holy cross sermon for palm sunday, march 29, 2015

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

“Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

Today is Palm Sunday.  Today we bless palm fronds and carry them in procession.  Doing this, we find ourselves ritually placed with what St. Luke calls “the whole multitude of the disciples” along the path down the Mount of Olives, hailing Jesus as King, as he rides into Jerusalem.  With that multitude, we make our song:  “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”  But what is it for Jesus to be the King who comes in the name of the Lord?

The readings we have heard today also relate a series of miss-identifications of Jesus, which are very common, not only in the Gospels, but in the world in general.  The problem is that the people surrounding Jesus, who had grown up with the Scriptures and Prophecies of Messiah, are reluctant to relinquish their own notions and preconceptions of what Messiah will look like, or whom he will be.  The Psalms had trained them to expect a king, an heir to David’s throne.  And the Prophets had taught them to look for deliverance from their oppressors and from their burdensome circumstances.

Is it any wonder then that there was so much misrecognition of Jesus with those among whom he ministered and taught?  This is a part of what our Lord is talking about when, as the soldiers arrive in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus says “this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”  Because his betrayal and arrest were the temporary victory of the power of darkness in obscuring the minds of our Lord’s betrayers and enemies, to prevent them from seeing the essence of his identity or his kingship.

It is the power of darkness and of darkened minds working in the council of the chief priests and scribes who say to Jesus after his arrest:  “If you are the Messiah, tell us” and who condemn him to death when he tells them that “from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”  It is the power of darkness and of darkened minds at work in the assembly announcing to Pontius Pilate “We found this man perverting our nation… and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.”  It is the power of darkness and of a darkened mind working through the Jewish King, Herod, before whose inquiries our Lord stood “like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,” opening not his mouth, at Herod’s inquisitiveness.  And it is the power of darkness at work in those who call for the release of Barabbas, whose name means “Son of the Father” – those who, after calling for the release of Barabbas, in their next breath condemn the eternal Son of the eternal Father.

And it is the power of darkness at work in the minds of the soldiers and the crowds, and the impenitent thief, who all goad Jesus to save himself, refusing to see that this innocent man is dying in their place, who will not see in Jesus’ refusal to save himself the offer of God’s salvation to them.

In reading about the cruciform Kingship of our Lord, we are reminded of the mother of the Sons of Zebedee who said to Jesus “Command that these two sons of mine may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom,” and Jesus responds that those places have been reserved, by God the Father, for others.  Today we see the Lord come into his Kingdom.  We see him robed in ironic purple by Herod.  We see him crowned with thorns.  We see him nailed to a cross and labeled “King of the Jews” in three languages, lest anyone should miss the point.  Jesus inherits the throne of his father David – Jesus comes into his Kingdom – on the cross, and we now know that the places at his right hand and at his left have been reserved for thieves.

Many of the Lord’s contemporaries missed the coming of the Messiah because their minds were occluded by the power of darkness. They had become wedded to the world’s standards of Kingship: the Messiah, they thought, would deliver them from the Romans, or would be a member of their own party, or would be a scrupulous observer or enforcer of the ritual law.

So the question for each of one of us is:  what are MY susceptibilities to the power of darkness?  How am I prone to miss the coming of the Messiah into MY heart?  Which of the world’s standards of Kingship am I wont to substitute for God’s self-disclosure in the person of Jesus Christ, in the Scriptures, or in the teachings of the Church?  Each of us is prone to wanting to believe in a fantasy Jesus – a false god made in our own image and likeness, a god perhaps who comforts us with platitudes drawn from secular ideologies, from the libertine modes of thought our society draws from what sells, or from what makes us feel good about ourselves.

But if we are truly disciples of Jesus, his cross and passion will belie the assumptions of the NY Times’ editorial page, or the rhetorical nuances of the campaign trail, or the various well-meaning or self-righteous humanisms running rampant in our world. Don’t get me wrong: the world has plenty of problems, and politics are necessary in order to give a coherent shape to our corporate lives.  But is there room in your heart for the Christ who drove the money-changers out of the temple with whips? Or the Christ who said “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”? Or the Christ who healed a paralytic and sent him away saying “Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.”

The Scriptures we have read today remind us that we here today are faced with a very real danger of missing the salvation offered in Christ, because our minds are darkened by expectations dearer to us than God’s ecstatic self-disclosure.  Its easy for us to believe in a flaccid rainbow god, indifferent to what we believe to be our victimless concupiscence. But that’s not the word of Christ crucified, and that’s not what we will find in the Christ who is coming in glory to judge the quick and the dead and the world by fire. Rather Jesus means to show us the God who formed us in our mothers’ wombs, and who loves us too much to let us die in self-delusion. Jesus reveals the God whose appearance was astonishingly marred for our iniquity, in the words of today’s reading from Isaiah: the God whose uncreated light shines in the recesses of our sin-clouded minds through the anguish of his only Son… because he poured out himself to death, making intercession for our transgressions.

The counterintuitive fact of our redemption is that the Kingship and exaltation of Jesus Christ is his suffering and death for us. In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus says “ ‘…and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’  He said this to show by what death he was to die.  The crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Christ remains for ever.  How can you say that the Son of man must be lifted up?  Who is this Son of man?’  Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer.  Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes.  While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.’”

Let the light of Christ shine in your hearts.  Believe in the light, that you may become sons and daughters of light.  This means being honest with yourself, and letting go of your favorite ideologies, allowing them to be displaced by the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Examine your consciences.  Make a habit of examining your consciences.  And repent: go to Confession. Confession is the means left to us by Jesus himself, in which the light of his forgiveness shines in the hearts which each of us have allowed to become darkened in one way or another.

Finally, in St. Paul’s words from today’s Epistle:  “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who…. Emptied himself…and became obedient to the point of death….  Therefore God has highly exalted him.”  Our Lord’s own exaltation and kingship awaits each of us on the other side of our humility, our emptiness and obedience. I urge you to face your particular emptinesses in obedience, that Christ’s light may fill you forever.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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About Fr Will

Fr Will Brown is rector of Holy Cross Dallas
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