my miscellany

Palm Sunday, 2019 — 14 Apr 19

Palm Sunday, 2019

RCL Year C Palm Sunday
Saint Luke 19:28-40;
Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Saint Luke 23:1-49

We have just made the choice of our lives. As I said last Sunday, it’s the choice in which our entire biography is written. We’ve just demanded that Pilate release for us a murderer and an insurrectionist, Barabbas, instead of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It’s true, you may say, that we didn’t actually do it. We weren’t in Jerusalem that day when Pilate hands Jesus over to his soldiers to be crucified. But the choice that the people in Jerusalem made they were able to make, because they are like us. The sin that lived in them finds a home in us as well. We are powerless to control that sin even minimally. Our power and our strength run out before they can tame that wildness and the perversity of a creature turning on its creator. We can turn shockingly easily. We can do it, we have just done it, almost effortlessly. It’s our second nature.

We are trapped, it is true, but we have hope. We have the hope spoken of in the reading today from the Prophet Isaiah: “The Lord God helps me…and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.”[1]

Amen, brother. Amen, sister. From the very beginning, God made it so. God made it so, that salvation and redemption are only a half-step away. For the One we’ve turned on is Himself our Savior. The One we’ve turned on reaches out for us every minute and every day of our lives. He reaches out for you today in this Eucharist. Take his hand. Let him lead you home.

The Psalmist, I think, experienced these extremes. He knew the power of his sin when he said, “I am as useless as a broken pot.”[2] But a few breaths later, a mere half-step, if you will, he was also able to demand, “Make your face to shine upon your servant, * and in your loving-kindness save me.”[3] That this may be so is why we are here.

[1] Isaiah 50:7-8a.

[2] Psalm 31:12.

[3] Psalm 31:16.

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.

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.

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