Reading: John 19:16-22
a notice prepared and fastened to the cross.
It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Roman punishment was a pretty
brutal and ruthless variety.
If you fell foul of the authorities you were likely to face prison, slavery or crucifixion.
Punishments were meant to deter
so a sign indicating the crime seems to have been fairly common.
If a prisoner was to be killed in the amphitheatre,
a placard indicating his crime might be carried around in front of him –
a bit like a notice announcing the next round in a boxing title fight.
Or sometimes the crime would be
written on a sign
hung around the victim’s neck.
In Jesus’ case it was evidently
nailed above him on the cross.
This incidentally is the main reason why Christian tradition
has always depicted the cross in the way we are familiar with -
sometimes people were crucified on a T shaped cross,
sometimes on a diagonal cross –
the sign above indicates it was a cross with a vertical upper piece.
The four Gospels all record the
sign – each giving slightly different wording.
Those who are concerned with the literal accuracy and inerrancy of the Biblical record
will tell you that the message was written in three different languages,
and the different versions represent translations of different languages –
Most of us I suspect would be happy just to say
that the various oral traditions available to the different Gospel writers
remembered the wording slightly differently.
The basic message is however
and John gives the fullest version –
“Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”
Countless paintings and
crucifixes show the letter INRI at the top of the cross –
Latin used an I for a J and so the Latin inscription would have been
“Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm” – hence INRI –
Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.
John goes on to record an
argument between the Jews and Pilate –
Pilate, they say, should have written “He said” or “I am” the King of the Jews
But Pilate says “Quod scripsi, scripsi” – what I have written I have written.
Why does Pilate say this?
It would be nice to think that Pilate was convinced or converted to the Christian cause –
but that hardly fits in with what else we know of his part in the story.
The most likely explanation runs as follows.
Pilate has been outmanoeuvred by the Jewish authorities,
and now he is getting his own back –
Effectively he is saying
“This fellow is the King of the Jews –
the only King you’ve managed to produce,
and you’ve ended up having to ask me to kill him for you!”
The irony of course is that
in having a dig at his Jewish adversaries,
inadvertently Pilate proclaims the Lordship of Christ
And which do we say? Do we say “Jesus is Lord”
or do we say “Jesus said he was Lord” -
all the difference in the world between
on the one hand an objective record of what someone said
and on the other hand a personal commitment and acceptance of their rule.
¨ When we
hear the passion story, is it for is an interesting piece of past history –
or a life changing moment of present encounter?
¨ When we
see a cross, Do we look on as interested bystanders–
or do we kneel before our King?
Palm Sunday is of course the day
when we remember those
who were ready to accept Christ as their King –
only to turn away from him later in the week.
England football supporters like
to win –
and when Steve Maclaren came along they hailed a conquering hero
who would pull them out of the problems of the Sven era.
But a few poor results and they are baying for his blood.
A rather trite analogy – but
crowds have always been like that –
and the Palm Sunday crowd was no exception –
They were up for a King who
would bring garlands of victory and glory
and kick out the Romans – and win victories over all the nations…….
But when the
would be King started to suffer
and talk about them sharing his suffering,
the honeymoon was over and the crowd turned on him –
Do we accept Christ as Lord
knowing that to follow him
is not just a matter of cheery victory – it is to take the path of suffering?
There is a point in James Joyce’s Ulysses
when Leopold Bloom goes into a Catholic Church to watch the Mass.
He sees the letters HIS embroidered on the Priest’s vestments.
He thinks about the mysterious letters – IHS and INRI.
As you may well know, IHS stands for
the first three letter of the word “Jesus” in Greek –
but Molly has given Bloom a different interpretation – “I have suffered” –
Then Bloom tries to remember what Molly told him “INRI” stood for –
it was “Iron Nails Ran In”.
I am not sure if the interpretation came from Joyce’s fertile mind,
or if was part of Dublin culture of the day.
Either way, Bloom’s interpretation has no Biblical or historical basis –
though it may nonetheless offer a helpful insight.
The crowds turned away from
INRI, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,
precisely because his rule involved suffering – INRI, iron nails ran in.
Their idea of a King did not include a servant suffering Lord.
I don’t know if any of you have seen the movie “The Queen” –
in which Helen Mirren is quite superb.
The story is simply that of the week of Diana’s death –
and the decision of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh
to stay in Balmoral and not go up to London to be with the people.
The movie shows both sides of the debate brilliantly –
You see the Queen – yes, being old fashioned and out of touch,
but also trying to protect her grandchildren
You see Tony Blair –
yes playing the modern political game, but also trying to protect the Queen
I will leave you to judge when you see it the rights and wrongs of those
Whether the Queen’s place was with her people or her close family at that time.
But for Christ the King
there is no distinction between his people and his family – all are one -
there is only one place to be in a crisis –
that is suffering alongside the whole human family -
which is what the cross is all about.
INRI – the sign of the King
INRI the sign of the nails –
they go together.
I hope today we will wave a palm
branch – figuratively if not literally –
and proclaim that Christ is King –
not just that he says he is King, but that he is our King..
I hope that today we will stand
at the foot of the cross –
figuratively if not literally –
and recall how the King of Love has died for us
so that whatever the depths of our suffering
we can never go deeper into darkness and pain that he has already gone.
I hope that today we will learn
again what it means to follow the servant King.
So let me leave you with the famous and challenging words of George Macleod of Iona:
“I simply argue that the Cross be raised again
at the centre of the market place as well as on the steeple of the Church. ....
Jesus was not crucified in a Cathedral between two candles,
but on a cross between two thieves;
on the town garbage heap; at a crossroads so cosmopolitan
that they had to write his title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek…
at the kind of place where cynics talk smut and thieves curse and soldiers gamble.
Because that is where Churchmen should be
and what Churchmen should be about”
ORDER OF SERVICE
Palm Sunday 1st April 2007
6.30 p.m. Holy Communion led by Rev Andrew Sails
Hymn 231 “Praise to the holiest”
Prayers (MWB pp.148-150)
Readings: John 19:16-22
Hymn 173 (vv.1,3,5,7) “My song is love unknown”
Hymn SOF 120 “From heaven you came”
Prayers and Lord’s Prayer (MWB p.152)
Holy Communion (MWB pp.153-159)