Wow, there is just a lot to process in the readings from Palm Sunday, there always is. In part this has to do with the fact that the lectionary gives us the Passion narrative on Palm Sunday. So, we have the King of Kings triumphal entry into Jerusalem (the liturgy of the palms) and then also the Passion. You may wonder why we do that? Why make it so packed, if we are just going to read the Passion Narrative again on Good Friday? I suspect more so than ever before, not every person who considers themselves a Christian will make it to a Good Friday liturgy. For those who will not make it, this would be the only time that the story of the Passion is heard on a Sunday. The other reason has to do with rotating which version of the Passion we hear. On Good Friday, we always hear the version in the Gospel of John, and since this is year C lectionary cycle we have Luke’s version. The Gospels vary by flavor in a sense. Luke’s version of the Passion has Jesus entirely in control and almost distant from the events.
A common theme to explore on Palm Sunday corresponds to the juxtaposition of the two Gospel texts that leave us feeling somewhat schizophrenic. However, this schizophrenic feeling is fitting, because WE just are that way. We both rejoice that God is present, King of King and Lord of Lords, and we also reject God in our lives, countless times over and over, again. And so, at least the Gospel readings today are a microcosm of how we actually are as Christians, as humans.
And I say “we actually are”, but that would imply that we can’t change, that all our attempts to understand what is being asked of us are for naught. And well, I don’t believe that. It may be our tendency, but we are not static. I do believe that God is always calling us to Godself, and I believe that Jesus shows us how we are to be. It is not just a transaction. Jesus’ death is not limited to “he died on the cross to save sinners, so if you believe, you will have eternal life.” I believe that is true, but it is far more nuanced. Jesus died, but by taking Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection seriously then we are compelled to turn the love and forgiveness offered to us to the next person. In this way, the eye for an eye/ tooth for a tooth mentality doesn’t leave us all blind and in need of dentures. In this way, we do not just receive from the life of Jesus…we enter in to the life of Jesus. In this way, eternal life begins now.
Because these readings are so jam-packed, I see that there are at least three (possibly more) ways that Jesus exemplifies how we are to turn to be, to be more and more like Jesus. These three are the following: 1. King of Kings, 2. Servant 3. And One who offers unmerited, unearned forgiveness, which is perhaps the truest definition of paradise.
I think the first is probably the hardest to get our collective heads around. Back in Jesus’ day a king, any king, was thought to be the child (um, son) of a deity. In Palestinian monotheism, this is then “Son of God.” Much in American culture resists seeing “king’ as a positive image. However, the hope that someone has ultimate power, absolute justice and endless mercy persists in the human imagination. Now none of us is going to have ultimate power, but if we are going to be the Teresa’s of Avila hands and feet of Jesus in the world, then we must use what power we do have for the good of all, with justice and mercy. What I believe this means for this day and age is to be aware and be active in todays’ world. To not let events just pass you by, but to work to make things as right as what your contribution can do.
Servanthood is a little easier to understand. From our Philippians reading, we are to adopt the mind of Christ Jesus, who became a servant, indeed a slave for us. We still resist “servant” and “slave language.” But through our baptism, we are all free, slaves to none, and yet simultaneously we are also servants to all. A life of service, if not our profession, can be our pastime, and leads to a better more generous caring world and to ourselves becoming more grateful for all God’s gifts.
Finally, in Luke’s passion, Jesus not only gives us the way of forgiveness, but he also even forgives from the cross. The “seeing in paradise” involves a whole bunch of exegetical and theological discussion, but forgiveness that is unearned no matter what is the truest definition of paradise.
So this day, as we move into the holiest Christian days of the year, we look ourselves squarely in the face and see that, though we are capable of rejecting Jesus, and do reject Jesus, we are also capable of accepting him, entering into his way as the way of life— a life in which God will ultimately reign; in which all are servants of all; and in which forgiveness for our missteps is always waiting for us – waiting with readiness like the father in the story of the prodigal son – waiting to restore us to life and our neighbors who we forgive, to life— life in paradise.
Rev. Sarah Colvin
The Liturgy of the Palms
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
The Liturgy of the Word