After our 40 days of preparation, we come to the end of the Road to the Cross. Palm Sunday is always a dichotomy of images. We start the service with shouts of Hosanna and palm waving; then abruptly we crash into the Passion narrative. This should bring us up short with the reminder and realization that we, just as much as those present 2000 years ago, are daily shouting ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ in things ‘done and left undone’ as one prayer of confession says.
The old hymn asks ‘were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ And indeed we are present on Palm Sunday as the words of the Gospel are read. The same people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with glad shouts and palm branches, stand by and cry for His death at Roman hands.
This betrayal, not just by Judas, but by all was for each of us. In the Letter to the Philippians (2:7-9) we hear that [Jesus] “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” In our place, Christ on the Cross, brings us back into relationship with the God of Love. Our actions tear the community and communion with each other. The crossbeams on Golgotha re-knit heaven and earth.
The Cross, an instrument of torture and death is transformed into the symbol of Life...for those who accept that truth. From the earliest Christian letters, we learn that not everyone is able to believe. St. Paul tells the Corinthians, “we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (I Corinthians 1:23-24)
The paradox of Palms and Passion on one Sunday brings us up short because it is the way of our life to have joy and pain, acceptance and betrayal, good and evil. At a retreat last weekend Bishop Vono of the Diocese of the Rio Grande noted that Lent (and especially Holy Week) is a time to ‘look evil square in the eye and see it as a part of life’. It can also be where we find Holy Ground.
During this Holy Week, there may be special services to attend, or you may be able to find some quiet time to sit with God and contemplate the Love that refuses to let us go, no matter how many times we turn our backs.
- Sit with a cross, either in a church or in your home.
I close with 2 prayers from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer that you might use in your devotions this week.
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray you to set your passion, cross, and death between your judgment and our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Give mercy and grace to the living; pardon and rest to the dead; to your holy Church peace and concord; and to us sinners everlasting life and glory; for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (from the Liturgy for Good Friday)
Next week we’ll come to the Grave with the women and find it empty! For now, though, we sit at the foot of the Cross.