Ampleforth Abbey

14 December 2017

Homily for Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We have just listened to the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ from the Gospel according to St Luke. From this long Gospel I want to draw a single short scene unique to Luke for our reflection. It is, of course, the scene of the repentant criminal.

Jesus has been crucified between two criminals. We do not know anything else about them. We do not know their age, or nationality, or religion, or crimes. We simply hear them described as criminals. Presumably their presence was in part a matter of convenience – it is necessary to crucify one, so let’s crucify all those awaiting this grisly death – and partly an attempt to fix upon Jesus the same label, that of a criminal, someone worthy of death, even though Pilate has declared that Jesus is innocent.

As they hang on their crosses being tortured to death the bystanders in their various kinds are mocking Jesus; even one of those being crucified seems to join in this mockery of the King of the Jews. Amidst these jeering voices, quite suddenly, there is a voice of faith from a most unexpected person, from the other criminal hanging beside the Lord. Where does this faith come from? The time of preaching is now long past. No words of teaching, of encouragement to conversion, have passed Jesus’ lips in these last hours. The time of signs has gone. No casting out of demons – indeed this seems to be the hour of triumph for the Prince of Demons; no enlightening of the blind, no unstopping of ears of the deaf, no raising of the dead to life; all of this is in the past and there is no evidence to suggest that the criminal had experienced any of these things. Nothing has happened to reveal Jesus as Lord – and yet this criminal makes his simple act of faith, “...this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23.41b-42).

We might think that this is too little, too late. What is the value of this last minute plea from a self-confessed criminal? But Jesus says, “Indeed, I promise you today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23.43). Paradise, the garden within a wall. Paradise, from which human beings were cast out because of the sin of Adam and Eve. Paradise which has been locked shut for all the ages of mankind. Paradise is now opened to this man who sees in the one hanging on a tree the Lord of heaven and earth and all that they contain. Paradise is opened to this man who is a criminal, repentant it is true, but still a criminal justly condemned as the world sees these things.

Jesus Christ, the crucified one, is the Son of the merciful God. Jesus Christ, the Word of the Father, is the humble one who loves us so greatly that He consented to be born of the Virgin, He consented to take unto Himself what He had created and become human as you and I are human. Jesus Christ is the one who is concerned for the salvation of all that He has made, for every human being, even those who act in ways which seem to place them beyond redemption. His mercy expresses itself whenever we turn away from sin and turn back to Him – even when we turn away from sin in the last moments of our life. When we turn away from sin and commit ourselves into His hands He promises us paradise, life in His presence and that of His Father.

This is the Year of Mercy. This is Holy Week in the Year of Mercy. Christ is inviting us, each of us, all of us, to turn away from sin so that we can embrace life. In this week of weeks let us open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit so that we may pass from the death of sin to the true life which is given to us as a gift by Jesus Christ.