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Palm Sunday

March 16, 2008
The Rev. David R. Hackett

“Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Palm SundayWe join the rest of the Christian world this day in rejoicing over the Lord’s entrance in the holy city. For a brief time we are with the crowds who lined the streets of Jerusalem to greet the prophet, the messiah, the prince of peace. But, really, what kind of a farce is this? We know that the cheers of this day will be turned into the jeers and sneers of Good Friday. This is a manic-depressive sort of day. We begin with hosannas and then we read the long passion narrative: the account of the suffering and death of Jesus. We really get jerked around liturgically on Palm Sunday, don’t we? Let me suggest to you that is because we get jerked around in reality. And our liturgy is, if it is true, a reflection of our life.

The cheers turned to jeers because the people of Jerusalem were like us. The Liturgy of the Palms and the passion story help us enter into the drama of redemption in a most uncomfortable way. We celebrate with the people who welcomed Jesus that day. We can imagine what it must have been like. It feels good. We like a parade. It’s like standing on the edge of a new era. Change is in the air. Jesus will be our new leader. He will take up our cause.

But our cheers turn to jeers because we want Jesus to be on our side, but we discover something for which we weren’t prepared. Jesus didn’t come to be on our side. He came to be on the side of everyone; even on the side of our enemies. And he can’t do that in this world! We want him to be on our side, but we don’t want him to be on their side! You know who I’m talking about: the ubiquitous them!

caesarJesus refused to fight against the Romans. “Render unto Caesar the thing that are Caesar’s”, he said. Well, Judas would have none of that. So he’ll force Jesus to fight; and then Judas and Jesus will join the Zealot revolution against Rome. Can’t you just hear Judas tell Jesus, “You’ve got to take a stand!”, “You must do the right thing!” But Jesus wouldn’t join Judas. He said he was depending only on God. But Judas knew God helps those who help themselves. Instead of leading them toward the new and glorious kingdom of Israel, Jesus took them into a dark garden to pray.

You know what Jesus’ problem was? He simply would not lead. He tried to be on the side of everyone and you can’t do that. That first Palm Sunday the crowds were ready to make him king, but he just wouldn’t lead. He could have rallied the whole population in a minute, but he did nothing. He even rebuked Peter who tried to fight for him. He wouldn’t even take the lead in his own defense. Pilate was ready, even eager, to help him. But how can you help someone who won’t help himself? You can’t get along in this world if you won’t choose sides. If you are for everybody, you end up with nobody.

Will CampbellOne of my favorite acquaintances from the 1960s is a man named Will Campbell. He’s a Baptist preacher who drives people up the wall. He doesn’t have a church. No congregation could put up with for long. He preaches and pastors whenever he feels called. He writes books, sometimes teaches at Vanderbilt University, and lectures around the country. He lives just outside of Nashville. Now he’s getting old and is in ill health.

He’s originally from Mississippi. And in the ‘60s he was an outcast because of his belief in integration and his association with those “outside agitators.” One of those agitators, a young Episcopal seminarian named Jonathan Daniels, was killed by Tom Coleman of Hayneville, Alabama. An all-white jury found Coleman not guilty. Will Campbell shocked and alienated many of his civil rights friends by standing by Coleman. Campbell explained his actions by saying, “Jonathan can never have died in vain because he loved his killer – by his own words. And since he loved his murderer, his death is its own meaning. And what it means is that Tom Coleman, this man who pulled the trigger is forgiven. If Jonathan forgives, then it is not for me to condemn him.”

Jesus came to unite us into a fellowship of love, a love so great that it will lay down its life for the beloved. But to this day we have refused to be united into that fellowship of love.

Liberal minded Episcopalians think that Jesus is on their side, but when they see him sitting down with conservative evangelical Christians they turn away. Evangelical Christians think Jesus is on their side, but when they hear he is sitting down with Jews, they pull away from him. Straight Christians think Jesus is on their side, but they are shocked and draw back when they see him move over to be with gay Christians. White supremacists think Jesus is on their side, and cannot believe his willing presence with people of color. Arab Christians think Jesus is on their side, but when they hear he is sitting down with Muslims, they draw back from him.

We all want Jesus to join our parade, to take up our cause, and lead us where we want to go. But Jesus came, not to join in our parade, but to teach us to take up our cross and join in his parade. It is a parade that celebrates the Father’s love for all.

RubyIn Rudy Wiebe’s book, The Blue Mountain of China, are these lines,

“Jesus says I his society there is a new way for people to live:
You show wisdom by trusting people;
You handle leadership, by serving;
You handle offenders, by forgiving;
You handle money, by sharing;
You handle enemies, by loving;
And you handle violence, by suffering.
In fact, you have a new attitude toward everything, toward
everybody. Toward slaves, toward all and every single
thing. Because this is a Jesus society and you repent not
by feeling bad, but by thinking differently.”

Now, there is a description of who we, as Christians, are called to be. Jesus, that first Holy Week, revealed a new reality. So different than that which was expected that the cheers changed to jeers. But the new reality, the new covenant, is ours if we will but embrace it.

As we walk the way of the cross this week may God help us to repent, not by feeling bad, but by thinking differently. Amen.