Sermon–Palm Sunday–March 20, 2016


Palm Sunday—Year C

March 20, 2016

William Bradbury

The Passion according to Luke

It interests me that both long-time members and newcomers to All Saints readily talk about the beautiful stone wall that rises above the altar, but they seldom mention the enormous wooden cross stuck right in the middle of it. Why is that?

Most of us are not troubled by a cross that is small and tasteful, with soft accent lighting. We are comfortable with crosses made into beautiful jewelry which we wear proudly around our necks. But this thing above our altar so large and rough that we cannot imagine it as either pretty or tasteful—and if we think about it for too long we might begin to see the horror it represents.

We’ve just participated in Luke’s telling of the crucifixion, so today is a good day to look at the cross.

As has been said, the cross is both a mirror and a window. (Think I heard this first from Will Willimon talk on his podcast).

It is a mirror: when we look at the young Jew on the cross we see reflected back to us a picture of who we really are. We are members of a species that is at war with itself. Last century we humans killed a 100 million of our own kind. Throughout history our ancestors have had no trouble taking an innocent man, judging him guilty, whipping, beating, and mocking him, then stripping him naked and nailing him to a cross in public, so that everyone can watch him slowly die through suffocation and loss of blood.

We are the people who use fear, shame, and violence to protect ourselves from the Other who threatens us, whether that threat is real or manufactured by angry rhetoric. In a statement from the House of Bishops this week on the rise of violence in our political discourse (which is printed in your insert today) the opening line says: “We live in the shadow of the lynching tree.” In this part of the world we live in the shadow of the slave trade, and the Salem Witch trials in which my wife’s direct ancestor, Susannah Martin, was tried, convicted, and hung as a witch by men who were afraid.

Jesus hangs naked and impotent, yet it is our shame that is exposed for all to see. Were you there when they crucified my lord? Yes, I was there every time humans killed other humans for no reason other than it suited our needs—our need for land, or for security or for protection of our expensive way of life.

When we look into the mirror of the cross we know that we are not the fairest of them all, which is a good reason to ignore the cross and admire the stones.

The cross of Christ is also a window. It is a window into the heart of God who ”while we were yet sinners Christ died FOR US.” Christ takes on our sin. Fleming Rutledge says sin is to “be helplessly trapped inside one’s own worst self…it means to be catastrophically separated from the eternal love of God.” Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ page 174

In this window we see God coming from beyond us to embrace our own worst self that is in revolt to God, suffering the consequences we deserve.

Like children trapped in a burning house, we see through the window of the cross God in Christ coming to save us.

In the window of the Crucified One we see God entering fully into our situation, taking our sickness into his body, so that we might receive God’s health and wholeness.

Jesus takes our violence and gives us his peace: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

The mirror of the cross reveals our sin, shame, and separation from God and neighbor.

The window of the cross reveals God’s eternal faithfulness dying for our sin and shame.

Does any other religion have at its center the suffering and death of a man?

Does any other religion have as its central focus the suffering and destruction of its God? Paraphrase Ibid.

Melito of Sardis only a hundred and fifty years after Jesus, wrote: He who suspended the earth is suspended, he who fixed the heavens is fixed, he who fastened all things is fastened to the wood; the Master is outraged; God is murdered.” Ibid. quote before title page

American writer Joseph Mitchell, according to Fleming Rutledge, was at the bedside of his dying sister when she asked him, “Buddy, what does Jesus’ death on the cross a long time ago have to do with my sins now?” Mitchell responded. “Somehow, he was our representative.” Ibid page 7

“This is all God’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes!” Mark 12:11, Psalm 118:23

Amid the beauty of the stones we notice the old rugged cross, both mirror and window. Look close and behold Humanity, look closer and behold our God.