Palm Sunday 2016

            This year there is something extra special about Holy Week, as we are celebrating the Jubilee Year of Mercy and St Luke's Gospel is very much the Gospel of Mercy.

            "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Only in St Luke do we find these words of forgiveness on the lips of Jesus at the moment of his crucifixion. "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Only in St Luke do we find the conversation between the two criminals crucified with Jesus and his reply to the good thief, "I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise." We call them thieves, but the Gospel calls them wrongdoers, without specifying their crimes.

            There is as much of the bad thief in each one of us there is as of the good. Consider the number of times we have said or thought the very words uttered by the bad thief, "If you are the Christ, save me." It does help to admit our anger and resentment, our doubt and even our hatred of God. The psalms do it all the time, which is why they are so good to pray. God wants us to tell him the truth, to say what we really feel, and not to cover things up with pious words. Prayer is often a burden because it is so false.

            The good thief cries out in anguish, "Jesus, remember me." This is the only time in the Gospels when Jesus is addressed simply by his name. No one else speaks to him like this, not even his mother or his friends. There is, of course, a special intimacy in suffering and death. It is when we get closest to another person, even a stranger. He does not ask specifically for forgiveness; he asks only to be remembered. We know that Christ came to forgive sinners and to reconcile us with the Father by dying on the Cross. Even so, we often feel it presumption to ask for forgiveness when we are not really repentant of our sins. He does say, "We are paying for what we did," but that is not the same as being sorry or repentant.  "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" is one of the most perfect prayers there is. It expresses faith in Christ our Saviour, but it also leaves him completely free to do for us as he sees best. There should be no coercion or blackmail in prayer, no telling God what to do, only asking to be remembered. "I promise you," says Jesus in return, "today you will be with me in paradise."

            "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Only in St Luke do we read these final words of trust as Jesus breathes his last. Having forgiven those who crucified him and having promised the gift of paradise to those hanging beside him, he now accepts the Father's will and gives back that life which was the Father's gift, showing us how to live and how to die. It is significant to note the reaction of the centurion and his words of incipient faith, "This was a great and good man," the reaction of the crowds who go home beating their breasts and the fact that it is a member of the Council, Joseph of Arimathaea, who had not consented to the crucifixion, who now receives permission from Pilate, who judged Jesus to be innocent, to bury the body before the onset of the Sabbath.

            Throughout Holy Week Jesus invites us to enter into the mystery of his Passion. We could offer to carry the cross like Simon of Cyrene or to bury his dead body like Joseph. We could mourn and lament like the women of Jerusalem or beat our breasts like the crowds after his death. We could, like Pilate, declare him to be innocent and yet hand him over to be crucified or we could profess our faith like the centurion. We could keep puzzling whether we are more like the good thief than the bad. Whatever we do, let us have but one prayer on our lips, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And may we hear our loving Saviour in his great mercy say, "I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise." Amen.