Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion
Luke 19:28-40 | Philippians 2:6-11 | Luke 22:14—23:56
My brothers and sisters, since the beginning of Lent until now, we’ve prepared our hearts by penance and charitable works. Today we gather together to herald, with the whole church, the beginning of the celebration of our Lord’s Pascal mystery, that is to say his passion and resurrection, for it was to accomplish this mystery that he entered his own city of Jerusalem. Therefore, with all faith and devotion, that if we remember this entry into the city that gained for us our salvation, follow in his footsteps so that being made by his grace partakers of the cross, we may also share in his resurrected life. Amen.
The piece of music we’ve just played as part of the gospel was by Jubilant Sykes. My intention was that, during that song, you would reflect upon this story, the story of the passion and death of a man who so fully joined divinity that he became divinity, or divinity joined him. And the most exciting thing about this whole mysterious story of how God redeemed us, how he opened our lives to what is real, what is true, what is there for us — the heart of that whole thing is we have to know the story. We have to know the story. Stories tell us more, give us more wisdom, explain more mysterious things than any nice, clear gathering of facts and information. The story has a power to transform us from, you could say, sin to life, from darkness to grace, from being enslaved to being free. I’ve said this over and over again, that the main thing that I want you always to believe is this salvation story from its beginning with Adam and Eve till close to 5,000 years ago, this event took place. People believe that other thing started it, that the story entered into the imagination of human beings when God revealed this story of Adam and Eve, and I pray that what I’ve been able to do for you and help you with is that you see yourself in this story. You don’t just read it as something that happened to these people a long time ago. Why would I need to pay so much attention to something that’s so old and so — give us something that we can understand. Don’t give us this mysterious story that is so confusing and self-contradictory and all over the place, a God that kills, a God that saves, a God that rejects, a God that brings back his people. All of it is confusing. It’s not a nice, neat, clear step one, step two, step three, step four, you’re finished.
So what am I hoping you feel in this particular gospel passage? What is it that we need to ponder along with the words of Jubilant Sykes? It’s the mystery of a human being filled with divinity who then finds himself in a situation that no one would have expected him to find himself in. Since he was divine, he was as perfect as any human being could be, but also human, so he had his imperfection. But he finds himself at the pinnacle of his career, the beginning of his fame, his importance. He’s a celebrity. He’s a rock star. He can heal people, and the church, the institution is having a hard time with him, because they somehow see him as someone threatening their power and their position and their role in people’s lives. And so he’s in a conflict, an intense conflict, and then he’s asked just by his Father, “Look, I want you — I know it’s early, and you’ve only been three years in your ministry. I want you to give in to the way it’s written.” I used to think Jesus knew this was coming all along, and I don’t think that anymore, not if he’s fully human. He always knew there would be a risk of being a revolutionary, someone who spoke against an institution. He was wise enough to know that was dangerous, and he could easily be destroyed by that institution. When it came to giving in to it, accept it, don’t fight it, let them do it, if he’s 100 percent human, it must have been so incredibly confusing.
When I ask you to feel the story as your story, when I listen to the song that says, “Are you there when this happened?” Were you there? Not in history, but are you there? Can you feel it? Can you feel empathy, sympathy, understanding of what he’s going through? Because what he’s going through is what every single human being goes through. Something comes up. Something happens, something that we’ve dreaded all our life maybe, something that we never expected to happen, an illness, a death, a tragic something or other. What do we do with that sort of thing? How are we to deal with that? Well, the mystery is there is something in surrendering to that, which we would never want to see happen to us or to someone else, that puts us in a separate kind of place from the normal human anxiety, struggle, fear, shame, and we enter this quiet, still place of knowing that somehow this is my destiny, this is my work, this is my life. And I love the things that he was saying when he would be in a situation — well, put it this way. When he is in the situation he’s in, if you can imagine yourself being in that same situation, which is what this story is about, and look at three things that are really interesting to me.
Number one, those people that are attacking him, that want to destroy him, Jesus clearly says they don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t know what they’re doing. So they look like they’re rejecting everything that Jesus is offering them and everything he gave his life to teach and to preach. It looks like they’re turning against all of that, but in a way, they’re really not. They’re not turning away from life. They’re just turning away from the story, how life works, and most of them are victims of an authority figure that stood up and said, “This man is dangerous, and let’s kill him.” So they’re following the authority, and they’re just following the crowd. And I think the most fascinating thing is, when they want Jesus crucified, even though they keep being told, “He’s innocent. He’s done nothing. Why are you doing this?” Those were the words of Pilate, and so they said, “Release Barabbas. Release Barabbas.” I never noticed that name before, but you’ve probably heard me speak it in years past that Bar is the name for son of. Abba is the word for father. They were screaming, “Release the Son of God. Release the Son of God. Release the Son of God,” not even knowing they were really asking for what they really in their heart wanted, but they didn’t know who was the Son of God. They didn’t recognize him in Jesus.
The other thing is the fact that, when Jesus was dying on the cross and he had these men on either side of him — they were a perfect example of what he came to do in the world, and that is to help people evolve from a kind of self-centered, egoistic creature to someone who is filled with empathy and sympathy and compassion for humanity. So he has the two images, one on the right, one on the left, and one is the undone, unfinished work. The other is his finished work. He did it. How he affected this person I have no idea, but he knew exactly what to say and how to do it. He said, “Look, he’s innocent, and we’re guilty. All I hope is that this innocent, loving man would welcome me somehow into his kingdom, because I am guilty, and I recognize my guilt. He’s innocent, and he’s not guilty, and he’s still surrendering.” Irritates the other egoistic criminal, who says, “Well, if you’re who you are, then do it for me. Fix it. Fix this whole thing.” God, that’s so much a part of our human nature.
Then the whole notion at the end of the story that there’s something coming, something coming. It’s not in this story, but it’ll be there next Sunday when we meet again to talk, listen. What I love about that image is the transformation into a new life when he comes back into the world and does all the things that he wanted to do for all of his disciples and for the people that didn’t quite fully get what he was teaching. He comes back and does it in the most extraordinary way as a resurrected creature with a body. Well, somehow that’s saying to me that every single thing you see in the story that is happening to this man and his reaction to it, particularly his reaction to it, is what catapults us into an extraordinary, powerful position of being able to really teach, transform, open eyes, release people from prison, create peace in their lives, surrendering to what you can’t change. Believing in this act of surrender is a sign that you have become the creature that God intended you to be so that you can be docile and be used by all the pain and all the joy and all the issues that come to your life. All of that is for you. Every single thing that’s happening for you to become who you were intended to be, that’s the story. I love when it happens. The temple that separates sacred from profane is ripped in half. Darkness descends on the earth only to reveal the brightness of a new light, and look at the transformation of all those people. They somehow knew in the moment when it all happened, and they saw these signs, but it doesn’t matter if the signs really even happened. It really most matters that all of a sudden something dawned on people that watched a man surrender to an authority outside themselves without feeling judged, condemned or unloved. That’s the magic. That’s where it happens. Nothing can separate me from the love of my Father.
Father, you invited gatherings of Christians everywhere to walk with you on this ominous journey to your crucifixion. We walk through the glory and the celebrity-hood of people when they are achieving great things for the world, and then we enter into the darkness of a world turning on us and rejecting us because we are filled with light. So bless each of us as we come through that experience. Let us be consoled by this story but most especially empowered by this story to forgive what has happened to us that doesn’t feel that one would ever want it or where was God when it happened. Just forgive all that and then enter into a kingdom of peace and insight and freedom. So we ask you to bless us on this great week of Holy Week as we enter into, more fully, the mystery of your life within us, and we ask this through Christ our Lord, amen.