A Sermon Preached in St. Andrew’s Church
Palm Sunday April 1st, 1917
Published by Request
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2016
Text courtesy of Leigh C. Eckmair, Historian/Archivist
the Gilbertsville Free Library, Gilbertsville, New York
“The Multitudes cried, Hosannah”
St Matthew 21 St chapter, 9th verse
“They all say, let him be Crucified”
St. Matthew 27th chapter, 22d verse
The real reason why this Sunday is generally called “Palm Sunday,” you all know.
The tragedy of the occasion, which Holy Church throughout the world this day commemorates, is what came after the waving of the palms, and within a few hours of the seemingly loyal acclamation of Jesus as King. At night, the Savior wept over the city which in the morning had cried “Hosannah,” and for a place of shelter and lodging, he had to turn his back upon Jerusalem and go to Bethany.
And from Bethany the following morning, and some few successive mornings he went back and forth, hourly suffering more and more until his sufferings reached their climax in crucifixion.
Of all the crimes committed in this world, the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ was the worst.
Nobody looks on the cross who does not realize that Jesus Christ was killed by men who determined to have their own way, and finding him persistently standing in their way, resolutely put Him out of the way.
Calvary is the spot where sinful men, under the guise of righteousness, professing to be religious, claiming partnership with God, made its most fiendish effort to extinguish the Divinest light that shines in human hearts.
The offence of the Savior to those who crucified Him was that he was rigidly righteous, uncompromising with wrong, scathingly forceful in rebuking iniquity, and powerfully opposing any sort of hypocrisy.
Now, what impresses me most of all thoughts at this particular period in the world’s history, is the apparent recurrence of something very like the Crucifixion, in current events. I am so impressed by this thought that I do not hesitate to say I am obsessed by it.
The old story of the Cross has become a new story of the Cross.
Events occur with such frequency that the most brilliant minds fail to comprehend their significance. They cluster faster than they can be tabulated. They follow one another so rapidly that becoming inured to catastrophe, we are stupefied by atrocity. In the siege of Calais, in 1558, a French soldier, Crillon, upon first hearing the story of the Crucifixion read in church, became increasingly excited, until at last, unable longer to restrain himself, he cried out, “What were they about to permit such atrocity?” Crillon was no theologian. He was not even a Christian. He was only a man, with a man’s heart, and a manly sense of justice, and with some of a man’s virility. His abhorrence was the straightforward utterance of natural and unspoiled instincts. He knew instinctively what the sane, sensible, thoughtful moral world has ever known, that the deliberately planned murder of Jesus Christ, for that was what it was, the massacre of the best man who has ever lived, tho under color of law, and with connivance of Rulers, was the deed of enemies of justice, foes of righteousness, betrayers of goodness, breakers of their word, defiant of the good opinion of all mankind, persistent, pernicious, paranoiacs. Men who loudly hurrahed for Jesus on Sunday morning, who had a good deal to say about the Lord and their familiarity with Him, were ready to crucify Him by night. What for? For nothing, but that he stood in their way, opposed their iniquity, would not agree with their ideas of rule, and was not afraid at any cost to speak the truth, and condemn them.
Then, as now, the Rulers ruled. They led. Hundreds meekly followed, because there seemed nothing else to do. They did not all agree, but all felt it necessary to seem to be Loyal to their leaders. Some, most of them doubtless, disagreed with the high priests, autocratic Pharisees, pompous and proud, and secular Rulers, conscienceless, like Pilate, or sinfully curious, like Herod, but all like sheep followed the leaders, who, to have their own way, would not hesitate to put out of their way anybody who dared to stand in their way.
Were I to stage an Oberammergau today, I would modernize the drama. I would change some of the scenes, introduce some new characters, yet still portray the Crucifixion. There is a name of a woman I would mention, though with our facility for forgetting, she is almost forgotten. Edith Cavell would figure forcefully in a hastily improvised court-martial, and a rapidly declared sentence to kill her. Then, in our modern re-enactment of the Crucifixion, there would be the scarcely credible presentation of the Lusitania sinking on high seas, when mothers and babies clasped arms at the bottom of the deep, compared to which, to my mind, the historic massacre of the Innocents is mere bagatelle.
Who is responsible for all this iniquity, the thoughtful spectator will ask? And he will blush with shame when he is told that the Ruler who personally assumes responsibility for such atrocity claims partnership with God. Was there ever such a travesty upon religion? Strange cults are allowed to be catalogued under the generic title, Religion. There, for example, is the cultured pagan, the ferocious Mohammedan, and the unspeakable Turk, but this Ruler, claiming partnership with God, is a Christian.
He is the kind of a Christian who cried Hosannah to Jesus on Palm Sunday morning, and before Sunday night by his miserable neglect made Jesus cry.
And there is dear old Cardinal Mercier, who seems to be in my modern Crucifixion, just like another St. John, who seems to have his head very close to the Savior’s breast, and when other ecclesiastics in adjacent territory forsake and flee, stays right by the cross to the end.
My modern portrayal of the Crucifixion differs in many things from the one at Calvary, but there are enough resemblances to justify the inference referred to by St. Paul, that it is not only possible, but probable, in the history of this wicked world, Jesus “will be crucified afresh, and again and again put to an open shame.” It has remained for our century to witness “the day”; when a whole nation, small but soulful, has drunk of the cup that the Savior drank, and has been baptized with the baptism He was baptized with, a cup of blood, and a baptism of severest suffering. These are times when people are proving that if any man will come after the Man of men, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and do some following.”
Little Belgium, like St. Peter, not always at its best—what nation has been!—has come out at last and shown her best. Unable to come down from her cross, she has stayed on it. She saved others, herself she could not save. She has made of a war in Europe, a war of the world, and by her refusal to sacrifice her soul, losing everything but her soul, she has established a crusade of righteousness against iniquity, of civilization against barbarism, of eternal justice against merciless enormities. The present conditions are heart-breaking to people with hearts, and call for the help of the Lord against the mighty. No considerations of peace, or love or even associations of the Blessed Sacrament, must make us less than men. We must be truthful. We must be honest and speak out. Treaties wholly ignored, rights of little nations absolutely disregarded, lives of neutrals sacrificed wantonly in a war waged with belligerents, coasts of unfortified seaside villages stormed from air ships, citizens deported, and whole communities enslaved, crimes wholly unspeakable and almost unthinkable compel some assertion of condemnation from men who are not manakins.
I know just how unpleasant all this sounds to souls who like to say “Be at ease.” The vision of a crucified nation is very distressing. It would be easier to say, nothing, and to do nothing. But is it right? Can we longer keep still? As Christians can we see Righteousness nailed to a cross, and decline to take part in the contest against wrong? It is a case of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. Where do we stand? With the citizens of Bethany, who gave Him a home, or with them of Jerusalem, who in the morning sing Hosannah, and at night turn Him out? To compromise with wrong by silence is sin. This is the significance of Palm Sunday this year for me. There’s greatest danger that neutral nations like ourselves will make the grievous blunder of considering that this great war does not especially concern us, that the only serious question for us need ever be the defense of our dollars, and that with the deviltry that has been stewing in Europe for the last three years, we need have nothing to do.
To Do Nothing Is to Do Something Wrong
Jesus Christ was crucified because he stood for right against wrong. He was put out of the way because he was four-square against all the forces of wickedness. The motives that prevailed then prevail today. It has been so ever since. The heathen rage furiously. In their mad zest they break down anything that is in their way, and stop at nothing to compass their desires.
It matters nothing to them that the innocent suffer, both loss and life; their chariot must drive through to its goal, destroy what may. The attitude of those who profess and call themselves Christians toward peoples and nations who behave thus should be that of stern opponents. If for nothing else than gratitude we should be mindful of two facts that cannot be denied.
Belgium has saved Europe from complete devastation, and the British fleet is the barrier that, standing between us and the hordes that devastated France and would have troubled us, has thus far insured our safety. I am ashamed to say it, but it is true.
The nations of the earth are awaking. All except some remote South American republics, too remote to be regardful, have spoken their minds. Our spirit has been sluggish. All too long we have been dormant. Confronting palpable wrong, we have either said nothing, or slowly said not much. Meanwhile, we have been filling our barns, and building new ones, and singing sweet lullabys to our languishing souls. Imagine a company of clergymen that I had to consort with less than a month ago, with three Bishops present, discussing for two hours arbitration and leagues to enforce peace; good enough, but so untimely! What we need is a declaration of force to conquer a world wrong. We need to get into the contest and get into it quickly. We need our young men to be manly and not any longer boys not raised to be soldiers. All I know of Religion is embraced in a determination on the part of every man and woman to be a soldier and servant of Jesus Christ, not only to sing “Hosannah,” but to stand up boldly for the right, and by God’s grace, fight against all wrong.
Here, then, is the Modern Crucifixion. Supply your own characters!
In vain is protest made by “Particeps Criminis,” that he hath done no wrong.
Foolish the ceremony of washing his hands before the multitude, of that conscience-stricken Governor.
“I am innocent of the blood of this just person,” cried poor Pontius Pilate. With persistent pertinacity the whole world has ever since been saying its creed, “Suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Murder will out! Against a world wrong there must be waged a world’s war.
Our country will, without doubt, in a few days, maybe few hours, be involved in such a war.
No matter who began it, the nation that fights for right and righteousness will win it.
We wage no war against the Germans whom we have known, and some of whom loved. We fight, and fight we must, with money, munitions and men for mercy and humanity.
Some day, Real Germans, the Germans of Luther, and Goethe and Andreas Hoper will be glad that we entered the war, and ended it!
Well do I remember one night in Cuba, sitting in the tent of Major-General Wheeler, once a Confederate Brigadier, then in charge of a division of United States forces, and hearing him say how thankful he was that the Civil War terminated as it did. In no other way, said he, could the nation be freed from the curse of slavery.
God not infrequently works revolutions quickly by a combination of circumstances dreaded by man, which could never be evolved by the ordinary processes of human affairs. The Russian democracy bloodlessly effected, almost over night, is an illustration of this. If our country from motives of world betterment goes to war, or recognizes a state of war, and gives liberally of munitions, money and men, quickly to righten a world wrong, and put to an end these awful atrocities, I have no doubt that ere very long we shall similarly hear expressions of gratitude from thousands of Germans, now silenced by fear, that America took a hand in the world’s strife, and quickly put an end to the monstrous iniquity.