notes from a small curate
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Matthew 27 - Pilate's hands
Good Shepherd Holy Week meditation 10/4/2006
Isaiah 49.13-16, Matthew 27.11-25
(A wash bowl filled with water, and a towel, are set centrally)
Be still, be silent (Thula)
Words and music: Swaziland traditional.
From One is the Body (book and CD), Glasgow: Wild Goose Worship Group, 2002
Thula, thula ulalele (Be still, be silent)
Amen, amen, halleluja
Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, Are you the King of the Jews? Jesus said, You have said so. But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, Do you not hear how many things they testify against you? But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ? For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.
Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, Which of the two do you want me to release for you? And they said, Barabbas. Pilate said to them, Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?They all said, Let him be crucified! And he said, Why, what evil has he done? But they shouted all the more, Let him be crucified!
So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves. And all the people answered, His blood be on us and on our children!
(Go to wash bowl and wash and dry hands)
Pilate washed his hands before the crowd, saying, I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves.
Pilate was wrong, in one way. He wasn't innocent. Because he was the only one who held in his hands the authority to condemn Jesus to death. If Pilate hadn't given the signal, then the crucifixion could not have gone ahead. But in another way Pilate was right. He was 'innocent' - inasmuch as it was the force of the crowd, the will of the crowd, the threat of the crowd, which forced his hand.
Pilate was as innocent as anyone is who goes along with the crowd. Or as guilty.
By washing his hands of the affair, Pilate was saying that while he had the authority to sentence Jesus to death, he wasn't taking the responsibility for Jesus's crucifixion. The responsibility lay with the crowd. Jesus died at their hands.
Pilate took the only option he felt he could, for his own survival. If he had taken heed of his wife's concerns, refused to condemn an innocent man, then he knew what would happen to him. We all know what would have happened - the crowd would have turned on him. It would have been Pilate left hanging, it would have been his blood dripping from their hands.
So, for his own survival, Pilate went along with the crowd. It was this which sent Jesus to the cross.
The trouble with Holy Week is that it is full of stories which remind us about the sort of people we are. Pilate's story reminds us about the sort of people we are. Because we know what it's like to go along with the crowd. For our own survival, we know what it's like to allow others to suffer. We know what it means to wash our hands of a situation, for our own survival. We've all done it a thousand times. Ganged up on someone else, let them take the blame instead of us, vented our anger and agression on an innocent victim. And all the while denying any responsibility for what we've done. We have to hold our hands up to admit that the sin of Pilate is our sin too.
How can God possibly forgive the sin of Pilate, the sin which sent Jesus to his death, the sin which today continues to send innocent victims to their deaths, the sin which today creates playground bullies, creates misfits, expels people from families and churches, makes some parts of our cities no-go areas for people of different race or colour? How can God possibly forgive the sin of Pilate? How can God possibly forgive the sin we hold in our hands?
There is no explanation for God's forgiveness except in his absolutely unconditional love for every one of us. Pilate, the crowd, all of us responsible for condemning the innocent victim - God loves us all, no strings attached.
The victim knows this - and that is why he goes silently to his execution. He knows that God's love is stronger than death, that there is no death in God.
Though blood is on our hands, God loves us.
Though we wash our hands to hide our sins, God loves us.
Though we turn away from God, God never turns away from us. He wants to take our hands in his. He wants us to see what he let Isaiah see written on the palms of his hands:
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! for the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted. But Zion said, The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me. Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved your name on the palms of my hands... (Isaiah 49)
1. CLENCH your HANDS together
Consider the sins you hold in your hands. Where you have struck out at another, where you have held back. Where you have let another suffer when it should have been you.
Gradually give each one of these up to God, and as you do, begin to open out your hands, finger by finger, as a sign...
We place ourselves into your hands O God, knowing that you love us and will forgive us.
2. TOUCH FINGERS
With the fingers of your LEFT hand touch the fingers of your RIGHT hand,
now with the fingers of your RIGHT hand touch the fingers of your LEFT hand,
now hold them together gently.
There are many parts to our body.
There are many fingers to our hands.
Together they remind us that there are many people in our lives, whose lives touch ours,
Who we live together with, work together with,
Some whom we enjoy, some we despise.
As your fingers touch, think of individuals in your life and bring them to God:
- Those who you have not seen for some time
- Those you see everyday
- Those you care deeply about and who may have a joy or a sorrow in their life at this time
- Those who are your neighbours, who can teach you how to love
We place these people into your hands O God, teach us how to love them.
3. PUT your HANDS FACING PALMS OUTWARDS
Become aware that God is all around us - God is in the world
Bring to God your concerns for the world in which he lets us live:
- For countries and provinces at war
- For nations in debt and nations flouting their wealth by exploiting what's left of the planet's limited resources
- For our country, particularly those who make decisions which affect our lives.
- For all those struggling to bring peace and wholeness into the darker corners of our world
We place this world into your hands O God, show your love in it.
4. Place your hands HANDS AS IF GOD IS HOLDING THEM
Take our hands O Lord
And lead us
On from here
And as you hold us, help us
To hold more closely to you.
In the name of Jesus. AMEN
Take My Life And Let It Be
Frances R. Havergal
Sung by Charlie Peacock, from album Listen to Our Hearts vol 2, Sparrow Records 2006
Take my life, and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to thee;
take my moments and my days,
let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move
at the impulse of thy love;
take my feet, and let them be
swift and beautiful for thee.
Take my voice, and let me sing
always, only, for my King;
take my lips, and let them be
filled with messages from thee.
Take my silver and my gold,
not a mite would I withhold;
take my intellect, and use
every power as thou shalt choose.
Take my will and make it thine;
it shall be no longer mine.
take my heart, it is thine own;
it shall be thy royal throne.
Take my love; my Lord, I pour
at thy feet its treasure store;
take my self, and I will be
ever, only, all for thee.
(On leaving, dip finger in water bowl and make sign of cross on forehead)