Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Palm Sunday: Mighty Acts

Assist us mercifully with your help, O Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
-- BCP, page 270

This Sunday's Texts

Liturgy of the Palms
Liturgy of the Word
Mark 11:1-11
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Mark 14:1-15:47

The Collect for the Liturgy of the Palms, at the beginning of the celebration of Palm Sunday, sets the tone as well as reflects the spirit of this part of the service. We are a happy and expectant bunch, clutching our palm branches, ready to sing "Hosanna!" "Praise the Lord!" We enter with joy indeed, as we hear the narrative of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. We are ready for good things to happen.

That's how it looks at first. Psalm 118, which we recite, looks for the opening of doors, for the establishment of righteousness, for the celebration of God's doings. We sing "All glory, laud, and honor" and remember that God is in charge.

We are ready, are we not, to contemplate God's mighty acts.

But things do not turn out quite as we thought. Gradually the readings take us down the path of conflict and turmoil-Isaiah shows God contending with a people unsure of trusting that goodness and grace dwell in God. The Epistle tells us that Jesus willingly entered suffering and even crucifixion in a total self-emptying of the need to be exalted and adored. By the time that we reach the story of the Passion in Mark, we are in total darkness. Betrayed by one of his intimates, his basic humanity trampled by those who were the best that religion had to offer and his life taken by the raw power of human empire, Jesus dies on Good Friday. And with him seem to die all the hopes and dreams of those who only five days before had been bold enough to call him the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

These are the mighty acts that we are invited to contemplate.

Stop right there. Let the story sink in. The mighty acts whereby life and immortality are given to us? A surface reading would tell us that Jesus accomplished nothing, that he was dragged to his death, and that the religious leaders who called him an impostor were right on target.

Oh, but there is so much more to the story! We really need, you and I, not only this Palm Sunday but the entire Holy Week to walk in the Way of the Cross. We need to contemplate the whole story in all its horrifying detail so that we might begin to glimpse what God is doing with all the nastiness that we are capable on inflicting one another.

Even though filled with pathos and ambiguity, the Passion challenges all our notions of how good conquers evil: not by brute force but in the paradox of a willing agent who freely gives his life, allowing all the terrors that we might most fear do their worst, thereby unmasking their ultimate powerlessness because Love, however much trampled, will rise from the dust.

The grace of Holy Week is this opportunity to contemplate the might acts of God. Where betrayal and subterfuge would try to force Jesus to die, he surrenders his life. May we not cling to our life even as we gratefully live it each day. Open hands, not closed fists, are the path of freedom and real living. Fear not!

May we embrace the grace of Holy Week.

The Tomb shall not have the last word.

Love wins. By losing. Let's ponder that.

Under the Mercy,

Fr. Daniel+

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