The collect for the second half of this service troubles me. It says in part, “Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection.”
I don’t know how that strikes you, but I don’t like it much. It may be just me and my own history with the Church, but it seems to imply to me that in order to share in the joy of the resurrection, I should ask God to send me a commensurate amount of personal suffering, as if this was some kind of zero-sum game. I absolutely object to that kind of theology.
I’ve been struggling to see if the rest of this day, this Palm Sunday, can help with that at all.
We start with the exuberant entry into Jerusalem, with Jesus coming into town in this unusual procession on a donkey and a colt. And the roads were surrounded with people shouting with joy waiting to greet him- “Save us Son of David!” They paved the way for him with meager cloaks and branches of trees, the only offerings they had. It is a crowd greeting a different kind of savior.
The picture we get is a subtle, or not so subtle, jab at a procession of the proclaimed kings of the time. Scholars imagine Pilate leading the Roman Calvary into Jerusalem on the other side of town, a contrasting image of empire from the kingdom of Jesus and his followers imagined in the procession of the palms.
Of course, it wouldn’t be too long before that same crowd shouting “Hosanna” would turn and shout “crucify,” more closely mirroring the procession of empire.
And so we have done today as we do every year on Palm Sunday.
The crowd faltered in their hope when they learned that the king they greeted with Hosannas would not overthrow the injustice of Pilate and Rome with force. They couldn’t imagine a different way, not only a different ruler who did things their way, but a different kingdom that worked completely outside the rules of their imagination.
Ancient Israel before them became a community of hope, in the words of scholar Peter Steinke, “by refusing to allow the exile to be the epitome of their destiny. They confidently trusted that God would in his own time mend the brokenness. They had no FDIC assurances, no natural endowment for rosy expectations, no hope that the law of averages had to play their number eventually- just ’My hope is in you’ (Ps 39:7)”. Full disclosure- I will draw on Steinke’s work a lot from here out so if you want references please check the blog later this week.
But of course the whole history of salvation is written with stories of forgetting that hope God continued to offer his creation.
And here we are today: in a world that wants assurances, that wants certainty, that has lost hope. We turn from Hosanna to Crucify at the drop of a pin. We move from caring about refugees to turning them away to bombing; we move from marching for peace to calling for vindication on our political enemies; we move from wanting justice to wanting revenge. We, this human race, all of us, are caught up in this struggle between these two processions- the procession of the palms and the procession of the empire.
And that, I think, is ironically, the good news here. God came anyway.
This messiness, this bifurcation, this… humanity– this human condition– is so beloved by God, that even when God came incarnate in Jesus, and even after being greeted joyfully with Hosannas, and even when this very human crowd turned on him, this God loved us enough- loves us enough- to stay through it. This God is so in love with the human condition that he was willing to receive the raw end of the deal– which isn’t the way of the procession of empire at all.
But the thing is, that isn’t a “personal guilt trip” at all. This isn’t the Mel Gibson message. This isn’t a “you should feel horrible because your bad decisions killed Jesus” thing. This is a love message. This is a message to break the cycle of the procession of empire in the life of humanity, don’t you see? It’s from a God who is so deeply in love with all of humanity that this very God is willing to give of God’s own self, suffering to ensure that we have access to a different way than the procession of Empire, of Pharaoh, of Caesar. It is a God who comes to draw us closer, to remind us of open arms, no matter what it costs God’s own self!
Because in that procession of the Palms, in those Hosannas, in that king and savior, “We have a roll-up-your-sleeves hope. We have a destiny to make a difference. We are part of a large story where the ending is our beginning, where the future changes the present…We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” (Steinke p 87).
The Jesus movement is not “about me” – about some soul-extraction moment after death where your souls gets to go to Hawaii. No, it is a new creation of God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven that is a “startling reversal where the hungry will eat, the sound of weeping will cease, the premature dying of children will end, people who have no place to call home will not be pushed around, and vineyards will produce a surplus of grapes… ‘The wolf and the lamb will feed together and the lion will eat straw like the ox.’ “ (Steinke p. 83).
That kingdom of God on earth is a rejection of the procession of the empire. That only happens when we get through the other side of the passion and the new creation comes to fruition. And it all starts with the Hosannas on this Palm Sunday morning, and seeing the depth of the love given freely for us even when we shout “Crucify.”
And that love is not just for you and for me. That love is given for all of creation. So, let’s go back to the collect: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection.” Perhaps the opportunity to enter into suffering that we are given is to join in the journey of the passion of the savior in hearing the groans of all creation under the procession of empire, to listen for the shouts of crucify– not only in our own voices but in the world all around us– to deepen our love for all of humanity and creation, and to move towards a new hope made possible in the gift of Jesus Christ.
Because it is in this week, in this Jesus that we have hope, and a “destiny to make a difference.” “We have a roll-up-your-sleeves hope. We are part of a large story where the ending is our beginning, where the future changes the present.”… “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” (Steinke p. 87).
The Rev. Jeff Martinhauk
9 April 2017
Steinke, Peter L. A Door Set Open: Grounding Change in Mission and Hope. Herndon, VA: Alban, 2010. p. 79-92.