reflection on palm sunday 2017...

NOTE:  Our small ecumenical cadre of Christians and seekers will gather on Sunday, April 9th @ 10:15 am on Park Square for a shared blessing of the palms. From there we will process back to our respective Sanctuaries and encounter the new/old story of Christ's passion. Prior to reading the Passion Narrative from Matthew in community, I will share something like this by way of introduction.
Introduction
On this day when we initiate a full week of contemplation on the Cross, there is no need for a sermon. Any attempt to summarize this multifaceted story – the very death of God – would only wind up simplifying or sentimentalizing something so profound that we might actually convince ourselves for a moment that we comprehend the foolishness of the Cross and the paradox of the Word made Flesh. As one colleague put it:

If our words communicate that a story like this is easily condensed, we risk communicating that Jesus’ whole story itself can be abridged into accessible and understandable digests; when Jesus does not bring salvation with précises but through his presence in our lives and the promises that that presence creates” in our complex and nuanced lives. (Karoline Lewis, Working Preacher)

What I am learning these days from the starting point of all theology and religious language beginning as auto-biography is that while the entire Passion Narrative is moving to me – and essential – certain parts of this story speak louder to me in different ways every time I confront it. And the better I listen to that part of the story and let it speak to my heart and mind and life, the more I trust that my encounters with God are just as real and valuable as those included in the Bible and our hymns.

· Are you with me on this? Do you hear what I’m trying to say here? What touches us in this story of the Lord’s Passion needs to be honored and strengthened so that we genuinely trust that our experiences of these events in our 21st century lives are of the Lord.

· You see, too often we hear these stories as a nostalgic but essentially irrelevant look backwards; we may even shed a pious tear or two without making the connection between what happened then and what is going on today.

But more than ever, we need to empower people to read the biblical texts and give witness to what they have seen and know. We need to embolden our one another to speak out and speak up when we see the Bible being used in ways it was never meant to be. We need to encourage those who come to worship to trust that their encounters with the living God are just as valuable as those whose voices seem louder. (Lewis, ibid)

We need to enable the faithful to call out decisions, executive orders and behaviors that do not line up with the God we have encountered in Jesus. And we need to endow people with power for proclamation, to pronounce loudly and boldly their own Palm/Passion Sunday witness.

Insight
This year, for example, I have found myself particularly riveted by the despair of Judas. You’ll hear his role in the story in a moment, but notice how trapped he becomes in his misery. Some of the Bible authors paint him as an agent of Satan but I don’t find that useful. People who hurt us are often demonized and trash talked without any second chances for healing or repentance. We do it to those who frighten us as well as those who confuse us – and we are particularly good at doing so with those who are weaker than ourselves. And look what happens to Judas in this double-bind:

· He wanted to pull the plug on Jesus’ ministry for a host of complex reasons one of which was that both the Romans and some of the religious leaders of Israel were turning up the heat. Some wanted to stone Jesus. Others were finding ways to silence or incarcerate him. And what we often forget is that Judas loved Jesus – and Jesus loved Judas. So it is my belief that the fundamental reason why Judas collaborated with those who hated Jesus had something to do with how those in power manipulated Judas’ love and fear. “Hand him over to us and we’ll keep him quiet” was the promise they made to Judas.

· And as our story will tell us in just a moment, when Judas saw that his beloved rabbi and friend had been condemned to death, he repented – changed his heart and mind – and confessed: “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And he was laughed at, humiliated and discarded like used toilet paper by the very leaders he once trusted. Hmmmmm…. We could spend WEEKS with just the implications of that part of the story alone.

But after being thrown away – with no hope for forgiveness or reparation – what does Judas do? He goes out and hangs himself. He was so broken hearted and cut off from spiritual and social connection that he committed suicide. At that moment in his life death felt better than any of his other options: Lord, have mercy! In my heart I trust that Jesus would have – and indeed already has – forgiven Judas. Jesus offered salvation and grace to the insurrectionists nailed to their respective crosses on either side of him.

And he cried out at the end: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. So I have no doubt that in the life beyond life even Judas has been welcomed back into the love of God. There is a Sufi story, you know, about just that moment that describes Jesus pacing the halls of heaven at the end of time. As creation as we know it is about to come to an end, God the Father notices that Jesus is fretting and nervous as he watches all the redeemed sinners of history find a measure of blessing and release. As the final moment approaches, God says, “My dear child, you are anxious and upset, tell me what is the matter?” To which Jesus replies: “Judas, Lord, I’m still waiting for Judas to be welcomed into the kingdom of grace.”

Conclusion

That’s me – I am ever more keenly concerned about grace, forgiveness and not closing the door on anyone’s sins because God does not do this. I’m not good at it – and I want to go deeper into a tender and nonjudgmental way of being - both because I know I need it and also sense that is part of what I have to offer during these later days of my ministry. You may find that other parts of this story speak to you with as much passion as this does for me. People of God:

We are living in a time when solidarity in the face of tyranny, resistance in the midst of oppression, and truth-telling to stave off ignorance are not only essential civic duties but acts of faith. Testimony – telling our story and connecting it to God’s story - is the rhetorical stance required when injustice has become an operating principle. Testimony counteracts hypocrisy. It names that which has been swept under the proverbial rug far too long. It shatters pretense and privilege. It decries demagoguery. It calls out dishonesty. (Lewis, ibid)

In this spirit, then, let us read and honor our story within the story of Jesus and the Cross…

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