Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Palm Sunday Sermon

28 March 2010/Sunday of the Passion – Luke 19:28-40/Luke 22:14-23:56
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

[This is read BEFORE reading the Passion Narrative]

The Stones Would Shout Out

Jerusalem had been under occupation, first by the Greeks, now by the Romans, for a very long time – several hundred years. So who could imagine that this little rag-a-tag parade – donkey, palm branches, poor people strewing their clothes on the donkey – this seemingly brilliant satire on pomp and circumstances and high honors in this world, would in any way, shape or form signal a change was under way?

It is the week of the Passover celebration, which begins tomorrow for our Jewish sisters and brothers - time to remember God’s power to deliver a rag-a-tag band of slaves who once were no people from the grip of an earlier empire. It was a miracle of course, but it made them into a people – the People of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the God who says, “I Am who I Am.”

Typically, and Egypt and Rome were no exception, control of prisoners, slaves or occupied territories is best administered by appointing some of the subject people’s own as overseers – or Kapos as they were called in the concentration camps of Hitler’s Final Solution. So it was in ancient Jerusalem under Rome – Sadducees and Priests were the ones to issue proclamations of Pilate, Herod or the Emperor. They were the ones appointed and paid to keep order and administer the Empire’s justice. It is a brutal system. And brutality is brutality, yet those who design the system and make the brutality necessary bear the greater blame. We do well to remember that as we listen to this tale called the Passion.

So along comes this noisy rabble on the busiest week of the year with the one they believe holds the power to the begin a new kingdom of Israel for Israel, and the Pharisees are nervous. Nervous, no doubt, that their adversaries, the Sadducees and Priests, all on the Roman payroll to keep things in Jerusalem calm, will not be pleased to host such a disruption, no matter how ridiculously silly it appears next to what it is like when Pilate or Herod or one of the Caesars comes to visit the “city of peace” – Jeru Salem.

Jesus knows they are right. He has said on several occasions that once he gets to Jerusalem there will be trouble. Yet, he says, unless we begin to be the change we want to see in the world, even the stones of the city ramparts would cry out loud, so long have those hallowed stone walls awaited the return of the king – a king – any king but Caesar.

We continue the satire when we call this little episode in Luke Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem! The very next verse (19:41) reads, “As he came near the city, he wept over it.” I have some idea what he must have been feeling. From the Mount of Olives as our bus stopped to let us look at the city on the hill of Zion, one time the Temple Mount, now even today occupied real estate, I stood there, looked at it by the light of the setting sun and wept, repeating to no one but myself, “It’s all there….it’s all there….it’s all there.”

Abraham climbed this mount to sacrifice his first-born son, Isaac, only to be issued a reprieve by God in the thicket providing a ram instead. Here David and Solomon and a succession of Kings established the Temple and the golden age of Israel. Irony being a standby of middle eastern life, it would be the Herods who rebuilt the Temple after the first had been destroyed. Jesus seems already to know it too will be destroyed soon after the Roman legions take him out of the city to be crucified when, who knows, some of the same hopeful yet eternally frustrated rabble lose their patience and mount a revolution against Rome in the year 67 – just a few years after Paul declares in his letter to the church in Philippi, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.”

The attempted revolt was not of the mind of Christ, but one can hardly blame them for trying.

As predicted, he is arrested and sent to trial. Pilate and Herod bounce him back and forth, toying with the Son of God like cats with a mouse. Jesus has not much to say, until they send him out to “the place which is called The Skull” – so called because of all the unclaimed bodies and bones left on the hillside as a chilling reminder to any who would even consider challenging the Empire.

On the way we will hear that Jesus has little concern for himself, but grave concerns for the City of Peace and its people. As we recall when we contemplate the Stations of the Cross which surround us on all sides each time we gather to worship in this space, he says, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children…For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry.”

Those who first heard or read Luke’s account some years after the attempted revolt know what happened when the wood was dry: Rome burned the city to the ground. The Temple, the very center of the Jewish Universe was laid waste. “I am just one Jew,” he seems to say, “Rome will do far worse than this, far worse when the wood is dry.” Eyewitness accounts exist. Estimate run as high as one million Jews were killed as Rome quelled the Revolt, the last to die being holed up on top of Masada by the Dead Sea.

Finally, we would do well to take note that despite the tragic turn of events, even on the cross Jesus continues his mission to find lost and scattered Israel. He finds them in the oddest places – tax booths, among sinners, amidst prostitutes, among the unclean and gentiles. Now he finds a faithful Israelite, one willing to take responsibility for his own actions, nailed on the cross next to him. He continues the work of evangelism under the worst of circumstances with the most meager resources – simply his Word and the Good News – “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

It is a moment that is meant to give us hope that Jesus still continues his mission to gather the People of God and may one day even gather us. We too join the criminal on the cross when we sing, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, according to Saint Luke!

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