Palm Sunday: Remembering Our Friends
Palm Sunday is one of my favorite Sundays of the year. One of the chief reasons for this is that pastors usually don’t preach on this Sunday. The Passion Story speaks for itself. I’ll bank this one and skip a sermon in a few weeks. So, happy Palm Sunday everyone for arguably the most violent country on the planet!
This is the week when we Christians enter in the mysteries of life. This is the week when we are faced with our love for violence and our sacred duty to end it. This is the week when we face evil and brokenness and declare God’s victory. This is the week that we are confronted with humanity’s self serving love of murder and God”s absolute commitment not return that love of murder but only love. This is the week that marks the end of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth kind of thinking and again focuses on the evils of retribution. This is the week in which God wins.
If you are new to the Christian faith, our understanding of this week and Good Friday is often over simplified by saying Jesus does for my sins without truly understanding what that means. The apostle Paul used many different ways to explain the mysteries of the incarnation of God, the suffering servant and the victory of Easter. One of those whose the spotless lamb sacrificed as a sacrifice to end all animal sacrifices. But this is just one image of many that he presents. The Gospels also give reasons.
In John’s Gospel, the one that talks about the Good Friday murder more than others, the visible sign for us to see how individuals, communities of faith, and nations engage in violence by our stubborn refusal to face up to our own brokenness and self-centeredness.
Here is one way of looking at it. When the Children of Israel were being rescued from slavery, they decided that perhaps God didn’t know best and began to complain about the food service in their asylum seeking situation. The result of their bellyaching and self-centeredness was a plague of serpents-not the same as snakes by the way but pretty much a euphemism for all things deadly, like the pandemic. They were warned about what would hurt them but they thought they knew better. In the same fashion we were warned about the pandemic but many of our fellow citizens preferred to listen to lies and fantasies because they were too self centered to wear a mask and now we are looking at close to 600,000 dead.
God instructed Moses to make a replica of the serpent and put it on a pole so that all can be saved from the infestation by seeing the consequences of the choices. That is why it is important that we publish the names of our neighbors, friends and family and weakly death count in our worship so that we can all see what we have done or allowed to be done.
Two weeks ago we heard Jesus say: Just as Moses lifted up the serpent on a wooden pole displaying the sin so must I be lifted up on a pole. Just as Moses lifted up the brokenness before the people, Jesus would be lifted up so that all could see their disobedience and bellyaching and self-centeredness. Atonement is knowing that you have contributed to the problem and now you must look at what you have done. Being saved or healed, same word, as John Gospel likes to say is not about going to heaven. It is about being confronted face to face with what you have done and from the confrontation with yourself, you are confronted with God’s healing love. God does not seek revenge against us but instead raises Jesus from the dead. Life is the judgment for our sins!
On the cross, we see what we have done and we see that God is not punishing us for that.
Jesus was an innocent who refused to lie. He spoke out for the poor, the oppressed, the immigrant and the minority and it got him killed. In three of the Gospels, they are clear that he was killed for challenging the economic system. In John he is killed for restoring life in a system of death.
Whenever innocents are killed, whenever violence is displayed before us, we see calvary again, we relive good Friday. And whenever and wherever that happens we are called to look at it and say- this is the sin that I have caused because I did not speak out, I did not offer my life, I made excuses, I turned the other way, I lied, I enabled, I am part of the problem.
You do not need to go to Jerusalem to see this place-you can go to Atlanta and see Jesus murdered. Georgia the state where everyone should have a weapon, a few people a vote. Look at this woman. Her name was Young. She was killed at work in Atlanta, this is the judgment of the world. This is our Calvary.
You do not have to look at the crucifix on our altar you can go in the grocery store in Colorado and see the broken and lifeless body of Nevein, 23, family from one of the most war torn places in the world, the Balkans. Look, behold, see what our nation allows, our leaders refuse to deal with and our fears compound.
You can see our violence and sin in the tears of those who cry for Rikki, 25.
Look at your sin, this is your fault, look at her… You did this! This is our crucifix.
The crowd in Jerusalem, saw the execution of the Holy One and went on about their lives as if nothing had happened. Doubtless those who could have done something offered their thoughts and prayers.
Jeremiah wrote, in the book of Lamentations. “Does it mean nothing to you who pass by? Look and see the horror.”
This is the same Jeremiah who told us that our thoughts and prayers sicken God when we allow violence to happen. Our faith becomes a mockery.
He said this along with Amos and Micha, and Zephaniah and on and on, in fact all the prophets agree on this one point - thoughts and prayers in the face of violence, poverty and racism are blasphemy. Ted Cruz said this week as a public proclamation that he would not apologize for his thoughts and prayers. As a public proclamation, we are to call Sen. Cruz to repent, just as we are called to repent.
The Columbine shooting occurred during the years of my first pastoral call. I was in rural Virginia. Shortly afterwards there was a meeting of the clergy to talk about some kind of public response. I went, taking my liberal biases with me and believing it was a colossal waste of time because it would just be another round of thoughts and prayers. A Baptist preacher began to speak about how much he loved hunting, a skill I shared with him and one I am glad to have to this day. He talked about his guns and he said this. I don’t think giving up my guns will help but if that is what it takes, then I will do it. I judged wrongly. HIs words have stuck with me as a genuine Christian witness. For one thing, I saw before me my own sin to judge him. For another, his view is not one I hear very often from the pro military assault weapon crowd.. I don’t believe for a minute that banning military assault weapons designed exclusively for taking human life is anything close to taking guns away from hunters. Maybe I am wrong but what is not wrong is that our faith says we must be willing to give up anything in order to live the great commandment- Love God and your neighbor as yourself.
We are Christians for God’s sake. We are followers of the one who was murdered by state execution, our brother was an innocent victim, our Lord was slaughtered like so many others. This is our family that is under attack. This is our teacher/rabbi shot down. This is our son and our daughter sacrificed. This is our friend murdered. This is our God. It’s a good week to remember that.