Old Royal Naval College Chapel, Apr 1, 2007, 11.

00 am Palm Sunday, Choral Eucharist

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Characters around the Cross All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts…(William Shakespeare, As You Like It). There are no spectators, no bystanders, no onlookers in the passion plays. All the church is a stage, and all the men and women players; they have their exits and entrances; and each one of us often plays many parts. We are all actors—priest, choir, congregation, or occasional visitor—we are all participants—in the drama of the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is a drama we enact and re-enact every Sunday when we celebrate the Eucharist. The chapel is our theatre and the entire Eucharistic service—with its choreography and stage directions, its procession and recession, its monologue and dialogue—between priest and people, its choir and ‘chorus’, its costumes and vestments, its action and actions—bowing, kneeling, taking, breaking, raising of hands, blessing—is divine drama. In its earlier forms, even in Shakespeare’s day, drama was a shared experience where performer and audience would have been barely distinguishable. So it is with black churches even today. So it is in our service this morning. All the chapel is a stage, and all the men and women here this morning are players. Our ancestors knew this only too well. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, in at least twelve cities in Britain, (Chester, Lincoln, London), the entire population turned out, usually once a year, to participate in a community drama of worship and celebration. They enacted what has come to be known as the ‘mystery plays’—based on biblical stories and the passion plays. According to a noted drama historian, ‘the common people responded to the plays with an enthusiasm and devotion perhaps unmatched in the history of the theatre’. There were no actors performing and no audience watching—all the men and women were players. This is the whole point of the passion. We are meant to be caught up in the scheme of the plot, the dialogue, the stage directions, the mood and above seek active identification with the different characters. There is no neutrality. For the drama begins with a rowdy demonstration on Palm Sunday and turns into a more serious series of courtroom trials on Good Friday. And then all of a sudden, as in any courtroom trial, we find ourselves as hostile or favourable witnesses, as jurors carefully weighing up the evidence and delivering the verdict, as the judge passing sentence. In the drama of the passion, as in the drama of life—there is no neutrality. Silence is not a neutral position. Neither is indifference. I am needled and prompted into making some kind of response. Our response will tell us what we never recognized about ourselves before, as well as what we never knew about God. We are invited to judge and be judged, but also to be released by that judgement into the light of truth, and to find in the prisoner at the bar the final clue to what we are and what we may be in God’s sight; to find in him the final clue to the meaning of life and the meaning of truth. As we, too, enthusiastically wave palm branches and celebrate Palm Sunday, we recognise ourselves as part of the crowd shouting ‘Hosanna’ and hailing Jesus

a teacher. Perhaps equally poignant could be the last action taken by me as I leave the chapel this morning: ‘Jules went out totally indifferent to Jesus and completely unmoved by his passion and death’. Or else I could say with Samuel Crossman: Here might I stay and sing. Choral Eucharist Page 2 of 2 appreciatively. moving back and forth undecided. When nothing else works. We see ourselves as Pilate. Lewis succinctly sums it up for us. Lord. We see ourselves as the different players on the stage of the passion. then flatly denying Jesus. “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. dear King.Old Royal Naval College Chapel. first impulsive and violent. a prophet? C. Never was love. We see ourselves as preferring the anonymity of the crow and conforming to trends rather than swimming against the tide. and is. Apr 1.00 am Palm Sunday. abandoning Jesus. Never was grief like thine! This is my Friend. ‘Judas went out and hanged himself (27:5). No story so divine. ‘Who is this?’ Was he merely a man? Was he a guru. ‘Truly this man was the Son of God?’ Like the penitent thief on the cross will we say ‘Remember me. the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. Amen. You must make your choice. We see ourselves as standing among the religious leaders who condemned Jesus.S. In whose sweet praise I all my days Could gladly spend. We see ourselves as Peter. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the devil of hell. What will be our response? Like Simon of Cyrene will we help Jesus carry the cross? Like the Roman centurion will we say. . 2007.” As the countdown to Calvary begins we will be invited to answer this question during the week. But as Palm Sunday flags off the countdown to Calvary we see beyond that. we pass the buck and wash our hands off a decision we have made. As characters around the cross we will be faced with the greatest question ever asked. 11. desperately responsibility. Either this man was. when you come into your kingdom? Like Mary and the women disciples will we walk with him all the way to Calvary and stand by the cross when he is crucified? Particularly poignant is the last action taken by two leading characters in the passion drama: ‘Peter went out and wept bitterly’ (26:75). We see ourselves as the disciples who flee when the chips are down. We see ourselves as Judas who betrays Jesus for money.

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