Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Passion of Christ for the World

Fr. Robert R.M. Bagwell+Palm+Sunday+Year C  
Isaiah 50:4-9a  + Psalm 31:9-16 + Philippians' 2:5-11 + Luke 22:14-23:56
Today we enter into the remembrance of the week that changed the world. That is not to remember, but to hold up the sacrifice of Jesus to God and ourselves and acknowledge price of our salvation.  A remembrance. This week changed time and eternity and is the only week that out of all weeks is called "Holy", that is, set apart to God as long as time endures. This week is called passion week and today passion Sunday as well as Palm Sunday.  We usually use the word passion in our day to connote  intense feeling, passionate about something or someone. We say we love someone passionately.  We do somethings with passion.  I can only surmise that in those circumstances our feelings are so intensely that it is almost painful. The story of this week has been called "the greatest story ever told." It is.  It is so far beyond the simple bumper sticker Christianity that says God loves you in an almost trite and perfunctory simplistic way although in fact it is profound. A myriad of books written, films made, sacrifices endured, all because of the simple yet profound truth that God so loved the world that he gave, He gave  His only begotten Son.  This is the week that changed the world.  History is revealed as His story, not figuratively but in fact. .

We begin today a bird's eye view of the saga of the human journey, but that journey fraught with highs and lows but ends in exaltation.  Jesus said: In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)  In Jesus, after the pomp of this Sunday, the ultimate purpose of God in Christ will be lived out, graphically, painfully and ultimately gloriously.

Today=s events are the opening curtain to the Passion Play that begins with the entry of admirers and ends with the actions of a lynch mob.  Historians estimate as this was the time of the Passover, as many as 2.5 million extra visitors were in and around Jerusalem.  The priests and the Pharisees apparently did not think Jesus would come openly to Jerusalem as He was being sought by them as a fugitive. But He came as alwaysCopenly and unafraid. 

As He comes, those who have heard of His wondrous acts and His followers began to shoutCAHosanna to the son of David! Hosanna meansCO save us nowCSon of David as they spread their garments and palm branches in the road as was done in the middle East for royalty. The expression Son of David was a Messianic title.  Was this Jesus the messiah? He had come to purchase a people for Himself at a great cost.  The setting was deliberate.  Jesus intended to attract attentionCriding on a donkey=s colt reminding some of Zechariah=s prophecy in chapter 9, verse 9CRejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. But see also Jesus = ironyCthe Jews expected a conquering war hero messiah king on a war stallionCdefeating the Romans. Jesus appears as a King of Peace who conquers the real enemyBsin in the human heart and soulCthat divides humanity from God and one another.   The events of this week are not some sloppy sentimental Valentine loveCbut the love of God at its most powerful moment, unwilling to lose His rebellious creation, no matter what the personal cost to Himself. 

Was this a surprise to God? Did He count the cost?    In Genesis 3:15, in what is called the protoevangelium or the first declaration of the gospel we read:  And I will put enmity (open hostility) Between you and the woman, And between your seed (offspring) and her Seed; He shall [fatally] bruise your head,  but  (And)  you shall [only] bruise His heel  (Amph.) This tells us that God knew from the beginning what the cost of this love for the human race would be.  

Perhaps we have made this Gospel Passion too sanitaryCtoo antiseptic, a Sunday school Jesus if you will.  However, if we could see for a moment our necks on the line, our own lives as the price for our own wrongs, the just deserts of our actions, it would change the perspective. If we would but see our own sentence to eternity=s death row without the reprieve freely granted by God as He adopted us in Christ despite the cost we would see things differently. .  God saw our reality and God did what needed to be done.

Building on this perspective our second reading from  Philippians lays this out for us.  It shows us how Jesus looked upon his mission and purpose and we are challenged to live with the same mindset.  We own Jesus everything.  We can repay him nothing. He did it anyway, because he chose to love us. That is the love of the Servant King. That is the glory that Holy Week reveals to us year after year after year. Why? Because we so easily forget.

No part of that execution of the plan of salvation was accidental.  Scripture reveals an intricately revelatory and planned fulfillment of all that the prophets had spoken.  If we attend the whole four days of the historic Triduum, beginning on Maundy Thursday and ending on Easter day, we  learn of some of those astounding fulfillments, down to the smallest details.  We relive in admittedly a extremely vicarious way, those events that saved us when we were still helpless. Romans chapter five says this: You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die,  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God loved so that he gave.  I think Holy Week is a gift and it is profound as it recounts the works of redemption.  It is designed to make a lasting impression on us as are all of the events of this one week called  Holy.

The very real human-ness of these events shows how bewildered even his disciples were, they simply didn't have a clue.  Immediately before our gospel we read, Jesus has gathered with them in the upper room. At the institution of the Last Supper, Jesus says to them how profoundly he has longed to eat this Passover meal with them before He must suffer.  The next thing after they have received his body and blood, they are arguing about who is to be the greatest of their number!  They just don't get it!!!!  Jesus is speaking of his pain and death and Peter boasts about how he will never deny Jesus even to the point of death!   Jesus is trying to point them to profound things that are about to transpire and it's still all about them.   

This is cosmic.  Note what is about to happen, in the course of this week, humanity is putting God on trial!  God is tried and found wanting.  It is but a picture of the human heart even in our day.  Every cry of not fair, every profane use of God's Name or or that of Jesus, every rejection of God is a human judgment on the one who made us. CS Louis wrote a volume called God in the Dock or in American English, God on the witness stand. On the cross humanity rejected the Creator.  On Easter, we loved us, paid the price and invited us to be his children anyway. 

It is passion, love lived out in action. We hear human songs about: what I did for love, love is the answer, even love is a many splendid thing, but do we know what love really is?  When we see that cross on the Friday we call good, on our altars, on our necks, it is a proclamation, a retelling, a constant reminder of unending sacrificial Divine love.  Was that Friday good for God? Not directly, it was good for US!  When he created us in His Divine image, he called us to follow his example.  Today we are here to acknowledge, to reverence and to proclaim that unearned, free gift of God in Jesus.  As we receive this Body and Blood this morning, be reminded of this as our remembrance is a reminder to God that we acknowledge, we believe, we celebrate a love so profound, the telling of it will never end. Love so deep that as the song writer tells us it will never let us go. May we have a renewal of our love for, in and with God. This is our week of weeks!   What began in the village of Bethlehem, now ends on a hill outside of Jerusalem. May we, as His gathered body whose redemption we celebrate this week, have a renewed vision of Jesus, and a profound sense of gratitude as we share in a most Holy of weeks when we celebrate such  AMAZING love. AMEN

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