Thursday, April 11, 2019

Palm Sunday sermon

(I haven't preached it yet, but it's ready to go. Here it is.)

PALM SUNDAY 2019—St. Andrew’s, Northford
          It probably wasn’t as big a deal as we make it out to be.
          It was probably more like sneaking in the back door.
          Who was it, after all? A country bumpkin of a rabbi (what good can come from Nazareth?) along with his equally provincial followers—ragged and dusty from three years of traveling—and the riff-raff hanging around the gates of the Holy City, looking for some entertainment.

          Oh, it caused a stir—Jesus arriving and going immediately to the Temple. The Pharisees were nervous because the rabble seemed to love him and the rabble could never be trusted to toe the line. The ones who welcomed the strange prophet from the sticks were uncontrollable by the authorities of the Temple. So the Sanhedrin—the equivalent of the Bishops in our church—watched and waited and bided their time. This troublesome Teacher was a problem that could be dealt with successfully.

          Oh, it caused a stir….The Zealots, those “freedom fighters” of the Jews—the ones the Romans saw as “terrorists”—had a breath of hope. Perhaps Jesus was the figure around which a popular rebellion could be mounted. Perhaps he could be the one to restore the Throne of David and return the land of Israel to the Israelites.

          Oh, it caused a stir….Pilate was troubled because his wife was having nightmares about this Prophet Jesus and when Pilate was troubled the Roman Legion was troubled. It was almost Passover and the city was full of pilgrims who were full of religious fervor. And religious fervor is always a threat to the “status quo” and the rule of the occupying army.

          Oh, it caused a stir….The common folk were mesmerized by the wisdom and the miracles of Jesus. He brought them something that touched them deep in their souls, something so long missing from their lives, dashed by oppression and almost extinguished: he brought the faint, almost bitter sweet hope that God still loved them.
          But it was probably still much less spectacular than we make it out to be. A little band of people—dispossessed, powerless, mostly poor…outsiders of all the political and religious intrigue of the day—laying palm branches and, yes, their own cloaks, on the path up to the city for this strange, eccentric, inscrutable rabbi who had “rocked” their marginal lives with the possibility of love.

          In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul wrote—as you heard today—that Jesus “emptied himself out”. The Greek word is lovely. Kenosis: “to empty out”.
          It seems to me that Jesus was practicing “kenosis” all the way up to Jerusalem.
          He was emptying himself of pride and ego and whatever ambitions he might have had.
          He was emptying himself of anger and resentment and petty disagreements.
          He was emptying himself of power and influence and the ability to “change the world” in some profound way.
          He was emptying himself of the hope that clings to life against all odds, of the longing to “make a difference”, of the glitter and attraction of worldly things.
          He was making himself completely empty—cleaned out, purged—creating a vacuum within his heart that could hold LOVE for the whole world, for all of it, every single bit of it.

          It was LOVE that entered Jerusalem by some side gate, riding on a colt, listening to sounds of “Hosanna!”, being fanned by fronds of palm.

          It was LOVE—love for the Pharisees, for his close friends and companions, for Pilate and the Romans, for the Zealots who would make him King, for the common folk who ran beside him, guiding him toward the Temple Mount. Love for you. Love for me.

          It was LOVE…love and love only, always love, already love, total love, all-embracing love, love to fill his heart and break it too, love beyond imagining, love beyond pain or suffering or life or death, love “once and for all”. Simply LOVE and nothing else at all….
          Just that.
          Love on the back of a colt entering the Holy City.  
          So, I guess it was a “big deal” after all….

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.