“The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Matthew 21:9
“Sensing the Passion” is our theme this Holy Week, reading Saint Matthew’s account of the events from Palm Sunday to Good Friday and trying to imagine how the disciples would have experienced those days through their five senses. The sounds heard by the disciples during that week would have been expressions of almost every imaginable human emotion, from the greatest delight to the troughs of deep despair.
The week begins with a cacophony of sound, the entry into Jerusalem was a noisy affair, Saint Matthew Chapter 21 Verse 9 says, “The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting”. They were standing along the road shouting, this is a public place and they are happy that everyone can hear what they are saying—it is a very public display of support for Jesus.
The shouts of those who lined the road on that Palm Sunday ask questions of us: how prepared are we to be open and public about what we believe? Is our faith so private and personal that it is almost completely hidden, or are we prepared to tell people what we believe?
Saint Matthew continues, in Chapter 21 Verse 10, “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.'” Had the disciples expected such a reception? As they listened to what was being said, were they filled with confidence, or did they become apprehensive about the gossip and the whispers? Verse 15 has a ominous tone, “But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, they became angry”.
Had we been there, how might we have felt? When the Jewish authorities began to express anger over what they heard, would we have become wary, would we have tried to adopt a low profile?
There are quiet moments during the week, Saint Matthew Chapter 24 Verse 3 tells us, “When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately”. In the midst of the great noise of a city during a festival, Jesus finds a place of quietness, a place apart from all the sound, and the disciples go to find him there.
Quietness can be refreshing, restful, it can also be threatening. When our ears are not filled with sounds from the world around, there is a greater opportunity for thinking, for reflection, and in that reflection we may not be happy with what we see in ourselves. Jesus sought out silence; if we are honest, we might have to admit that we often do the reverse, we might avoid silence and the troubling thoughts it brings.
Sound and silence were both important as Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples. As we read Saint Matthew Chapter 26 Verses 21-22, it is not hard to imagine conversation stopping and a feeling of unease descending. “While they were eating, he said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, ‘Surely not I, Lord?'”
The mood of the room would have become much quieter, as Jesus breaks the bread and shares the cup.Saint Matthew Chapter 26 Verses 26-28 say, “While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins'”. There would have been careful attention to every word spoken. Quietness descended on that room, those gathered were confronted by the reality of what was happening. In verse 30 they sing a hymn and it must have been a very sombre moment.
Are we ever confronted by our faith? Are there ever moments when being our faith makes us think that we have to be very different people?
They go to Gethsemane and Jesus is arrested and brought to trial before the religious leaders. One very famous sound from that night has come down to us through history. In Saint Matthew Chapter 26 Verse 74, Peter does the very thing Jesus said he would do. Challenged by bystanders about his friendship with Jesus, he declares “I do not know the man!” and then he heard the sound, “At that moment the cock crowed”.
It is easy to think Peter has failed Jesus, easy to think him a coward, but would any of us have answered differently? Were a cock to crow every time we denied Jesus, the sound would be a regular companion
If the sound of denial is the sound of a rooster, the sound of betrayal is the sound of coins on a stone floor. Judas has received thirty pieces of silver, but realizes the monstrosity of what he has done. Saint Matthew Chapter 27 Verse 5 describes his actions, “Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed”. It is a piercing sound, a sound that can be heard in the midst of every other sound.
How often are we like Judas? How often do we seek to use Jesus for our own purposes? How often are we “Christian” when it suits us? How often should we hear the sound of coins on stone?
Jesus is brought before Pilate and the volume rise. From the softly spoken words of the Upper Room, we now come to a mob baying for blood outside of Pilate’s palace. In Saint Matthew Chapter 27 Verses 22-24, “All of them said, ‘Let him be crucified!’” so Pilate asked, “‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Let him be crucified!'” Those who shout loudest seem usually to get what they want. “So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.'”
Are we too often like Pilate? Do we listen to the voices in our own lives who shout the loudest? Does whatever is noisiest in our daily life get our attention? How often do we listen for other voices? How often do we listen for God’s voice?
Jesus is crucified and insulted by those around him, mocked by the soldiers and the crowds. Saint Matthew Chapter 27 Verse 39 tells how “those who passed by derided him;” Verse 41 says, “In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him” and Verse 44,”The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way”. How did the disciples feel? How did the friends of Jesus feel when they heard such words?
How do we respond? When being seen as Christian is something difficult, how committed are we? Do we stand at a distance and pretend we cannot hear?
Jesus’ voice is heard crying out in despair and then, Saint Matthew says in Chapter 27 Verse 50-51, “Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split”. What thoughts passed through the minds of those there as they heard the voice of Jesus?
Reading those words each year, reading of Jesus’ cries as he died in agony, what thoughts pass through our minds? When we hear the voice of Jesus, how do we respond?