Monday, 14 April 2014

A seismic shock

There are times in our lives when something happens that changes things for us profoundly. It might be our way of life, our understanding of things, our sense of community. The change might be personal: an illness, love at first sight, a death close to us, an unexpected job offer. it might be a wider things that affects whole communities or nations: the invasion of Crimea might be an example, or the assassination of a leader, the genocide in Rwanda or the discovery of an effective treatment for serious disease. Suddenly everything seems different. Often such change is described as being 'seismic'.

The word seismic comes from the Greek verb 'seio', which is used to describe shaking or tremor, including the shaking of the ground when an earthquake happens. Earthquakes have varying effects. Most are so small that we don't even notice them. When I was a student there was an earthquake near to where I lived. it was noticeable, and I watched the books on my library desk move about. One of my friends fell out of bed. A loose tile fell off a church roof. It was something to write home about, but only as a passing story. On the news, we hear about the really big earthquakes, in places like Japan, Chile, Haiti or the Philippines. In earthquakes of that magnitude the effects can be horrible and long-lasting. Homes, schools and business premises destroyed, lives lost and injuries sustained. When we use 'seismic' as a metaphor it is often that kind of impact that we are thinking of. Something that changed our lives as much as the earthquake in Haiti changed the lives of the people affected by it.

On Palm Sunday this year we consider St Matthew's account of Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. As he arrived, crowds came out to greet him and shout words of praise, cutting palm branches and laying them on the road with their cloaks as a sign that they recognised his kingship over them - or at least that they recognised that he was important and different to them in a new way. Once Jesus had passed on his way and the crowd dispersed, they began to talk about what had happened. Soon the event was the main topic of conversation in Jerusalem. If it happened today, we might be talking about news of the event going viral on social media, or seeing #hosannaJesus trending on twitter. Matthew wrote that Jerusalem was shaken up by the events of the day. Some Bibles (eg NIV, NRSV) say stirred up, while others talk of Jerusalem being 'in turmoil'. Everyone was talking about it, and not just as a passing interest. In the original Greek, this is where Matthew uses that verb seio (the sentence, transliterated, reads 'heseistha pasa he polis' - all the city was shaken). Matthew also used the same word to refer to real earthquakes. He chose the word carefully to show that this was a day that affected people in a seismic way.

St John's version of this story tells us that the people in the crowd shouting hosanna were the same people who had been visiting Mary and Martha in Bethany only days before. They had been at the tomb of Lazarus when Jesus shouted 'Lazarus, come out!' and they saw a dead man raise to life. they had been told, undoubtedly, what Jesus had said to Martha: ' I am the resurrection and the life. He who believe in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.' No wonder they wanted to shout and praise Jesus! They had seen what he could do, had glimpsed the salvation that he was coming to bring. They realised that this was Jesus' moment, when he would do whatever it was he was going to do to bring that life to all people. they were excited, full of anticipation about what Jesus might so, and the feeling spread. Everyone wanted to know what was going on, and to find out about the man who was causing so much excitement. it was like a seismic change coming over the city.

All too often after a seismic change, society and individuals forget what has been learned and slip back into old habits and ways of living. most of Jerusalem quickly did that. they forgot Lazarus and Jesus' promise of life. They thought of their preference for a quiet life, without trouble, politics or disturbance, and they turned Jesus in rather than risk disruption or change. They would have liked the life Jesus offered, but not at the cost of the status quo. We, with hindsight, tend to condemn them for betraying our Lord to his death. We condemn them for shouting 'crucify' in order to stay on the side of the crowd and of the people who had power in the city. But how often do we do the same? How often are our praises on Sundays let down by our tendency to take the easy way and go with popular opinion the rest of the time? How often do we put the ease of the status quo above the criticism we might receive if we speak up for the Christian way of seeing things? How often do we speak up for Jesus, or even speak his name? At the Living Brook benefice away day, safe amongst a group of church members, even there only the clergy mentioned the name of Jesus, and in describing the life of the church, somehow Jesus was not there.

And yet it was Jesus, our gentle King, who offered us resurrection and life if we believe in him. It is Jesus we praise on Palm Sunday as we shout hosanna, asking him to save us and to intervene - seismically - in our lives.

Christians, don't walk away from church on Sunday and then behave as though everything is the same for you as it is for your secular neighbours. Jesus offers you life and hope. He offers to change your life, for the good, in a shattering way. Allow that seismic change to make a permanent 24/7 difference to you. be a different person. Then if others ask, as the Jerusalemites did, 'who is this?', don't deny Him, be embarrassed about your faith, or choose an English secular alternative in order to have an undisturbed life. No! Proclaim, as you should, that this is Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World, who came to bring life. Tell the world 'I believe in Him!'