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The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, 2018 — 25 Mar 18

The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, 2018

RCL Year B Palm Sunday
Saint Mark 11:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Saint Mark 15:1-47

What we have imperfectly enacted just now shows you exactly how it is that human justice contains flaws and fails to match divine justice. False charges, leveled against an innocent man and delivered with guile and malice exceptional for their purity and intensity; a political animal, cornered, taking unto himself the separate and conflicting roles of prosecutor, judge, and jury, and guided by a keenly accurate perception of consensus and the preponderate momentum of twisting and spiraling emotions and anxieties; and, finally, a mob enraged beyond its level of competence by fear and a thirst for blood and suffering, and ignorant of any reasonable idea of fairness or justice. These three flawed and crippled agents combine to secure an outcome so unworthy and so degraded from even their shortsighted understanding of what justice requires that we are forced to face how low the lowest common denominator can really be.

With the chief priests, Pilate, and the mob, a lot is going on. Those goings on are the usual content of Palm Sunday sermons. But, today, think, if you will, about what is going on with the disciples. They are in the background, but they are observers of all that transpires among the chief priests, Pilate, and the mob. Think about how these events dash the hopes of the disciples. They had hoped that Jesus would restore the kingdom of David and, in so doing, remove the Romans and the others holding them back. Never mind that they had heard three times from Jesus’ own lips how he “must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”[1] Never mind that they wanted not this outcome. And the outcome of suffering and death he predicted thrice is happening before their very eyes. Think how disappointed they must be.

Later in Saint Mark’s Gospel, after the resurrection, when Mary Magdalene tells the disciples while they are mourning and weeping that Jesus had appeared to her, Saint Mark tells us, “they would not believe it.”[2] Stubborn minds are hard to change. The truth, Jesus himself, had stood right in front of them and told them three times that these things must take place. And when the last of those things takes place, and Mary Magdalene tells them of it, still, “they would not believe it.”

The celebration again this year of the Eucharist of the Passion gives us again this year the opportunity to do what the disciples could not do. It gives us the opportunity to believe him, to believe that he is alive, and to believe that he will do in fact what he has told his followers he will do.

On Palm Sunday, when we have the Liturgy of the Palms, the Prayer Book allows us to omit the Nicene Creed and the Confession. And we are going to omit them today. But what we are not permitted to omit at any time are to believe in him and to confess our sins. We are never permitted to omit to do these things, because he will do, like no one else we have ever known, exactly what he said he will do. “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.”[3]

[1] Saint Mark 8:31.

[2] Saint Mark 16:11.

[3] BCP, page 359.

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Palm Sunday, 2017 — 9 Apr 17

Palm Sunday, 2017

RCL A Palm Sunday
Saint Matthew 21:1-11, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Saint Matthew 27:11-54

You cannot participate in what we have just done together without facing the problem of points of view. The points of view are so wide-ranging that they cannot all be right. And we are under the obligation to make up our minds about them.

There’s Pilate’s point of view. He asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews, the principal accusation of the chief priests and elders. He asks Jesus their principal accusation, but he doesn’t believe it. He’s a political animal, weighing sensitively what the chief priests and elders want, what the crowd wants, and what he thinks he can do and get away with without anyone turning on him. The truth doesn’t matter to him. His concern is to practice the tricky art of the possible.

Then there are the chief priests and the elders who are jealous of Jesus’ popularity and aware that Jesus is bad for their religion-business, as Pilate perceptively understands. The truth doesn’t matter to them either. Their self-interest is what matters.

And then there’s the crowd, the mob, who want their own baser feelings and instincts to be salved. They want blood; crowds always want blood; and they want Jesus’ blood, for the chief priests and the elders have persuaded them so.

And so the decision is made, and that decision is a hot bucket of steaming garbage. An innocent man is condemned to die, condemned to the ignominious death of crucifixion to die alongside two bandits.

And then, the final point of view, coming not from a principal character, not from someone dignified with a name, not from someone who carries lots of weight. It comes from the centurion, who gives the final word, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”[1]

We cannot witness the raw and unjust force of power and keep our integrity without abominating the process and the result. A good man, God’s only Son, toyed with, unjustly sentenced and improperly killed only to be recognized by the few.

And we are the few though we called for his crucifixion just now. We recognize that we bear some of the responsibility. We are baptized into his death as well as into his resurrection. God has seen to it that the preference for something other than the truth can only last for a short time. In the end the wood of the cross itself becomes the rough doorway for the perfect will of God. The viewpoints are intense and wrong, but they lead to God’s perfect will. The ugliness leads to the beauty of God’s perfect will. The will of the flesh, the will of the crowd and the self-interested, only lead to the redemption of all who put their trust in him, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. Once again we can put our lives in his hands. We can take his life for our own. We can be the people we were created to be.

[1] Saint Matthew 27:54.

Palm Sunday, 2015 — 29 Mar 15

Palm Sunday, 2015

Palm Sunday, 2015
March 29
Saint Mark 11:1-11a; Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Saint Mark 15:1-47

Recently, I’ve been reminded of a sign I saw on the television about twenty years ago. A man held a sign, and it said, “There is nothing worth dying for.” That takes some thinking about. If there is nothing without which living becomes impossible, then there is nothing worth living for, either.

That sign describes life in this modern time: we are dulled, or satisfied, or complacent enough to think that nothing is so important that we would die for it or that we would live for it. That may very well describe us. Certainly it describes Judas, Pilate, and the Crowd in Jesus’ Passion that we have just rendered dramatically.

But Jesus is willing to die. He is willing to die, I think, for two reasons. First, he’s willing to die because it is his Father’s will that he die. Secondly, he’s willing to die to be a ransom for many. And those are good reasons to die. They are two good reasons worth dying for.

The Agony in the Garden, the agony Jesus endures before he is betrayed, is the agony of conforming his will to his Father’s will: “Father,” Jesus prays, “all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt.”[1] And his teaching, so moving, about servanthood is a teaching that he came to give his life as a payment for others. “For the Son of man,” Jesus says, “also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”[2]

Jesus has two good reasons worth dying for. But those who accuse him, those who acquiesce in his death, and those who want him removed have such weak reasons to see him die. Their reasons are like our reasons, not strong enough to die for and not strong enough to live for. Pilate, representing Rome, wants to rid himself of a nuisance, albeit a nuisance of whom he said, “Why, what evil has he done?”[3] The chief priests accuse Jesus of many things which are elaborated in the other Gospels, but in Saint Mark they go unmentioned. The crowd, well, the crowd wants Pilate to release Barabbas, a murderer, whom they may wish to give back after they get to know him. But crowds are that way. We have seen changeable and fickle crowds on the television and in surveys and polls. And we should not forget that the same people who shout “Hosanna” upon Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem are the same people who shout “Crucify him!” a few days later.

But what of us? What of our reasons for participating in Jesus’ Passion? Our reasons ideally should be strong enough to live for and strong enough to die for. They should be as strong as Jesus’ reasons. And I think they can be. We should participate in the Passion, and in the prayers, and in the sacraments of the church, because it is God’s will for us to be saved. The Passion, the prayers, and the sacraments are the means God has given us to that very worthy end. Salvation is worth living for, and salvation is worth dying for. Jesus acted so. Secondly, we should participate in the Passion, in the prayers, and in the sacraments, because we have been ransomed. Ransom is our inheritance. Being redeemed in Christ, we breathe the air of the Passion, the prayers, and the sacraments; they are food which nourishes the redeemed.

The salvation Christ has given us and promises us in eternity are both worth living for and worth dying for. When we think about it, we know it’s so. And when we live like we would die for our eternal inheritance, people will beat a path to our door.

[1] Saint Mark 14:36.

[2] Saint Mark 10:45.

[3] Saint Mark 15:14.

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