Palm Sunday, 2017

This is the kind of reading
that crawls up your spine
and makes you shudder,
and our participation in it,
our finding our place
with the crowd in this reading
makes it all the more ominous.

The importance of
our participation in this story
cannot be stressed enough;
we must be thrust
into these unhappy roles in the story
so that we cannot imagine ourselves
in the unique position
of the Crucified Messiah.

The whole congregation participates
in the vicious cry of the crowd,
separating us from the position
of the One who stands
in the place of Judgment before Pilate.
Even those who just read the specific parts –
even the one who reads the part of Jesus –
must suspend that role in this liturgy
and join in with the crowd.
In that moment,
when we join the voice of the crowd,
Jesus stands alone and unique.

We have spent the last 5 weeks
remembering that we are dust –
creatures who depend on the creator
for our very lives –
and we arrive at this story, this liturgy,
experiencing and performing
the full weight of that desperate need.

Today, we stand over against Jesus as the crowd,
and Jesus stands before us
ready to offer himself
in full obedience to God’s will.
This self offering began at his birth,
but we see it most clearly
in the Garden with his disciples
as they nap, and he prays:
“Yet not what I want
but what you want.”

This essential moment
in the Garden of Gethsemane –
where Jesus’ own desire for deliverance
yields to the desire of God
for the deliverance of all creatures –
This essential moment
begins the undoing of the Fall,
where in a Garden,
the first Adam stretched out his hand
in self-serving desire
and in disobedience.
This is the thing we cannot do.
This is the thing
that must be done for us.
Jesus alone is the Faithful One.
“Yet not what I want
but what you want.”

And so it is no surprise
that the disciples are found to be sleeping.
“So, could you not
stay awake with me one hour?”
The answer to Jesus’ question
is a clear, “No.”

And shortly after this moment,
Jesus is arrested by his own people,
betrayed by the one
who calls him teacher,
he is abandoned
by the eleven who call him “Lord,”
and he is denied
by his most zealous disciple
and one of his closest friends.
Even his closest companions
cannot keep watch,
cannot stay with him.

Jesus faces both of his trials alone.
Though Peter is outside the house
of the High Priest,
he is not there for support
or to defend Jesus.
He is there to see
how this all shakes out,
and after things go south,
Peter denies knowing Jesus at all.

And when Jesus is brought before Pilate,
though the governor
can find no reason to condemn him,
he washes his hands of Jesus’ fate.
Again, Jesus is left alone,
facing the hostile crowd.
As we mumble through these lines
in the Gospel reading,
not quite sure how enthusiastically
we ought to participate
in such a dour scene,
the tension of our fragile
and divided allegiances are made plain.

We know where we ought to be,
who we ought to be rooting for
in this story,
so participating
in the part of the crowd
ought to feel conflicting at best.

In this role,
we learn the deepest meaning
of the Apostle Paul
when he says,
“I do not understand my own actions.
For I do not do what I want,
but I do the very thing I hate.”

There is no one in this story
but Jesus alone
who performs the role
of the Faithful One.
The disciples have betrayed,
denied, and fled.
The religious and political powers
have condemned,
and the palm-waving crowd
has become the angry mob.

Jesus is set apart,
and we are left to reckon with the fact
that the spirit is willing,
but the flesh is weak.

We enter into Holy Week
having performed this story together,
inhabiting the uncomfortable
and conflicted roles
that we all play in this story.

Yet, we enter also
with a clear picture of Jesus
as the uniquely Holy One,
the only Savior.

We are compelled to begin Holy Week
trusting not in our own righteousness
but in the manifold and great mercy
of the one who goes to the cross for us,
who looks upon us,
even as we are demanding Barabbas,
and says, “This is my body given for you.”

And as we join that chilling call
for his blood to be on us
and on our children,
Jesus hands us the cup and says,
“This is my blood of the New Covenant
poured out for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.”

This reading leaves us no reason
for presumption or pride.
All else has been stripped away.
Grace is the only thing left for us.
Jesus is the only one left for us.

So begin this Holy Week
with your sight focused on the Faithful One,
the one who alone walks this path
of fidelity and obedience to God
for us.


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