Thursday, May 1, 2014

Palm Sunday Sermon/Meditations

Meditation I (Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion)

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you: because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world. Amen.
“At dusk on July 1, 1985, there was a small crowd of baseball fans at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium, waiting for the start of a Phillies-Cubs matchup, when longtime Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt took the field wearing a long curly wig and sunglasses. A roar of laughter rose up from the crowd, in appreciation of Schmidt’s effort. Schmidt won the World Series pennant for the Phillies in 1980, but he lost it with them in 1983. For a few minutes that night, the crowd roared with laughter in approval and appreciation and solidarity. But nine innings later, the mood had darkened. As the aging slugger struck out with two on and two out, the hollow stadium rang only with bitter boos and condemnation.”
How quickly we go from hooray to boos, from singing hosannas one minute to yelling crucify him the next. As a sports fan, I know I have done this. It is easy when hearing the Gospel story to think we would not act the way many of the people did.

And yet, we celebrate our winners and we cast out our losers just as they did. Jesus rode triumphantly, albeit humbly, into Jerusalem, as a crowd cheered. There was turmoil, tension, anticipation of what might happen. The Roman and Jewish leadership would have paid notice to all of this. Later in the week, Jesus was taken into custody during a night time raid, when the crowds would not have been around. By the time he was seen again, he had been beaten and tried, and on his way to death. The crowds reaction to all of this – they want Barabbas – jailed for murder and insurrection, they want him…

Jesus becomes the forgotten one. The loser. He continues on his way to death. He is nailed to the cross, station 11.

The Gospel story of the crucifixion has many characters, and where do we see ourselves?

· Pilate watching from above, dismissing this Jewish messiah, a seditionist.
· The Jewish leadership who considered Jesus a heretic, a blasphemer!
· The crowd looking for someone to take on Rome – Jesus, no, Barabbas, yes!
· The disciples scattered in fear of what might happen to them.
· Those who stood and watched the terrible scene all the way to Golgotha.
· All the innocents, still waiting for justice, mercy.

There are so many people in the scene, and so are we. But before we let the scene go, you will notice I struck out a portion of the text from the Gospel of Matthew in the bulletin. It is the text where after Pilate washes his hands clean, therefore Jesus’ blood is not on him, the crowd, utters, “his blood be on us and on our children.”

Sadly this text has been used against Jews in terrible ways, often leading to threats, pogroms, torture and murder for the crime of “killing Jesus.” A great amount a blood has been spilled over those words, most terribly during the Holocaust of WW II. Despite Pilate’s washing, crucifixion was Rome’s brutal way of execution. I bring it to your attention to remind us how people have used scripture to hurt others instead of asking ourselves what that scripture might really mean for us, where we might be in the text. Who is to blame? Jews of long ago? Romans? We shouldn’t be looking to blame anyone. We who have waived our palm branches crying hosanna are also the ones who yelled crucify him, we are also the ones standing beneath the cross in sorrow. So for now, we watch and wait with all of humanity.

Meditation II
It finally happened. His last breath. His fall is complete. Station 12, Jesus dies on the cross.

A poem from South Africa thinks about her friend Jesus…
I watch as soldiers hang my friend up high,
With other women who had followed him,
My heart and spirit breaks to watch him die.

He is so full of love and goodness, why
Is he now hanging, nails through every limb,
Pierced through as soldiers hang my friend up high?

With him, each side, they hang two thieves who cry,
One curses, one sees something more in him,
My heart and spirit breaks to watch them die.

He is derided , mocked by passers-by,
Who shout, “Get off the cross if you are king!”
I watch, they watch my friend who hangs up high.

At noon a darkness fills both land and sky,
He cries out loud, God has forsaken him.
My heart and spirit break to watch him die.
He breathes his last with one long anguished cry,
It’s finished, I thought, feeling numb and grim.
I watched as soldiers hung my friend up high.
My heart and spirit broken now he’s died.

(Isobel DeGruchy of South Africa poem: I Watch as Soldiers Hang my Friend up High)
It is that moment of utter sadness as the dream, the vision lies dead.

Daniel Berrigan sees Jesus through the eyes of the suffering servant images of Isaiah, the one who dies forsaken for us:

Who could declare your death…
It was a hollow death; men
dread it like plague. Thieves die this way,
charlatan, rejects. A good man’s thought recoils;
his best years, aspiration, children
beckon a different road. To grow old yes,
gently one day to stop breathing, home and faces
drifting out of mind. Abrupt violence even
he can countenance, a quick mercy on disease.
but not this. The mother’s face
knotted, mottled with horror.
A vision,
a few men destroyed.
It is always like this; time’s cruel harrowing,
furies at the reins of fortune
wild horses dragging
the heroic dishonored body on time’s ground.
O for an act of God! we cry, before death utterly
reduce to dust
that countenance, that grace and beauty.
But come wild hope, to dead end.
War, murder, anguish, fratricide.
No recourse.
The case of Jesus Christ is closed.
Make what you will
desire, regret, he lies stigmatized
a broken God the world had sport of.
Risen? we have not turned that page.

(FACING IT by Daniel Berrigan)
We continue to watch and wait; we have two stations left, to remember…

Meditation III

Tradition tells us that Jesus’ body was placed in His mother’s arms after he was taken down from the Cross, Station 13. This scene became the subject of many artistic renderings with the most famous of all being Michelangelo’s sculpture in white marble, the Pieta.
I read of Christ crucified,
the only begotten Son
sacrificed to flesh and time
and all our woe. He died
and rose, but who does not tremble
for his pain, his loneliness,
and the darkness of the sixth hour?
Unless we grieve like Mary
at His grave, giving Him up
as lost, no Easter morning comes.
(Wendell Berry, The Way of Pain)
A friend had a similar thought, “We may be an Easter people, but we never get there without walking through death.” (

Our meditations end with Jesus down from the cross. We have one more station to go, but our journey through death continues and we weep with Mary…
It’s not that you were present,
but that suddenly I knew how it was done.
The broken piano, standing in the empty room —
I pictured you seated there.
And I sang: Eli, Eli . . .
And my voice even broke,
mimicking yours in old age.
Remembering you
acting that part,
however petulantly,
is to evoke your aspirations,
your despair as well.
It is to open the ear to those distinct vibrations,
for an instant to be filled with you,
and nothing else.

(Mourning by Daniel Weissbort)
May we be at the cross with Mary, for an instant to be filled with Jesus, and nothing else. Amen.

(After communion, stripping of the altar, Station 14 – Jesus buried in the tomb. No Meditation.)

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