Palm Sunday by JRsb4fVp


									             Palm Sunday            20 March 2005      Trinity, St. Louis
                                  The Rev. Anne Kelsey

       Palm Sunday begins the countdown. If you ask clergy during Holy Week how
they’re doing, you’re liable to get an answer like, “Two down, four to go.” We know
just how many services are left, and so do you. We tick them off in our minds like beads
on a rosary, stoically hiking through the week with complete confidence that by the time
we get to next Sunday afternoon, Jesus will truly have risen from the tomb and we can all
go home for dinner.
       But Holy Week itself begins with a liturgy that makes us uneasy, because there
are two distinct moods, two themes, two dynamics. They’re in stark contrast with each
other, and we tend to like the first much better than the second. It begins with noise and
ends in silence. The overture is a happy dance tune and the finale is a dirge. The street
party turns into an execution, and Jesus the hero becomes Jesus the victim. The
individual innocent faces the brutality of the state and loses his life, and so we move from
the palms to the passion.
       Jesus enters Jerusalem in a bizarre parody of a king’s homecoming, riding not a
noble prancing white horse, but sitting on a donkey. Peter Gomes, the chaplain at
Harvard, said in a Palm Sunday sermon once that the only one who really knew what he
was doing that day was the donkey. Everybody else was immersed in chaos, running
around and shouting, waving palm braches, shoving each other to get a good look. Jesus’
appearance electrified the city, as he came riding that donkey over the crest of hill to the
east of Jerusalem. It was a route that had long been associated with the appearance of the
messiah, and so he came like a monarch after a military victory. And people threw their
clothes on the road for him to walk on, just as their ancestors had done for kings,
shouting that strange word, “Hosanna!” Hosanna is a Greek transliteration of a Hebrew
word whose original meaning was “Save us!” but that meaning faded away, and it
became a shout of joy and acclamation and praise that’s especially associated with today.
       It wouldn’t be complete without singing “All glory, laud, and honor,” which was
written by St. Theodulf in the early part of the 9th century. He was high in
Charlesmagne’s court, and became his chief theological advisor, after he became bishop
of Orleans. But he was imprisoned on suspicion of treason by Charlesmagne’s son.

Theodulf is said to have composed “All glory, laud, and honor” in his prison cell, and to
have sung it from behind bars as the king passed in procession on Palm Sunday.
According to legend, the king was so moved that he ordered Theodulf’s immediate
       It’s a real temptation to want to keep the focus of this day on the happiness of the
first part of the liturgy, the procession with the palms, but as the legend behind the hymn
suggests, the day is also about prison, and power, and justice. These are themes which
engage us on a visceral level.
       We move so swiftly from the triumphant entrance to the garden of Gethsemane
and Jesus’ struggle with himself, and we know what’s coming. It only gets worse when
he’s arrested, tried, tortured, and killed and we have to shout, “Crucify him” as part of the
reading. We are happy to wave the palms, and dismayed to participate in the death. How
often I’ve thought it terrible to have to say those words, “Crucify him.” I wasn’t born, I
wasn’t there, I love the Lord and I wouldn’t have gone along with the rest of the crowd.
Why don’t they save this reading for those masochists who go to every service in Holy
Week and can certainly represent the congregation on Good Friday?
       Christian faith doesn’t consist of presenting a smiling face to the world because
you love Jesus and Jesus loves you. It doesn’t mean ignoring the ugly, the
uncomfortable, the embarassing, the messy and inconvenient. It does mean that
Christians are asked to understand both humanity and power, love and redemption from
the perspective of the cross. So at least once a year we’re required to face the full
meaning of the incarnation and to take a hard look at it all, including the places where
we’re guilty bystanders.
       It should come as no surprise to any of us that since torture is illegal in this
country the U.S. government outsources it by delivering terrorist suspects to interrogation
in places where it is most certainly used, and where it will be used on behalf of this
country. Indeed, the new attorney general argued in his confirmation hearings that the
U.N. ban on torture doesn’t apply to American interrogators overseas. A government
whose leaders think it’s their moral obligation to deliver the world from madness enact
increasingly restrictive laws and make secret agreements. Not only are innocent people
plunged into the nightmare of imprisonment, but they are subject to cruel and inhumane

punishment. And every person who suffers under such a brutal system calls to mind the
Christ who did not limit his humanity, but accepted the worst that the world could inflict
so that forever afterwards humans would see the face of Christ in every single victim of
abuse, and torture, and maltreatment.
       Well, you expect the empire, the gulag, or the miliatry junta to brutalize its
people. The state is not much interested in sin. And it doesn’t care if you think you’re
the son of God. You can claim you’re the messiah all you want as long as you leave the
status quo alone. But when you start publicly speaking about the religious authorities,
who “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but
they themselves are unwilling to life a finger to move them,” then you’re going to be in
trouble. Jesus was not as interested in personal sin as we are. He was much more
concerned with justice, and that obsession was the real threat.
       Jesus was condemned to death, and the very people who had shouted hosanna in
his honor turned around and yelled “crucify him.” By our words and actions, or inaction,
we do the same thing.
       How is it, for instance, that the gap between the rich and the poor is getting
wider? How did it come about that 17% of the world’s population consumes 80% of its
resources? How did the government end up thinking that it’s just fine to intimidate
weaker nations and peoples in order to maintain American lifestyles? How is it that it’s
okay to ravage the earth because it contributes to our own well-being? Why is it that we
can’t manage to provide adequate health care to our citizens?
       These problems aren’t annonymous. They didn’t happen by accident. They came
about by choice. They belong to us. We don’t have clean hands. We are all involved in
the suffering of others, people who are also children of the one God. Jesus was
abandoned, betrayed, rejected, humiliated, and brutalized by the state to the extent that
common ordinary people just like us found it too frightening or inconvenient. He died
because people in power had too much to lose.
       So as we walk these last days of Lent, there are some hard questions to wrestle
with. How are we implicated in the world’s suffering? What do we have to lose by
remaining silent? Can we tear our eyes away from ourselves long enough to discover the

choices we could make that would take us in a different direction? Can we follow Christ
to the cross?

Thomas Merton once wrote to Daniel Berrigan that “The end of the world will be legal.”


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