Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm/Passion Sunday - March 24, 2013 – Luke 23:1-49

 Many of you probably remember that in years past the Sunday before Easter was known as Palm Sunday.  Confirmation used to be on Palm Sunday.  The tone was one of celebration.  I remember that for me as a kid the palms were a great highlight of the church year.  We had the kind that with leaves and they were taped to the end of each pew.  I always made sure to get one after the service – sometimes more than one, because I thought they were pretty cool.

Somewhere along the line, Palm Sunday changed.  It became Palm and Passion Sunday.  And so, instead of focusing solely on the celebratory entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem it now begins with this entrance and continues all the way through Jesus’ death and burial.  Palm/Passion Sunday could more accurately be called "Whiplash Sunday."  In the space of less than half an hour, we go from Jesus being praised to the skies to him being condemned to death, crucified and put in the grave.

So why the change?  The reason has to do with modern trends in the church.  Nationwide, fewer people go to services on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  And so it is entirely possible for a regular Sunday church-attender to go from “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday to “Alleluia, Christ is Risen” on Easter morning with no cross in between.  To miss the cross is to miss everything.  There is no resurrection without the cross.  There is no life without Jesus’ death.  There is no forgiveness of sins without him dying for our sins.  It is the event upon which the entire Christian faith hinges.  And so it was decided that Palm Sunday would also serve as Passion Sunday, so that the cross wouldn't get lost.

What we end up with then is a very abrupt shift.  So what do we do with it?  As peculiar as it seems, I think it might help us understand something fundamental about Christian faith: God often works with contradictions.  Things that are diametrically opposed to each other exist together.  

The most obvious contradiction is always right in front of our face, but we probably don't always see it for what it is.  We confess that Jesus is a human being, born of a human mother.  He shares our weakness, our vulnerability.  He has to eat and drink and sleep, like us.  We also confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and that he has always existed.  He is powerful, perfect, and has existed from the very beginning.  Either one of those makes sense, by itself, but they don't really make much sense together.  How is something that is weak, be strong?  How is someone who is human be perfect?  How can someone who is eternal die?  These things don't make rational sense.  And yet these things are central to our faith.

And what about contradiction in our lives?  The Apostle Paul refers to the members of the church as saints.  We baptized folk who are gathered here together this morning are saints.  And yet we have already taken time to confess our sins.  And we will share Holy Communion together, which conveys the promise of the forgiveness of sins.  So are we saints?  Or sinners?  We are both, together, side by side.  We are sinners because of our actions and attitudes.  We are saints because God says we are.  These things don't make rational sense.  And yet these things are central to our faith.

And now back to the events of this Palm/Passion Sunday.  It seems like it starts with glory and ends with infamy.  It seems like it starts with hope and ends with hopelessness.  It seems like it starts with life and ends in death.  Basically, it seems like it starts happy and ends sad.  But this isn't actually true.  The closer we move to death, hopelessness, and sadness, the closer we move to resurrection, eternal hope, and joy.  To draw nearer to Good Fridy is to draw nearer to Easter morning.  To get closer to rock bottom is to get closer to recovery.  These things don't make rational sense.  And yet...  And yet somehow our God has decided to work this way, through contradictions.  Amen

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