Palm Sunday 2015: Passion Sunday
Triumph of love over every appearance to the contrary: that is the message today. Jesus entered the Holy City of Jerusalem not mounted on the fine stead the romans rode but on a humble donkey, fulfilling the scripture of his Hebrew brothers and sisters. I think the donkey was a perfect introduction to a new power: the power of love and forgiveness over might and domination. It was the prophet Zechariah who saw the image of the conquering one riding a donkey. In doing this, Jesus claims his true identity.
The city is full of pilgrims because it is the feast of Passover. They remember their ancestors toiling in Egypt under a tyrannical master insisting on more and more bricks without helping the Hebrew slaves with straw. More and more from the working man’s back, to go into the coffers of the wealthy and powerful. The pilgrims have walked a long way to be in the city. They have brought their children, the old ones who have needed help, and they are tired and probably stressed. Festival time is fun if you don’t have to do the work. These working men and women gather because it is their spiritual responsibility and duty to be here. They see friends, neighbors, and they share something: a history of liberation, freedom from slavery, a blessing attributed to God’s providential grace.
In the crowd are probably some who have been present when Jesus taught on the grassy hillside: blessed are you who…. For you will….. Maybe blind, now sighted Bartimaeus is here. Maybe the man who was handed down through the open roof and healed of his infirmity is here. Maybe some others who he touched and made whole are here and maybe they take the palm branches and lay them before the donkey as it moves slowly through the people.
Is Jesus smiling? Are his disciples hovering over him for protection, or to bask in the praise as they shout hosanna? Are they nervous, aware that the state has the power to do whatever it wants to ensure it’s Pax Romana. Everyone knew criminals and political opponents were put to death and many were crucified. What does Jesus see? Can he see the watchful soldiers paying extra attention to these people honoring him? Does he see that these people will turn against him if it means protecting themselves? Or is Jesus so focused on listening to God the Father that he is not thinking at all, just being their fully, empty of his own desires and ego driven wants to make room for EGO EIMI – the great I AM to act.
What do we do in this crowd? We have to choose where we stand – if we will be at services this week remembering his last supper, prayer in the garden, arrest, trial, conviction, execution, and the darkness of the grave and finally the light of new life on Easter Day. Or will we choose to skip the suffering part and just be back in time for Easter joy?
As our liturgy today turns from the joyful entry to the sorrow of the passion, we feel the emotional roller coaster. The church 30 years ago focused only on the entry into Jerusalem on this Palm Sunday liturgy. When the “new” BCP of 1979 was crafted the palm Sunday liturgy included the entire passion narrative, because so few people come to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. They added the passion so working people hear the whole passion narrative: the cost of love born for us and for all. We are loved more than our ability to comprehend.
Jesus came in triumph to a city where people were gathered for religious observance. They receive him royal tribute by the common folk but rejected by those needing to protect their power. We remember times when we have claimed you for what it would benefit us: for our healing of body or mind, for the recovery of a job, or resolution to a conflict. We ignored your willingness to walk the way of the cross and your call to us to pick up our cross and follow you.
He came in acclamation as people waved the branches before him and within hours hears shouts of abuse, calling for his crucifixion. He remained focused, centered, quiet. Jesus did not argue or use his power to escape their condemnation. Is Jesus aware that the power of his silence is the power of forgiveness?
When Pilate said to the crowd, what am I to do with Jesus who is called Messiah/Christ? They said, Let him be crucified. Pilate asked WHY? What harm has he done? But they shouted all the lauder, Let him be crucified. Pilate saw that the crowd could turn into a riot so he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd and ordered Jesus be scourged and then crucified.
How could anyone stand in the midst of this scene and not see the man Jesus silent before his judge, and not know at an intuitive core level that such serenity is unnatural, supernatural, holy? How could you not see that the one who had met everyone with compassion, generosity, acceptance, was here about to demonstrate to what depth he meant that prayer he taught them saying, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Can’t they hear those words?
I believe Jesus knew that his final demonstration of the power of love would be terribly painful but worth it. He would not turn away. He would not skip the hard parts, the suffering and dying part, for the way of the cross Is no less that the full impact of the gift of God’s love poured out for all!
The cross is a cruciform pattern of reality. More than anything else the cross shows us that God can and must be seen in all things, most especially in sinful, broken and tragic things. The place of the world’s worst punishment becomes the place of the best of God’s mercy. The mystery is that if we can trust the transforming pattern – that God works through the suffering, even the wounds become sacred, and then our journey can be trusted to God as guide.
Jesus stretched out his arms on the hard wood of the cross to draw all within his saving embrace. Through it we are invited to know the price of unmerited grace and the depth of unconditional love. That is passion and that is why today is Passion Sunday.