merely tell her husband not to punish Jesus because it would spoil her beauty sleep? Jesus said that he who is not against me is for me, and could it be that Lady Claudia`s spiritual pilgrimage did not merely end in a nasty dream? 

Could it be that she went on from there to find out more about Jesus and to become a firm believer? For her and for us it doesn`t matter where faith begins, because what matters is whether it leads us to put our trust in him – and to find our peace in him – and to dedicate our lives to his service.

So, there is the choice, and where will we stand this Easter?