Palm Sunday, Year C
April 1, 2007
Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler
The Reverend Laura Gottardi-Littell
RCL Readings: Liturgy of the Palms: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29, Luke 19:28-40
Liturgy of the Passion: Isaiah 50:4-9a, Ps. 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 22:14-23:56
Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem starts out so well. A crowd has gathered to welcome their champion. They strew his path with palms and shout “Hosanna!” What a wonderful welcome into the city of prophets.
And so today, as we re-create that hero’s homecoming, we begin with a joyful noise, palms, and a procession. But not far into our service we sense the change. What started off well is not going so well. Suddenly we are singing mournful hymns and there’s tension in the air, foreboding. Jesus has come to Jerusalem not only as beloved hero but also as martyr. He has come… to die.
Many had hoped he would be a great leader, a warrior king to free them from the oppression of Rome. They will be gravely disappointed. Those who love him and have to watch him die, will be heartsick.
Many in 1st century Palestine wanted a liberator who with great power and might would topple the dominion of Rome. That’s not what they got. They got Jesus, who was not about force. The revolution he sought was not a violent uprising. His power to liberate was of another kind. Although he has delighted and healed so many, Jesus has angered and disappointed others.
We are not so unlike the people of Jesus’s day.
We have many of the same hopes and fears.
We too can feel angry and cheated when we don’t get what we want. Or what we think we want.
I remember a song from my coming-of age-years, a Rolling Stones song, that said: “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find….you get what you need.”
How does Jesus give the world not what we want, but what we need?
As it was in Jesus’s day, our world is a competitive, stratified place that tells us what we should want. Status. Power. Money. We should be winners, we should be tough, and it’s OK to step on other people to get where we’re going.
But Jesus was a savior who emptied himself, as Paul writes to the Philippians. Jesus didn’t try to exploit his power, like the Roman emperors and other power brokers of his time. Jesus didn’t see his equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself of the need for power, status and wealth. He hung out with poor and sick folk, outcasts, and people on the wrong side of the Law. He didn’t placate the Roman or Jewish authorities. In fact he challenged them.
SO if Jesus walked among us today, and we didn’t recognize him, would we label him a fool, loser, or rebel? And cast him aside? Would we say that he was not the kind of leader we wanted? Would we shout “Crucify him!”
As it was in Jesus’ day, our world is not only hung up on power and money, it’s also a violent place. And Jesus was not into violence. When Jesus is captured in the garden, one of his disciples cuts off the ear of the high priest’s slave to try to free Jesus. “No more of this!” Jesus tells his disciple. If violence is what’s needed for Jesus to save himself, than he wants none of it.
So if Jesus, who rejected the use of force, walked among us today, and we didn’t recognize him, would we call him a wimp, a crazy pacifist, unpatriotic? Would we reject him and shout: “Crucify him!”
The Christian message is deeply challenging. It challenges what we want, or think we want. What our world tells us to want.
But God likes to give us what we really need.
God gave us Jesus to meet our deepest human needs.
To show us where real power lies. Not in status or money. Not in the use of force.
Jesus is a winner but of a different kind.
By losing at the world’s games, he wins by the heavenly standards.
By emptying himself, he changes the world forever.
In dying, he destroys death.
Now that’s power.
Ghandi, Martin Luther King and others have known the power of this self-emptying, nonviolent love. And living it out, made enormous changes.
As Christians, we live in tension between earthly and heavenly notions of power. The power of the sword versus the power of the cross.
The Christian life, if taken seriously, is largely about self-emptying. Giving up our desire to be first, right, powerful. Giving up, or at least questioning, much of what we want and becoming more and more open to what God wants. Trying to weed out parts of ourselves that are self-absorbed cruel, that accept the need for violence. The parts that shout “Crucify him!” and mean it in today’s passion play.
To be honest, there are times when I’m not sure how much self-emptying I’m willing to do. I’m a human being, and Jesus is asking me, asking all of us, to evolve, to be nearer to the angels than the beasts. To go against, or at least seriously grapple with, some core values of the world. I love Jesus so much and yet…he asks so much. It’s hard.
So if you feel conflicted today, at this Palm Sunday service, you’re not alone. And you have good reason to feel that way. A king rides into Jerusalem in majesty and ends up on a cross. We start out thinking we’re at a party and end up at a funeral. We watch a good man, the best kind of person, God’s own son, handed over to an inhuman death. And worst of all, he dies in part because of us. Because of the way the world is, how human beings are. Because of what we think we want: power, status, the use of force. He hasn’t played those games. So now he must die. All hope seems lost.
And yet………God knows our deepest needs. God knows we don’t need more domination. We don’t need more violence. We need a savior who through self-emptying, non-violent love can show us the path of life. Can help us evolve. And God provides that. God has given us a way out of our endless cycles of sin and death. It is joyful and liberating to break out of those cycles by following Christ. Yes, there are some losses when we empty ourselves, but the gains are incalculable. We gain freedom and peace when we lose our bondage to self-seeking and violence. And that is the good news today on Palm Sunday. That is the joy of Easter. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God has given us not what we thought we wanted, or what the world tells us to want, but what we needed most. AMEN.