Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Storming the Capitol

Palm Sunday
28 March 2021
Morning Service

Revd Nicholas Mercer

One the defining moments already of this year was the storming of the Capitol in Washington on the 6th January

An event which left the free world reeling in horror

Called to action by Donald Trump, his supporters gathered in Washington and listened to a speech where he said told the assembled crowd

“If you don’t fight like hell, you are not going to have a country anymore”

As a result of this encouragement, thousands of protestors went to the Capitol where a joint session of Congress was just beginning

A session whose business was to formalise the election of Joe Biden

The scenes that followed were quite horrifying

The crowd first breached the perimeter of the building

Once inside, they vandalized and looted property

At the same time, a set of gallows were erected outside whilst a so called shaman sat in the Vice President’s chair and rioters went hunting for Nancy Pelosi

Inevitably, law enforcement officers drew their handguns

Five people were killed and 140 were injured

Peculiarly, a group of Evangelical Christians stopped and prayed inside the building

As a result of the insurrection, the FBI opened more than 400 hundred investigations

The investigation is ongoing

But the make-up of the rioters were not what we might expect

The average age of those arrested was 40

Nearly half were business owners or held white collar jobs

Doctors, lawyers, accountants, IT specialists and shop owners were amongst the rioters

Some had been in the military and, as we have heard, some were evangelical Christians

Indeed it is not unreasonable to surmise that, in different circumstances, some of the rioters could have included us

Today is Palm Sunday and is also about crowds

As we have heard from our first reading this morning, Jesus makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem with the crowds cheering him on

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”

Having been a relatively insignificant preacher, he is now treated as a hero, a King, the Messiah.

The crowd is joyful – but benign

But the second reading for Palm Sunday transports us to a very different place

Having been feted by the crowd on his arrival on Palm Sunday, by the end of the week, the same crowd has turned very ugly indeed

Not only have they now hunted Jesus down, no doubt armed with zip ties and walkie talkies

Once caught, they led him away

And demanded his execution on a hastily prepared scaffold just outside the city walls

But Jesus is not the only victim

Another victim is truth

Jesus is “The Way, the Light and the Truth” but the crowd are not interested in “The Truth”

They want their own version to prevail, however absurd

And as we heard from the Passion reading, the chief priests “stirred up the crowd”

Agitating them

To seek the release of a murderer rather than the Son of God

Reason had been de-throned

But so too had law and order

Unprepared, and frightened of the crowd, Pilate asks them

What do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’

They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’

Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?

Standing on the scaffold, they shouted all the more, “Hang him”

Meanwhile the chief priests tweeted

The crowd were “good people” but now needed to “go home, peacefully”

One of the points that I think is often missed about Holy Week is that we identify with the crowd – but only in so far as involves waving palm branches

We somehow uncouple ourselves from the second part of Palm Sunday when Jesus is, effectively,

lynched by the mob

It is highly likely that, had we been living in Jerusalem, two thousand years ago,

We could have been part of the crowd which said Hosanna in the Highest on Palm Sunday

But called for his crucifixion a week later

We might even have stopped and prayed as we did so

In 2003, the then Archbishop of Canterbury preached a sermon at the Cathedral Church of St George in Jerusalem

He was deeply conscious of the violent history of the city and the competing truth claims

In his sermon on Palm Sunday he said,

“As believers and as human beings, we stand at the gates of the city…a city where so many sufferers are silenced and where so many innocent on both sides of the terrible conflict are killed…We also know in our hearts that so much of what fuels the violence is in ourselves…we too are citizens of this city of wrong”.

But he goes on to say this about the choices we all have on Palm Sunday

As we stand at the gates of the city today…

Jesus does not steer us awayand send us back into the holy silence of the desert…he keeps us close…and tells us that these are also the gates of heaven. If you recognise your involvement and prepare to walk with Jesus into the city, to the cross and the tomb, there is a joy and a mystery at the end of the path...

We stand not just at the gates of the city… where the Lord was crucifiedbut also at the entrance to the Garden of Eden.