April 1, 2012
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
There is a theme repeated throughout all four Gospels. John says it like this:
His disciples did not understand this at first;
but when Jesus was glorified,
then they remembered that this had been written
of him and had been done to him.
The whole of the Gospel points to the crucifixion and the resurrection and says, without this, the rest makes no sense.
The cries for mercy would merely be optimism, except that they are backed up by the power of God to move from death to life.
The cries for justice would be drowned out in the zeal we have for keeping things orderly, except that God disarms the powers of death and calls us to do the same.
The commandment to love one another as Christ loves us would be merely a sentiment of “try to be nice,” except that Jesus shows us what faithfulness to compassion really looks like.
They do not understand, but when Jesus was glorified, they remembered.
Palm Sunday is a good day to consider what it means to be glorified. The crowds gather, laying down cloaks, waving branches, shouting the ancient shouts of victory and welcome for the conquering hero. We can tell by the nervousness of the religious establishment and the governing Romans that what is feared is another person who will defy Rome, who will stir up the people to rebel.
And there were plenty in and around the time of Jesus. There were would be messiahs and martyrs and bandits and outlaws. There were those who led religious movements and those who led insurgency movements and those who led political movements against the empire.
And this time, they welcome Jesus, laying claim to his role as one who will restore Israel, cast off the shackles of Rome, usher in the kingdom of God, sit on the throne in Jerusalem as David did, and rule them with justice and with might,
They want to glorify Jesus, but that isn’t what the Gospels mean when they say the word. This same crowd, just a few days later, are not shouting hosannas. They scream for his crucifixion.
There is a lesson here that still holds true: crowds resemble herds. Not just in numbers, or in movement, but in their ability to be startled, to be jumpy, to trample, to stampede.
The glory of Palm Sunday is not the adulation of the crowd. It is the paradox of God. Jesus is faithful to the ways of compassion and justice, of righteousness and mercy. And it is going to get him in trouble. Conventional wisdom says that following God means good things happen. Here is Jesus following as closely as possible the ways of God, and the world will not glorify him for it, they will crucify him.
We can see that the road Jesus is walking is narrow. On the one side, it would be easy to believe the crowd, to stir up nationalist feelings, to build up anti-Roman sentiment, to lead a guerilla campaign against their occupiers and forget all this God stuff. On the other side, it would be easy to shrink back from fulfilling his task, which he knows is going to get him in trouble, is going to get him killed.
Christianity often suffers from falling off to one side or the other – either we try to be popular and win approval by looking a whole lot like the rest of society (and this can happen whether we are on the left or the right), or being too afraid to risk ourselves on behalf of compassion and mercy and justice. Following Jesus, living our faith with justice, with mercy, with compassion, is a narrow path. Paul describes it this way:
Have this mind among yourselves,
which is yours in Christ Jesus, who,
though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a servant,
being born in the likeness of men.
The crowd wanted to find a king that they could glorify. But in Jesus we see the glory of God lived out not in the form of a king, not in a godly form, but in the form of a servant.
And there is the paradox.
And being found in human form he humbled himself
and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed
on him the name which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
If we want to know glory, if we want to glorify God, let us serve our neighbor. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Visit the sick and the imprisoned. Let go of judgment and practice forgiveness. Learn what it means when God says, “I want mercy and not sacrifice.” Let us glorify God by figuring out, together, what it means to love our neighbor as our self, and let us then live it.
This is the week of Jesus’ faithfulness being tested. At the table, in the garden, in the palace, and on the cross. What we learn in the story of Holy Week is that Jesus is faithful. What we learn at Easter is that the living God is faithful, too.
Thanks be to God. Amen.