Sunday, March 16, 2008

this is not the end of the story

Palm Sunday 2008

May I speak in the Name of the Son,
in the Power of the Holy Spirit,
to the Glory of God the Father. AMEN.

Today’s gospel lesson, the narrative of the Passion of Christ, is the sacred story at the heart of the Christian community, providing its identity, its basic definition, and its message to the world. It is a continuous narrative: it gives us an rare opportunity, rare for a Sunday reading, to enter fully into the life and times of our Savior, the time and place where our faith, our salvation, and our new life in Christ, began.

And so, more than words of any preacher, we listen today first and most of all to the words of the Gospel. First, in the Liturgy of the Palms, to the story of two processions on Palm Sunday, as they pass into the festival-keeping city of Jerusalem: from one side of town, the pomp and might of Pontius Pilate, from the other, the peasant procession of the man on the donkey.

Second, in the Liturgy of the Passion, we hear the story of the subsequent collision, in the week to come, of those two opposing streams of humanity.

As the Jews of the city of David prepared for Passover, the celebration of their liberation from a previous empire, the Roman governor and his legion arrived – to keep the peace, the Roman peace, the Pax Romana, that would brook no interference, no uprising in Tiananmen Square or Tibet, nothing that would mar the smooth cold surface of its absolute hold on the world.

And so Pontius Pilate entered the city from the western gate, in imperial majesty, robed and armored, ready to show the velvet glove or the iron fist.

Yet across town at the eastern gate, almost in mockery another procession gathered – a much more popular one, and much more humble. Riding on a donkey and on the foal of a donkey, the humblest of vehicles, with palm fronds waved about him – obtained at no cost from the nearest tree, with coats pulled off willing backs to pave the dusty path before him, came a simple peasant sage, a Jewish mystical messiah, a man of the humble people, a friend of the poor, the discarded, the marginal, the enslaved.

This man brought no glove or mailed fist to wave or brandish. He simply showed his hands, hands soon to be marred by another symbol, one of the worst, of the Roman oppression. (The mark of the nails.)

His parade came through the gate opposite to the one used by Rome. It carried into the city the unworldly savior, the king without visible signs of power, who brought with him a message of unworldly power.

He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. Soon he would face his last temptation, the temptation to simply leave it all behind, grab that last chance for freedom and head off into the desert away from it all.

It would be easy to do. At the top of the garden of Gethsemane the hill climbed toward the desert – an escape hatch in the back door. In a little bit of hiking he could be out of town crossing the desert toward – No.

He stayed. All the rest would leave. But he alone was left to bear the weight of the tale that we are telling. He was obedient, even unto death.

If you’re thinking of making a break for it, this would be a good time to go.

The projectionist is changing reels; he is about to load the last scene into his machine.

And you know how the movie ends.

You know, don’t you? The hero does not survive. The villains get him. The crowd abandons him. He is left alone. He is left alone, to die. And he does.

That’s the end of the story, isn’t that right?

If you leave now, just before the last reel is loaded into the projector, you might think so. And you might find out that you have missed something.

Because this is not the end of the story, it is only the end of the beginning.

And the story that is just beginning, the new story, the unexpected story, the story that does not end but lasts forever, is the story of the new life that Christ brings to us, in his life, in his death, in – the next scene, the scene beyond dreams, that will dawn upon us in the glory of Easter morning.

Matthew 21:1-11

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

Matthew 26:14-27:66

Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus

The Passover with the Disciples

The Institution of the Lord’s Supper

Peter’s Denial Foretold

Jesus Prays in Gethsemane

The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus

Jesus before the High Priest

Peter’s Denial of Jesus

Jesus Brought before Pilate

The Suicide of Judas

Pilate Questions Jesus

Barabbas or Jesus?

Pilate Hands Jesus over to Be Crucified

The Soldiers Mock Jesus

The Crucifixion of Jesus

The Death of Jesus

The Burial of Jesus

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