Today is the fifth Sunday of Easter, a season which lasts until Pentecost on June 9, and the whole season is a particularly appropriate time for baptisms. In the season of Easter we hear a series of thrilling and strange stories from the Acts of the Apostles, describing the explosive growth of the infant Church after the Holy Spirit had come upon the disciples, inspiring them to spread the good news of Jesus fearlessly to the ends of the known world.
Since Easter Sunday, the weekly Wednesday morning Bible study group has been using a slightly different approach to scripture.
I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of something becoming part of your personal experience and thus appearing suddenly ubiquitous. Like when you get engaged and overnight everyone else you see is also wearing a diamond ring, or when you buy a red Ford truck and apparently the number of red Ford trucks on the roads quadruples.
We began this pilgrimage on Ash Wednesday, and we are almost at the end of the road. Slowly, step by step, we have been plumbing the depths of human guilt and despair, forcing ourselves to stand face to face with the reality of life in this fallen universe. We are not done. We have heard the scriptures, describing the fate of the suffering servant who is crushed for our iniquities, and narrating in detail the torture and death of God. But after this sermon is over we will pray the Solemn Intercession and then venerate the Cross, which will bring us even more deeply into a reckoning with our own sinfulness. It can be a lot, this communal acknowledging and processing of guilt. I have every respect for those of you who show up, year after year; there would be nothing easier, after all, than simply staying home and avoiding the whole thing.
But if we are to do it, if we are to do justice to the extraordinary, cosmos-rending event which we commemorate and reenact today, it behooves us to understand as fully as possible what we are doing. Which is why I want to examine what we actually mean by “sin” and “sinfulness.”
When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.”
Wait, how did we get here? Half an hour ago we were waving our palms and shouting Hosanna, welcoming the Son of David, the King coming in the name of the Lord. And now the King is dead, and the authorities who murdered him are passing judgment on his life? Such is the reality of Holy Week. Palms and Passion, triumph and tragedy, so jumbled and juxtaposed that we can’t separate them. We have barely put down our banners when the blows begin to fall.