March 24: The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for March 24, 2024 was preached in response to Mark 15:1-47 based on the manuscript below.

In his book Reconciliation,
which some of us have been reading
and discussing this Lent,
Martin L. Smith writes,
“Far from being
a remote third party
observing us critically and dispassionately,
God is our very life,
the creative, sustaining environment
in which we live and move
and have our being.
Our lives are rooted and enmeshed in God’s;
our acts and thoughts
move and touch God.
Our acts and thoughts
that proceed from trust, love, care, faithfulness,
and everything that makes for justice, peace, and creativity,
delights and thrills God.
Similarly God is thwarted,
rejected and pained
as we defend ourselves from love
and act out of fear, faithlessness and greed.
Because God is love,
God is infinitely sensitive and vulnerable to us.”

As I read through Reconciliation myself earlier this year,
Smith’s writing about God being impacted by us
hit me hard.
When we say the Nicene Creed weekly
and hear the history of salvation at the Vigil next week,
God’s transcendence radiates for me.
We hear at Christmas
In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was God
and the Word was with God.
We talk in specifics about Jesus’ humanity,
and even acknowledge him as a real person
who really taught and had followers.
But somewhere along the way
it breaks down for me.
I have to remind myself that
God is God and I am not.
Thanks be to God.
In those reminders, however,
when I need to take a step back
and let grace and providence carry me,
I realize that I separate myself from God.
Not in the way that sin separates us from God,
but letting God be a concept
rather the creator
who knit me together in my mother’s womb
or who gave up Godhood
to be a human
just like me.

Mark’s Passion today,
and his Palm narrative alongside it,
short circuit that distancing.
The riches in these passages
are too expansive to cover in a homily.
We hear them today
as we begin walking this week with Jesus
leading to his cross on Friday
and remembering it today –
after waving palms and singing –
like the pilgrim Egeria
and other Christians in Jerusalem
in the 380s.
Jesus was a real person
with real followers
who welcomed him as a king
even with some parody to the welcome.
This king is welcomed not on a white war horse
but a simple donkey
like being born in a stable.
There aren’t banners for this entrance
there aren’t trumpets.
Just people living in occupied territory
calling out “Hosanna!”
which means
save us now.

Between the cries of hosanna and crucify him
Jesus has told his friends
that his blood is going to be poured out
for them and for all.
He’s had a religious “trial”
where he he’s said he’s the messiah,
the one to bring salvation,
God’s anointed one.
We join him again as he’s with pilate.
Messiah has tinges of Davidic kingship.
It’s close enough
for the civil authorities to be concerned.
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
“You say so.”

Two real people are having a conversation
and then more people are involved.
Pilate doesn’t find much wrong with Jesus
but keeping the peace matters to him.
“Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”
As quickly as we go from Eucharist
to tailgating someone who cuts us off
the crowds who’ve called for deliverance a week before
are calling for Jeus’s crucifixion.

Martin Smith says,
“In the crucifixion of Jesus
all God’s dealings with humankind,
and all our dealings with God,
are brought into one burning focus.
‘God was in Christ’;
the rejection of Jesus
is our rejection of God and of God’s love.
The crucifixion sums up and concentrates
the rejections of all times and all people.
And the torture and affliction of God’s Son,
the unique embodiment in a human person
of God’s eternal living Word,
reveals the age-long vulnerability
and pain of God
suffered since we first exercised
our freedom to refuse the love of God.”

Hearing the story of Jesus’ crucifixion
not with gory details
but with a sadness of rejection
is the Good News of the Gospel.
Mark doesn’t try to explain
how Jesus’ death brings about
the salvation of humanity.
William Placher writes,
“No human being now,
in the midst of suffering pain,
loneliness, abandonment,
can say that God does not understand.
No one need feel,
when everyone else has turned away,
that God has turned away too.”
I think about God’s mighty transcendence –
which is real –
and am at the same time confronted
by a human man
whose throne is a cross.
Placher says,
“However improbably,
this poor Jew on a cross
is what it looks like to be God.”

The God who created the universe
gave some of godself up to live among us.
Jesus the Incarnate Word
feels abandoned by his Father
but still cries out to him in prayer.
Women who’ve sustained his ministry
stay with him to the end
even when the men have abandoned him.
A man who voted to find fault with him
claims his body
so that it’s not eaten by scavengers.

In Mark Jesus says that
his blood will be poured out
for the disciples
and for all.
He doesn’t define or say
how that works in God’s economy.
Nor does Jesus need to.
The God who created the universe,
Jesus the Incarnate word,
died for us.
That’s how great God’s love is.
From praising to calling for death to jeering
God’s love for us just keeps going.
It keeps going to death,
even a shameful death on a cross.

The riches in these passages
are too expansive to cover in a homily.
The riches of God’s love are too expansive
to cover in any homily.
Like Jesus’ arms stretched out on a cross,
God loves us “this much.”
No matter what we’ve done
or do
God loves us that much.
Despite the fickle nature of crowds
and the fickle nature of individuals,
God’s love for us stays steady.
Walk the way of the cross
and see God’s love for the world. Amen. 7

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