Thursday, April 17, 2014

Palm Sunday, April 13, 2014, Year A

Matthew 26:14-27:66
Preached by Rev. Dr. Jason Haddox

 What is happening?

From “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” to “Let him be crucified”…today is a day of almost unbearable extremes, straining in contrast with one another.  If you’re not feeling a bit of mental whiplash, you’re not paying attention.

Many things can be true at once.  And especially today…as we begin the most extraordinary and significant week of the Christian Year, as we “…enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby [God has] given us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

 Many things can be true at once.  And the story we have before us is so multi-layered, that no sermon can begin to say even a percentage of all that is before us.  So I’m not going to try to do more than call your attention to two things throughout:  The expectations of those who are part of the story, and Jesus’ constant refusal to be constrained by those expectations.

When we began, with shouts of Hosanna and waving palms in a parade into the city, we have to remember that there’s another parade going on across town.  As Jesus is entering Jerusalem on a donkey through the east gate, Pilate is riding a white horse from the west, backed by the armies of the Roman Empire.  Many of those who follow Jesus are expecting great things from him.  Perhaps a confrontation with the religious and political power structure of the day, perhaps a challenge to the empire and its domination over their lives.  And the funny thing is, apparently the religious and political leaders, those invested in the empire and its domination, seemed to expect some such thing as well.  For they too were mindful of this “prophet Jesus from Galilee in Nazareth.”

But what they expected is not what they got.  Jesus the prophet from Galilee came not as a politician, not as a military leader, not as one crying for violence and revenge against those who perpetrated vengeance and violence—none of those categories would work.  And this frustrated the people no end: both the people who were in favor of Jesus (as far as they understood him) and the people who were opposed to him, and fearful of him. 

Neither group could quite figure him out. 

When they come to arrest him, with clubs and swords, he tells those who would die to defend him in the same manner: Put your swords away. 

When he stands before the governor, on trial for his life, and is asked over and over to explain himself, he does not answer.

When he is cursed and humiliated, he will not curse them back.

Over and over in Matthew’s gospel, we hear echoes of the words of the prophet Hosea: “I desire mercy and steadfast love, not sacrifice; the knowledge of God above all things, says God.” (Hos 6:6)  Jesus has preached it, practiced it, shared it, and having lived in that way all along, he lives in that way until the end. 

Confronted with violence, Jesus rejects violence as a tool, even for self-protection. 

Confronted with words of fear, anger, and hatred, Jesus enters into silence—a silence more profound than any words that could be thrown at him.

And in that silence, even the stones under his feet cry out.

When you come forward for communion in a few minutes, I invite you to put your hand in the baptismal font.  During our Lenten journey it has been filled—not with water, but with sand.  Dry, dusty, gritty, the stuff of the desert.  Today it is filled with stones.  Hard, jagged, rough, the stuff of the road down to Jerusalem, and the road up to Mount Calvary.  The stuff of the tomb, sealed tight, hard and dead and buried.

I invite you, as you come forward to receive the bread and the wine, Christ’s body and blood, to take a stone from the font with you.  Keep it in your pocket this week, as together we walk the road as Jesus’ followers.  Let it remind you of the stony and rough places in your life, the violent and bloody places, the places where the stones have been piled up and sealed against death itself, from which, even now, God is bringing forth new life.

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