Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday Sermon

Come, Holy Spirit, come. Take our lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire with your love. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

Hosanna! Crucify Him!

Two different crowds, one joyful, one seething, but both expecting something to happen… With the cry of Hosanna, people line the streets to give Jesus a triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The one coming in the name of the Lord! The messiah is here! Days later, the other group cries out Crucify Him! They want a spectacle. They want to see crucifixion. Criminals getting what they deserve.

Let’s be clear that those crowds were made up of Jews and Gentiles, Romans…this is Jerusalem. Both groups were made up of lots of different people. But the real point of all this is not the crowds but what Jesus does. As William Stringfellow put it,
“The real witness of Palm Sunday is not the parade or what the disciples or the secular authorities saw; it is the encounter between Christ and the power of death.”
The power of death ruled over the land and Jesus confronts it by riding into Jerusalem on humble donkey. Even with the joy of the crowd and disciples as he entered into the great city, it could not stop what was coming, that confrontation with death: the betrayal, abandonment, denial, trial, beatings and crucifixion that we heard in the Passion account from the gospel of Matthew.

But why would Jesus do this? He must have known that by coming to Jerusalem at the Passover, it would have put him in the crosshairs of the controlling elite and the Roman presence. They were ready for trouble! Why do it? I think of a poem that might help us with that
Are you willing to be sponged out, erased, cancelled, made nothing?
Are you willing to be made nothing?
dipped into oblivion?

If not, you will never really change.

The phoenix renews her youth
only when she is burnt, burnt alive, burnt down
to hot and flocculent ash.
Then the small stirring of a new small bub in the nest
with strands of down like floating ash
shows that she is renewing her youth like the eagle,
immortal bird. --D.H. Lawrence
That wonderful poem by DH Lawrence about the Phoenix’s rebirth, says a lot about Palm Sunday and the passion of Jesus and the willingness to live no matter what the cost, even to become nothing… After all Jesus had done in the countryside and villages, preaching the Good News, bringing life out of death, healing people and restoring them to life within the community, all those parables and stories, in the end, Jesus had to bring it all to the heart of Israel, to Jerusalem.

He had to be willing to face all that death could throw at him: denial, betrayal, torture, abandonment, the mocking and the cruel death on a cross, to show the disciples and the world the length God would go to bring us all within the reach of his saving embrace. He couldn’t do it a little bit; he had to go all in to the heart of Jerusalem, into all that was corrupt, violent and so full of hate, to be condemned and killed, to be made nothing, dipped into oblivion (as DH Lawrence put it) so to help transform it all.

Through the passion and crucifixion, it seemed like death had won, in the midst of such darkness stands the cross, where love was crucified by hate. And yet, the greatest miracle, the greatest gift, the greatest mystery is that the darkness does not overcome the light. That hope still exists there. In that mystery, as TS Eliot said, "the darkness shall be the light and stillness the dancing." God transforms the cross. The cross stands as an immortal reminder that death did not win.

We can look at this tragic story of the passion of Jesus, and sigh. We can keep it at arms length and not let it touch our soul. Or we can make that journey to the cross. For the cross does not stand before us to accuse us or to condemn us or anyone. The cross stands before us as our salvation and beckons us to bear witness to what happened then to Jesus and what happens today.

The story has not ended, and in fact we will continue that story in our celebrations of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday & Easter, but for now we must be willing to walk with Jesus. As a wonderful little prayer for children put it:
I will walk with Jesus.
- But you may be betrayed.
I will walk with Jesus.
- But you may be abandoned.
I will walk with Jesus.
- But you may be given a cross too heavy to bear.
I will walk with Jesus.
- But you cannot know where that may lead.
I will walk with Jesus.
-Then may Jesus walk with you through life & through death. (by Lois Rock)
Let us walk with Jesus, so that our lives may cry out Hosanna! and not Crucify Him! Amen.

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