The Pas Palm/Passion Sunday
14 April 2019
O God of eternal glory,
whose servant, Jesus Christ, bore our sins,
encouraged the weary, and raised up the fallen:
keep before our eyes his passion and resurrection,
so that our lives may be signs of his obedience and victory.
We ask this in the name of Christ, our liberator. Amen.
Today, really, if we look at it, we combine two festivals into one.
Today we not only celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, but we immediately follow that celebration with the passion and crucifixion of Christ.
Today we intentionally enter into the Passion of Christ, and we dwell here through the week until we celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Sunday.
So, what is it about the Palm Procession with which we began our time together, today, and how does it lead us from that enthusiastic and emotional high to the Crucifixion and the emotional lows that accompany that end of our time, together, today.
From today’s triumphant entry to Christ’s death on the cross, this is our canvas, our spectrum, our portrait of God’s love for each one of us, and for all of creation, today.
In a Lenten reflection, Bishop Susan Johnson said: today “we will hear the story of Jesus on a march into Jerusalem. What starts as a procession of cheers, turns into a crowd of jeers as Jesus is arrested and tried, then becomes tears of the faithful followers who mourn his death. How many marches must there be, how many tears must flow until justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream? (Amos 5:24)” (https://lcjourneyforjustice.blogspot.com/2019/04/day-39.html?fbclid=IwAR3JCJv7_HVbdc64_sxkyxDCMKfaviuj6AVE2Vd_orcQQfnGXYxPNtXpAzo)
John chapter 10, tells us the story of the Good Shepherd. Jesus tells us: “11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. … 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”” (Jn 10:11-18)
We see Jesus pointing out the difference between the hired shepherd and the shepherd who will lay down his life for the sheep; pointing out the difference between God as our King, and a human appointed ruler.
Today, we see Jesus ride triumphantly into Jerusalem, only to be recognized by his flock, so that when the time comes, he lays down his life, for you, for me, for those who stand along the roadway acknowledging that the Messiah, the Christ, the King has come, at last.
And so, today, we see Jesus, for the first time, declare that he is a monarch. That he is the King of the Jews, and he does this by riding on the colt of an ass into Jerusalem.
Today we see him step up to that mantle of monarchy, fully aware of what it is that he will do, on our behalf, to break the hold over our lives by sin and by the power of death that seeks to separate us from the love of God, still today.
And it begins, here, now, today.
Dorothy L. Sayers, an Anglican theologian, masterfully draws all of the gospels together into a series of radio plays that aired post World War II. When we look at her account of Jesus sending the disciples to bring the colt, for today’s procession into Jerusalem, she gives us the story of a zealot who writes to Jesus offering him the military might of his fighters to put Jesus on Israel’s throne.
She gives us the following image in the words of a letter to Jesus from this zealot, and asking someone to write, he dictates the following message:
“Baruch the Zealot, to Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of David, King of Israel, greeting.
I have observed you, and I know who you are.
To every man opportunity comes once and not again. The Priests and Pharisees are in league to deliver you to Rome; but the people are on your side, and I have men and arms. Give me a sign for now is the moment to strike and seize your kingdom.
When a king comes in peace, he rides upon an ass; but when he goes to war, upon a horse. In the stable of Zimri , at the going-up into the City, is a war-horse saddled and ready. Set yourself upon him, and you shall ride into Jerusalem with a thousand spears behind you.
But if you refuse, then take the ass’s colt that is tied at the vineyard door, and Baruch will bide his time until a bolder Messiah come. Say only: The Master has need of him, and the beast is at your service.” Have you written that?” (The Man Born to be King pg 205)
Our processional gospel tells us: “29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”” (Lk 19:29-31)
And we can see that today’s remembrance of Jesus passion and crucifixion is only possible because Jesus enters Jerusalem, today, riding on the colt of an ass, because Jesus enters Jerusalem as the King, because the people accept him as the messiah, as the king of their hearts, if not their political reality.
Today’s recitation of the Passion and Crucifixion, that we’ve just heard, that followed the dramatic procession into Jerusalem, is only possible because Jesus, the Messiah knows the will of God, and his role within the fulfillment of that will for all of humanity, for all who believe.
My favourite portion of the passion is the prayers at Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives. Luke tells us: “41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Lk 22:41-44)
Here we see that Jesus knows God’s plan. Jesus steps willingly where God needs him to step, although he’d rather to otherwise.
Remember, in the parable of the good shepherd, Jesus tells us: “17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”” (Jn 10:17-18)
If we look back at the radio plays by Dorothy L. Sayers, right from the birth of the Christ child, from the visit of the wise men, we find Jesus, as a babe in arms, knows and embraces the will of God that leads him there, today. That leads us to wave palms and declare “blesses is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Lk 19:38a)
In her play the three Wise Men have presented their gifts and are talking with Mary and Joseph and the family who has taken them into their home. One child is awed by the king’s gifts but wants to see which gift the babe reaches for, and they’re all surprised when Joseph observes: “He has stretched out his hand and grasped the bundle of myrrh.” (pg 50-1)
Once more, the life of a monarch, a king, and its relation to death. Remember the other gifts were gold, and Sayers says a crown, and frankincense, encompassing Jesus role as king of kings, priest of priests, and the one who dies for the benefit of all.
So, here we are, today, often slightly embarrassed at our parading through the church, before we’re able to slide into our customary places. Slightly embarrassed holding our palms aloft and hoping that will suffice for the annual Palms Procession.
But today, today and only today Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one, our king, our shepherd enters his city, as the rightful king, anointed by God.
He’s cheered on by the people, by the heavenly beings, by you and me, and by even the stones themselves.
We cry “38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”” (Lk 19:38-40)
It’s the King entering his city, it’s the Messiah taking his place triumphantly in the city, riding on the colt of an ass, a donkey, coming among his people in peace, and in love.
We see him entering their hearts before the events of the passion and the crucifixion take place, in today’s service, in the cycle of services that mark the triduum, the passion, the crucifixion and the resurrection, that mark our witness of these events, in our lives, and in our hearts.
And in the monumental display of God’s love in the passion the crucifixion, and the resurrection, we often overlook the significance of what it means for Jesus to enter the city as the king, pointing out his place as the ruler over Israel, the king of the Jews for all to see and to recognize.
The divine cycle of reconciliation initiated by God, has begun, and we all have our parts to play.
In this action the only way through is to move forward. Jesus has started the clock ticking when he mounted the colt. He has put in motion events that are not completed until he is laid in the grave, only to arise next Sunday morning, having broken the bonds of sin and death, not just for those who are cheering and shouting, but for all, throughout time and space who believe.
The Messiah, the Good Shepherd willingly lays down his life, not just to the wolves who challenge the survival of the flock, but to the power of sin and death that keep us forever separate from the loving embrace of God, in and for our lives.
So, today, all this week, and throughout the year, let us with pride, with thanksgiving, and with hope, wave our palms, express our love for the King who takes our place on the cross, who dies so that we might live, today, and every day.