A Sermon for Palm/Passion Sunday

 (This is a repost of a previous Palm Sunday sermon)

Things went downhill fast, didn’t they?  In less than an hour, we have gone from shouting “hosanna!” to shouting “crucify him!”  The mood went from euphoria to madness and we’ve all be swept along.  What began as a singing throng, waving palms in jubilation, ended up a mob, with fists raised amid an outpouring of violence.
This text is the hardest one of all the hard texts in the Bible.  It shows us the unspeakable.  The unimaginable.  We like the cross to be empty, but here it is today, with Jesus nailed to it, dead in the wake of betrayal, treachery, rejection, and unadulterated violence.  Dead because of friends and enemies alike.
If we were meant to see this as the end of violence, it did not work.  These texts have been used to justify unspeakable things that have been done to others.  For hundreds of years, Holy Week was a week of terror for Jews, when angry mobs of Christians took their revenge on those they called “Christ killers.”
But this part of the story was supposed to be understood as the continuation of the larger story of the covenant between God and Israel, not the antithesis to it.  It took place in a time and a world when there were no Christians, only pagans and Jews.  And the Jews, as God’s people, often did not understand what God was doing.  Did not want to hear what God was saying.  They were a stiff-necked people who made the golden calf and danced when they should have been reverent, who threw Jeremiah into a cistern when his prophecy offended, who sold their brother Joseph into slavery - and who nonetheless were loved by God more intensely than a nursing mother loves her babies.
We have not superseded the Jews as God’s chosen, but joined the great community of those loved by God, which is surely characterized as those who often do not listen or understand.
But looking on at a distance with the women, among them Mary and Mary Magdalene and the mother of the sons of Zebedee, allows us to imagine that this was someone else’s fault.  And so it is customary for us to take part in this reading on Palm Sunday, to be part of the crowd, to recognize that we didn’t just stand far away, watching in silence and horror as events unfolded, as the unimaginable and unspeakable became concrete reality before our very eyes.  
In this way, we put ourselves into the middle of the crowd that really didn’t know who Jesus was.  To consider our own complicity in the rejection of the Son of God, to perceive our own penchant  to embrace the ways of the world and to despise weakness and vulnerability.  To see how quick we are to victimize and condemn.
But that, too, is not quite the whole story.  It is not all about our complicity.  We all may have been caught up in the violence, but not all of us have been perpetrators.  Some of us are victims, too.  It isn’t just Jesus who has been rejected, beaten, and mocked, subject to suffering and death.  Some of us have, too.  Some of us have been the objects of hatred and humiliation and some of us have even borne the marks of it on our own bodies.
At a time like this, it is not right to only talk about who might be at fault for this violence.  Nor is it right to think that we have nothing to do with it.  Nor is it right to wear our victimhood like a badge or use it like a club to clobber others.   And it is surely not right to think that if we have been the victim of suffering and violence that we have somehow deserved it, which is another shameful way in which this text has been distorted.
From the cross itself, Jesus shows us not only what we are capable of doing in hatred, but also what God is capable of doing in solidarity with those who are outcast and suffering - gathering us all to the divine but human self, perpetrator and victim alike, to await the healing and salvation that is finally to come to us all.  We will not get there if we remain standing at a distance as did Peter and the women.
Our challenge during this coming Holy Week is to come closer, to venture into that now silent aftermath with our hearts open to whatever healing and forgiveness we are in need of, or need to bestow upon others.  Our task is to slow things down and go back over what has happened, to go over what keeps happening, with a new perspective.  Our task is to remember the command - the mandatum, the Maundy:  love one another, wash one another’s feet, do this in remembrance of me.  Our task is to look again at this death and to be able to name our needs, to name our sins, to name those we have wronged and to name those who have wronged us.  To name hatred and violence and suffering and death, betrayal and humiliation, breaking and being broken as that in which we are all caught up, in one way or another.
And then to lay it all down on Friday at the feet of the one who suffered, not so that we would not suffer, but so that we would not suffer alone.  To lay down our penchant for wounding others.  To lay down our bitterness and hatred toward those who have hurt us.  To lay down those things we do to each other that wounds the heart of God.
Crucifixion shows what the world does, not only to God, but to God’s own beloved people.  We are destroyed by mocking and hatred and violence, all of us, victim and perpetrator alike.  We are all of us destroyed by jealousy and suspicion.  We are all of us destroyed by the drive for power.
Today we look upon the wreckage, we see the dead, and we are once again offered the chance to ponder not only what violence and hate can do, but also who it is that suffers while we wait for our salvation.


Perpetua said…
Thank you for this, Penny. Solid food for thought in Holy Week.
Ray Barnes said…
I really like this post Penny. It has made me see the familiar 'pattern' of Holy Week in a completely different way.
The laying at the feet of Jesus of our sins, perceived wrongs etc sounds like a good healthy exercise for us all and one I shall attempt to emulate.
Many thanks.
Thanks, you two. What a week we shall have.
Anonymous said…
Yes, Penny; thank you. And part of our new perspective is that our Lent does not end with either the adulation or the persecution, suffering, and death; our Lent continues right up to the moment of the unexpected resurrection. New life is born. The kingdom of God is here, with us.
Thanks, SM. It's hard to imagine new life in the aftermath of such a wreck. Thanks for the reminder.