Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Palm Sunday Sermon

We know all too well the cruelties, hurts, and hatreds that poison life on our planet. We know that the catalogue of injuries that we can and do inflict on one another is not the whole story of humanity. We are indeed made for something more. We are made for goodness.
These words from Desmond Tutu and his daughter remind us that when God created us, God saw our creation as very good. Each of our stories begins in that goodness. Our Palm Sunday begins in that goodness too. You get a sense of that goodness with the love the people had for Jesus, laying their garments down, palm branches and the crowd around him shouting,
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
His jubilant entry with the crowds coming out to see him certainly was a joyful time. The disciples must have felt it was the best of times. But there were others watching Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem, those who feared his arrival. Some among the Jewish leadership were not convinced that Jesus was the messiah. Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” Jesus answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out." Of course, Pontius Pilate was also watching, making sure the pax romana was in place, and he would quash anybody who disturbed that peace, even stones…

It is that shift, from joyous Palm Sunday entry to the Passion of Holy Week that reminds us of the “cruelties, hurts, and hatreds that poison life on our planet.” Joy one day and deep sadness the next. That shift from a joyous crowd seeking life & goodness to a hooting mob full of hurt and cruelty, looking for death, is captured well in a poem by Langston Hughes:

I met You on Your way to death,
Though quite by accident
I chose the path I did,
not knowing there You went.

When I heard the hooting mob
I started to turn back
But, curious, I stood my ground
Directly in its track
And sickened suddenly
At its sound,
Yet did not
Turn back.

So loud the mob cried,
Yet so weak,
Like a sick and muffled sea.
On Your head
You had sharp thorns.
You did not look at me—
But on Your back
You carried
My own Misery.
Jesus carried us on his back with him during the passion and it is Jesus who calls us to go with him. For when Jesus calls each of us to take up our cross and follow him, it is a call to follow him not only as part of the crowd at his triumphant entrance to Jerusalem waving our palm branches, but traveling with him throughout Holy Week from celebration, to betrayal, to abandonment, to the cross. And yet, even with such horror, goodness will have its say, for in a scene found only in Luke's Gospel:
As Jesus hangs in agony on the cross being taunted by the bystanders, even one of the criminals crucified with him joins in the jeering. But the other criminal will have none of it. Luke doesn't explain how or why, but something opens up within the heart of the "good thief." Despite his own impending death, he realizes the injustice of Jesus' execution and senses God both with and within this rabbi hanging next to him. He rebukes the other criminal, admitting that both he and the other criminal are guilty but that Jesus is innocent.

And then, in a plea that resounds through the centuries, he turns to Jesus and asks, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." The dying Jesus responds out of compassion and mercy. "Today you will be with me in Paradise." Enduring excruciating pain and facing imminent death, Jesus holds to a greater certainty: Paradise is real. The kingdom of God he preached, a kingdom built on love, justice and reconciliation, has come. His place in the house of God is secure. Paradise is his destiny, source and home. And ours, as well.

His promise to the good thief is made to every one of us: From now on we're in this together. I won't leave you behind. My place is your place. Welcome to Paradise, the kingdom of my Father. [Adapted from Christ's Passion, Our Passions: Reflections on the Seven Last Words from the Cross by Margaret Bullitt-Jones.]
It reminds us that as we stand with all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, at a distance, watching these things, that goodness will win out. We are made for goodness and as Christ’s witnesses today, we need to live out of that place in our lives. Amen.

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