Former British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson famously remarked, “A week is a long time in politics”. You could certainly apply that saying to the events of the first Holy Week. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday, with the crowds wild with excitement and waving palm branches, would in just a few short days turn to cries of hatred – “Crucify him”.
The crowds who had greeted Jesus with their loud hosannas on the Sunday had gone over to the enemy. Even the disciples abandoned him. And that is the question for all of us this week. Will we too abandon him? Before you start thinking “I would never do a thing like that,” remember that that is precisely what Peter said to Jesus. When doubters deny the authenticity of the Gospel narratives, it is worth remembering that a compelling argument for their veracity is precisely that they are not sanitised, that the early Church was so confident in the story it had to tell, that it did not have to massage the truth and suppress uncomfortable facts.
But what about us? We are fortunate indeed if, like Peter, our denials of Jesus Christ are only threefold. Denial of Jesus comes under many guises. There is of course the most obvious – you have nothing to do with the church, and your life openly mocks the teaching of Jesus (and that, of course, is the default position in the western world today). Presumably we are all innocent of that.
But there are other betrayals as well; there is the betrayal that says, “Yes, I’ll come to church (perhaps only at Christmas!), yes I’ll stick to Christian values.” In past times I was a governor of a Church School, and I found it so frustrating, when conducting job interviews, to be told “I support Christian values”. It sounds good, but it is meaningless. Does it mean being nice to people (you will look in vain for the word “nice” in the New Testament), or perhaps helping old folk across the road? Authentic Christian values begin and end at the Cross. Again, you may plead “not guilty” to this charge, but does your way of life tell another tale? Does your life show that you only do things in Jesus’ way when it doesn’t inconvenience you? Do you pick those parts of the Gospel message which fit in with your life style, rather than the other way round, of fitting your life style to the Gospel? Are you assiduous in the externals of the faith – regular attendance at church and church activities, but the heart has gone, so that your faith is just an empty shell?
In that first Holy Week, Jesus’ closest friends (“I no longer call you servants, but friends”, John 15.15) abandon him. To our shame, time after time we have acted like the disciples; to our shame, time after time we have said to Our Lord, with Peter, “I will never disown you” when in truth our faith has faded, to become mere routine, just one more activity in a crowded life, instead of the very source of our life and all that we do, for, make no mistake, bolt-on, optional pick and mix Christianity is betrayal also. Fortunately, the Cross tells us that we can always come back, we will always find plenteous redemption in the blood that has been shed, as the old hymn puts it, but none of that takes away our responsibility to amend our lives, to discover again, maybe for the first time even, what it means to be faithful, to be obedient, often at great personal cost. That way, and only that way, can we pray, “forbid it Lord that this should happen to us”.
Fr. Edward Bryant