When I turned on the news this morning the first two items were about a church service in France to mourn the victims of the terrorist shooting and marches across America to protest against the gun laws there.
Both incidents typical of those which raise the strongest passions in us and the greatest need and desire to do something about them. Few of us would be able to or even think of doing what the French policeman did and give our lives for another.
I could not help but reflect that as we come together to celebrate the entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem and we prepare to celebrate and reflect on this week of Passion ahead that their families and friends are gathered very much as we are just to celebrate their faith and to celebrate the relationship with Christ but for them also their families will experience a significantly different holy week a significantly different painful week of Passion.
And what passions would we feel, grief and fear, possibly hatred and a desire for revenge but would we feel forgiveness? Yet that was one of the passions of Christ as he went into Jerusalem this day.
Looking at our lord as he entered into Jerusalem he entered into a place that was not only going to deny him but betray him in a few days’ time. And I suppose one of the beauties of the Christian message is that it goes against the normal human expectations, surely if we are entering into a place where we are expected to be betrayed expected to suffer pain we would not do it so joyfully or gladly as Christ did.
Yet Christ didn’t go into this blind and he didn’t go into this not knowing what to expect He entered and he received the glorification of those who were about to betray him.
For us betrayal whether by friends and colleagues or strangers is something unforgivable.
It is something we remember, I would suggest we can all remember something whether betrayal by a partner or someone at work or being let down by others who supposedly have our best interests at heart.
But for Christ nothing was unforgivable and in the Easter story Christ forgives at two particular times, of course the expected one is the one where stretched out on the cross he cries out saying father forgive them for they know not what they do.
But there is an implicit forgiveness even with his entry into Jerusalem today and that forgiveness is that knowing what was to happen he still went and entered into the city.
This is not the first time we see our Lord entering into a hostile environment and knowing that he was at-risk And even to the very last step where he could not only have defended himself but could very well-and truly have defeated those who tried to conspire against him, even to that last step he was still accepting of all that was to come.
Is this not a great lesson for us, a special lesson of forgiveness both individual and universal?
It is one thing to practise forgiveness in the individual and specific case though still hard for most of us. But quite another to go into life knowing we will be betrayed, knowing we will be wronged yet loving where we cannot trust.
What we are doing when we celebrate Christ coming into Jerusalem is not just the historic event it is Christs coming, immediate and now into our hearts.
Our preparation for Easter is in preparing our hearts and opening them up, removing the obstacles that are in the way. We need to be able to say to our Lord.
Here and now even if I forget it every other day of my life even if I fall short at other times here and now my heart is open to you. I welcome you.
Our need as Christians is to welcome Jesus into that limited space of our hearts. But the more that space is filled up with those other passions, with anger resentment greed. The less space there is for Christ the less space there is for forgiveness.
We cannot control the hearts of others towards us but we can control our hearts towards others and God’s presence in it
There is a very fine line between being defiant and strong and being angry and resentful.
Strength and defiance build us up, anger and bitterness weaken us. And forgiveness is easier, much easier when we are strong.
It is Jesus’ strength that enables him to say at the end of this week, in his darkest hour those famous words
“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
And it is Jesus in our hearts that will give us strength.
So let us pray together:
Lord Jesus, Here and now even if I forget it every other day of my life even if I fall short at other times, here and now my heart is open to you. I welcome you.