Sunday of the Passion
April 13, 2014
The Liturgy of the Palms
The Liturgy of the Word
We call it Palm Sunday but its central name is Sunday of the Passion because after communion we read the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew.
There are many ways of approaching this story: We could focus on the suffering, we could look at Pilate and the religious leaders or we could look at the disciples who run away.
But these are all secondary. The central question to ask is this: who is the man going through this horrific experience?
Who is this man of sorrows, condemned by the powers that be, and abandoned by his followers?
Is it just an unlucky poor man who gets too close and touches the third rail of Empire, or is it the King in disguise who has come among his people to set them free?
If he’s just a man who gets in over his head then Good Friday becomes a sad account of a good man caught in the wrong place at the wrong time by the wrong people who can get away with killing an innocent man.
It’s a terrible tragedy that should have been avoided.
The lesson we get from this story told this way is to be better people who would never do such a thing.
Of course anyone is free to believe that Jesus is just a man. Certainly he is not less than that.
But our earliest records proclaim that Jesus is a man who is also Lord and God.
We see this clearly in the Philippians reading: Saint Paul is writing as early as the year 52 which is only about 20 years after Jesus dies. And most scholars believe the central piece of this reading is actually a hymn which existed before Paul incorporated it into this letter.
Paul, quoting this ancient hymn, says, Jesus, “though he was in the form of God,
[He] did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.…”
In the form of God yet also in human form: One dynamic unity: son of God and son of Man.
If this had just been Jesus’ view of himself he would have been written off as crazy, suffering a psychotic delusion. He would have been no threat to anyone.
When I worked on the adolescent unit of a small psychiatric hospital in Atlanta we had a young man who claimed to be Jesus. He was actually a Triple A baseball player suffering from schizophrenia. He might have been a threat to the staff but he was not a threat to the Governor.
Jesus was a threat because he embodied Israel’s God returning to reclaim his people and his world.
That’s why on this day Jesus climbs on a donkey, just like King David did a thousand years earlier, as a declaration of kingship.
While Pilate and his Roman troops enter on one side of Jerusalem, Jesus and his band of nobodies enter through another.
He goes to the Temple, the House of God, and throws out the moneychangers and proclaims: “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves.”
As scholar and bishop N. T. Wright puts it: “All four gospels are telling the story of how God became king in and through this story of Jesus of Nazareth….Jesus’s launch of the kingdom—God’s worldwide sovereignty on earth as in heaven—is the central aim of his mission, the thing for which he lived and died and rose again.” How God Became King, Kindle page 187 This is a great book!
This isn’t a tragic story about a misunderstood man, but a triumphant story about God through Jesus becoming King of the world, but not using the violence and force of the world.
This is a story about sacrificial love—how violence is overcome and God’s Kingdom established on earth through Jesus, the Crucified God.
We remember Richard Rohr dictum: “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.” You and I are not capable of transforming our pain on our own.
In Jesus God enters our pain, the pain of the world that drives us to violence, and transforms all creation.
Those who meditate on the drama of the Crucified God find their pain transmuted into love.
We find that the way up is the way down.
Our role, those who are witnesses in faith of these things, is to “share in the work of announcing and inaugurating [God’s Kingdom]”, not in heaven but in the here and now, being filled with the Spirit of Jesus who lives in us. Ibid 197
Through our baptism we are buried with Christ in his death, raised with him in his New Life, and filled with his Holy Spirit. In Holy Communion we receive God’s forgiveness and are empowered to embody God’s peaceable kingdom.
As Saint Paul says, “I no longer live but Christ lives in me.”
Who Jesus is makes all the difference.