Palm Sunday + Year B The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
29, April 2015
History is a great epoch. It is "his" "Story", the story of God's Providence for the world. Today we emerge from 40 days of penitence and reflection and enter the heart of the gospel of God in Jesus. We enact both the Divine drama of redemption and the human tragedy that so obviously made it necessary. We begin waving Palm branches in a celebration of victory and like all human fickleness, this all too soon is forgotten as the worst of human hatred turns our eyes to its inevitable outcome.
We enter this week of great anti-theses, a study in paradox upon paradox. It is a study in contrasts and the schizophrenia of the human soul. What begins on this day that we commemorate with triumph will conclude in a few short days, in tragedy. It begins with Jesus and his most trusted disciples in stardom and ends with betrayal, abandonment and death. Their lives that had begun with "come follow me" would end where they would not and truthfully could not go. What began in a stable with adoring shepherds and angels crying, "Gloria in excelsis" ends on a hill called Golgotha amidst jeers and mocking onlookers at his suffering. The color we wear is called "passion red" the color of the blood that would wash our sins away in the sacrifice of God's only begotten Son
We call this "Palm Sunday" and "Passion Sunday". This connotes the event and the purpose of our commemoration. We begin on the way of joyous shouts of hosanna and end on the via dolorosa, the way of sorrows. Passion is perhaps the more theological of the titles of this day. Passion is from the Greek word meaning "to suffer". We may begin the Christian walk with a presumed optimism, we may not so easily see the suffering we experience of the world the flesh and the Devil. We use the same word "passion" to describe human love between two people and the driven-ness to be one with the other. We may just as appropriately use the term to describe God's intensive love for us.
The purpose of the Passion was to inaugurate a completely new operating system not simply a new app on our spiritual I-Phones. What we could not do for ourselves, the cosmic Christ did for us. The most glorious gift of God, humanity slaughtered on a cruel tree. It began with cries of "hosanna" literally "save now" Son of David, a messianic title, and the waving of Palm branches of victory. Little did they know that He would save but not as they thought and not in the manner they cried for. He would not liberate the flesh but the soul and Spirit.
Note interestingly and profoundly that the veil of the temple, that which hid the holy of holies where the ark of the covenant was supposed to be, was torn top to bottom. That veil was heavy cloth and many feet high and it was torn top to bottom by the Divine Hand. Why? What did this indicate? That now, each of us, through Jesus, can come directly into the throne room of God. Later the writer to the Hebrews would write: "Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (4:6)
On earth Jesus was the "doulos" the slave of humanity as he indicated many times in his ministry. The cross is the ultimate sign of servanthood. Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer would write in his work, "The Cost of Discipleship", these words: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Paul writes to the Church at Corinth:
AThe message of the cross is complete absurdity to those who are headed for ruin, but to us who are experiencing salvation, it is the power of God. …Has not God turned the wisdom of this world into folly? Since in God=s wisdom the world did not come to know him through >wisdom,= it pleased God to save those who believe through the absurdity of the preaching of the gospel. Yes, Jews demand >signs= and Greeks look for >wisdom, > but we preach Christ crucifiedBa stumbling block to Jews, and an absurdity to Gentiles; but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.A (I Cor 1:18B24) NCB
Yes, we preach Christ resurrected, but there is no resurrection without going through the cross. There is no Easter without Good Friday. It is important to remember as theologian Jurgen Moltmann writes: Athe symbol of the cross in the church points to the God who was crucified not between two candles on an altar, but between two thieves in the place of the skull, where the outcasts belong, outside the gate of the city. @ (The Crucified God, p. 40) This murder of God's Son, this casting out of the inner sanctums of hearts and homes, is an image of humanity's hatred of God. We call it "original sin." To that character of the human heart, God is a threat. That there is someone higher than our sovereign selves still exists, as some try to muzzle the mouths of Christians in the market place.
Moltmann says that this cross does not invite thought but a change of mind. The cross of Christ leads us out of our secure pews into fellowship with the dispossessed and the abandoned. It likewise leads the dispossessed and abandoned in the world's market place into the fellowship of God in the Church. This fellowship of the redeemed follows the way of Christ. In fact, early believers were called followers of "the Way", the way of Jesus. We understand that Jesus' way includes our own daily dying to "sin, selfishness and every form of degraded love" to quote Fr. Brennan Manning.
As our Epistle explains the theological construct of God behind what Jesus was about to do for us, we find in his actions the model of our own. But Jesus was not a victim as surely those who loved and followed him must have believed at the time, but a sacrifice. He was murdered by humanity so that God could make of some humans new creations, heirs of God with God's Son Jesus.. His final words: "Tetelestai!" "it is finished", his work to save us was at his cost, accomplished. It IS finished!
So I find this day much as I do the funeral of a dear loved one, both joyous for the life they lived and what they meant to me and others and at the same time, a sadness and mourning for their near absence to me. But this sacrifice was not to be the end of the story but a new beginning as it is now for all who come to Christ seeking his gift of salvation. As we imposed those Ashes some forty days ago God now imputes the forgiveness of sins. So this morning as we cry "save now", let us also remember that he did just that. He saved us, by the blood of His cross and made us sons and daughters of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. It IS FINISHED.