Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday


The Sunday of the Passion
March 29, 2010

Luke 19.28-40; Luke 22.14-23.56

+ Palm Sunday is, I think, one of the most emotionally manic of all liturgical days in the Church Year. We begin on a high note—a glorious high note. Here we have Jesus riding triumphantly into the city, palm branches waving—a truly victorious king.

And then, we plunge. We plummet emotionally. We have the betrayal. We have the shouts of joy and victory turning into jeers of contempt. Everything turns topsy-turvy. It is, by the end of the Gospel reading, about as total of a defeat as is possible.

This is essentially the folly of our Christian faith. In a world dominated by winners, in a society of over-achievers, in a culture that does not allow us to face the fact that we could possible lose and be defeated, truly we see the folly that we are commemorating today and throughout this coming Holy Week, the defeat of not only the founder of our religion, but the One we identify as God in the flesh. The ultimate folly of this Holy Week is that, by the popular beliefs of our time in which defeat is the ultimate sign of weakness, our very God appears to be defeated. Our very God is betrayed, is beaten, is spat upon, is tortured and is brutally murdered. Who would want to believe in a God who can be so easily defeated—and especially a God who could be so defeated without even fighting back?

When I was a kid, having Norwegian ancestry, I was a huge fan of Thor comics. There weren’t a lot of comics available back then for kids of Norwegian descent—it’s Thor or Hagar the Horrible, that’s about it—so Thor comics were wonderful for me and for my friends who were also Norwegian. Thor, as you might know, was the Nordic god of thunder. With his mighty hammer Mjolnir, he fought and battled ice giants, fire demons and valkries and even his sneaky, evil brother Loki. Thor in a sense embodied what a god should be. He was strong. He was mighty. He even looked like a god with his winged helmet, his flowing blond hair and that giant hammer, which created peals of thunder.

But even Thor had his bad moments. He could be moody. He could be depressed. He fell in love and was often romantically led astray by some human female. And he had a rocky relationship with his father, the sky-god, Odin—the one-eyed uber-god of Valhalla.

Still, Thor is what we expect of a god. Thor is everything Jesus is not. But then—and here’s the rub—Thor was not really one of us. Yes, he sort of seemed like us—he had emotions. He got angry or sad. But he was different than us. He was superhuman. He was like any other superhero—like Superman. And he would never have dreamed to condescend to mere human stature.

I think Jesus’ disciples expected Jesus to be like a Thor-figure. They expected their Messiah to be one who would come in with a sword in one hand and thunder in the other and would smite the enemies of their world. The Jesus who entered Jerusalem was somewhat closer to that ideal. Here was their Messiah—loved and lauded, victorious in his triumphant entry into the holy city of Jerusalem. It all seemed to finally come together for them in that moment. Now, finally, Jesus would triumph.

But the Jesus we find at the end of our Gospels for today was not anything like that ideal. The Jesus we find at the end of our Gospel reading is as unlike Thor and the Apostle’s understanding of Messiah as we can get. This beaten, tortured, murdered man could not possibly be God.

But that’s the twist here. What we really see on that cross—that twisted, tortured human being—is something more familiar than any superhero god or apocalyptic messiah. What we see on that cross is us. It is us tortured It is us murdered. It is us defeated. And when we see it, all we can do is turn away. We tern away because we don’t want to look into that mirror. We don’t want to see the painful reflection we find there. But we must. We must look at it. We must go through this coming Holy Week and carry the weight we have been given. We must wash the feet, and be betrayed and carry the cross and die and descend into the darkest depths of all this week will bring.

Because what happens next Sunday is also us as well. What happens on Easter is our victory in the face of defeat. What happens on Easter is our life in triumph over death. With Jesus’ resurrection is our resurrection as well.

But that’s then, that’s next Sunday. For now, we are here. We are here, at the beginning of this week. We are at this manic phase in our emotional and spiritual roller coaster ride. We’ve been here caught in this low emotional place before in our lives—sometimes many times. And we will probably be here again.

And we, like Jesus, are given a choice. We can turn away from all of this. We can refuse to look in that mirror. We can run in the opposite direction. We can hope in our superhero god and messiah to come and rescue us and take all this bad stuff away.

Or we can trudge forward. We can look long and hard into that battered bleeding face of our God, who stares back with eyes very much like our eyes. We can accept the folly of this strange faith we have chosen to be baptized into. Because in doing so—as we know from our previous journeys on this manic ride—this is the ultimate victory.

Love over hatred. Forgiveness over resentment. Positive over negative. Light over dark. Life over death. This is what awaits us when we stare into that brutalized face, into those pain-weary eyes, and looking deeply, we see our own reflections staring back.

So, let us go forward. Let us shoulder the cross on our lacerated backs. Let us lift that weight onto our tired and weary legs And let us walk—slowly and surely—through the darkness of this coming week to the glorious dawning light that awaits us next Sunday.

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