Sunday, April 09, 2006

Palm Sunday

Isaiah 45:21-25; Psalm 22:1-21; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:32-15:47

Not even the red cushions keep us from shifting uncomfortably in our seats today. We have been in court all morning, beginning with our reading from Isaiah.

Declare and present your case, God said to those from many nations, including Israel, who had somehow survived years of invasion and exile at the hands of the Babylonian empire. A courtroom artist would have drawn them as bruised in spirit, battered and bitter. And yet it is they, not the Babylonians, whom God has summoned. Declare and present your case – in what have you put your faith all these difficult years, in what have you found your strength? Why have you looked to your selves, and to other gods? Explain yourselves, give an account.

Declare and present your case, the high priest said to Jesus. Explain yourself. Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One? Already bruised and battered, Jesus answered, I am, and the bitter crowds would call for his crucifixion. Case closed.

And yet, what if it was not Jesus but rather the rest of the cast of the passion story who were summoned that day? Summoned to give an account of themselves, how they survived and Jesus did not, in what they put their faith, in what they found their strength….Declare and present your case.

The courtroom artist would draw Peter, leaves still in his hair from sleeping in the garden, his face blotchy and his eyes red from crying, his lips parted as if he could take back the words that saved his life, I do not know this man. We might almost see through the drawings of James and John, who simply disappear from the story, although they had once argued over who would sit at Jesus’ right and left hands when he came into his kingdom. The artist would have to be discreet in drawing one young follower, pale from exertion, with such a fearful expression on his face that he appears certain to jump up and flee at any moment, despite his nakedness. And we would have to look closely at the page to see the women, drawn small so as to appear distant, their nurturing presence withdrawn.

Declare and present your case. Could not one of you keep awake? Could not one of you drink the cup? Could not one of you bear the cross? Explain yourselves, give an account. Or was Peter’s denial a confession unawares - did not one of you truly know this man? Would you have done it all the same way if you had really understood that Jesus, your friend and teacher, was the One through whom all things were made?

It is a difficult case. And today, we are summoned to the stand. We, who came into this place shouting, Hosanna! We, who then stood here and shouted, Crucify him!

Declare and present your case. We played the part of the crowd this morning, as we have done every Palm Sunday and Good Friday, but if the courtroom artist were to draw our assembly, I suspect that we would find we resemble each one of the characters in the story. Our daily lives resemble a passion play – we want to follow, but can barely muster the strength to survive. We betray trust, we claim fatigue, we relish power, we set the trap, we deny relationships. We abandon ship when the going gets tough, or we stand paralyzed, unable to do anything but watch. We mock what we do not understand. It is not that Thursday night in Gethsemane that we are called to account for but rather our every Thursday night (or any time) right here in Meridian. Do I love God with my whole heart and mind and strength? Do I love my neighbor as myself? Do I seek and serve Christ in all persons? Maybe….probably not….sometimes….

And then sometimes, like Simon, we are compelled to carry a cross we never knew we had the strength to bear. Sometimes, like the centurion, we see the face of God on a person we were once determined to hate….

It is a difficult case. When all the evidence is weighed. for and against, is there enough with which to defend ourselves? We do not have to. Love intercedes. God, who for love said to those many nations, Turn to me and be saved, by the same love sent Jesus Christ, not to condemn the world but that through him we might be saved. Turn to me, trust me, watch with me, walk with me, Jesus says, and be saved.

Understand the invitation. It is not about Easter light and comfort – not yet. We are invited during Holy Week to walk with Jesus into darkness, to confront the darkness within ourselves, to lay down our own fearful lives and take up the life and cross of Christ. In our remarkable Holy Week liturgies, we will wrestle with the call to servanthood, we will pray for the world that God loves, and we will soberly embrace the cross. Finally, at the Easter Vigil, we will sit in darkness for a time and recall God’s saving deeds in history, right up to the time we were saved, buried with Christ in the waters of baptism and then raised with him to new life. We will promise once again to love God with all our heart and mind and strength, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to seek and serve Christ in all persons….As the lights come up and the bells ring out and we hear that word we’ve waited all of Lent to hear, we will realize that we were saved all along. We just had to turn to see it.

The verdict is in. The case is closed. We are pardoned before we ask, and loved more than we can measure. Let us turn, knowing ourselves to be saved. Let us keep Jesus company this week and stay awake with him, and forsaking our own comfort, walk with him as far as we can. In the darkness, we will have the Light of the world by our side. Amen.

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