Palm Sunday, Year C, 2016

The Passion narrative seems particularly resonant this year, with its scenes of crowds shouting for a sacrifice to ease their anxiety, hoping for blood to appease their anger. We see now that these kinds of crowds are not a historical relic, but part of the human condition. I know many of us are deeply anxious about the current political situation in our country, for good reason, but I do think Jesus has good, if somber news for us today.

Going back to the Palm Sunday reading, you may have noticed a few things. There are no palms for one thing. Jesus’ disciples lay their coats for Jesus, not palm branches. And no one shouts “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Instead they shout,

“Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

Luke is deeply interested in peace, and the particular peace that Jesus brings to a violent and oppressive world. The disciples’ words echo the words of the angels who appear to the shepherds upon Jesus’ birth.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

But, there is one key difference. The disciples do not shout “peace on earth”, they shout “peace in heaven”. Perhaps they are still hoping Jesus will exercise military power, organize the Jewish population to overthrow the Roman military rule. We think of the group of disciples here as being a joyful contrast to the bloodthirsty crowd that calls for Jesus’ death. But even these disciples, who have been following Jesus, may want blood. They are thrilled that Jesus is finally traveling to Jerusalem, that he is finally going to set straight the powers of the day.

But of course, the only blood Jesus intends to shed is his own.

After his betrayal, Jesus meets the violence of the crowds in Jerusalem not with resistance, but with a clear sense of who he is, and a deep trust in God’s providence for him. Jesus does not achieve peace by trying to make everyone happy. Jesus doesn’t hold press conferences and try to appease the Romans, the corrupt powers in Jerusalem and his ordinary followers. No, Jesus remains completely clear about his values—following God means loving God and your neighbor. He knows his Father will be with him, even as he trembles in fear in the Garden.

We don’t get to the resurrection in today’s readings yet, so I’ll leave us here, standing before our crucified Jesus. Standing before our God who was willing to face us at our violent worst, who was willing to love us through our own violence, even when violence is not what he wanted from us.

The good news is that Jesus loves us through our worst, and that he shows us a way of peace in a violent time. Peace does not mean avoiding conflict, but being true to our Christian values even if it becomes costly to us. The final promise we make in baptism is to: Strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. This means respecting the dignity of people of every religion, every race, every nation and every political party.

The Bishops of the Episcopal Church recently met and released the following statement:

We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.”

On Good Friday the ruling political forces of the day tortured and executed an innocent man. They sacrificed the weak and the blameless to protect their own status and power. On the third day Jesus was raised from the dead, revealing not only their injustice but also unmasking the lie that might makes right.

In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric. Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others. There is legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it might take us.

In this moment, we resemble God’s children wandering in the wilderness. We, like they, are struggling to find our way. They turned from following God and worshiped a golden calf constructed from their own wealth. The current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege. We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and we must seek the common good above all else.

We call for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.

Our bishops know we are sinners and we are saints. We have the capacity for violence and the capacity for reconciliation. Developing a spirit of reconciliation is hard, hard work. Picking a side and the demonizing every person who disagrees with us is much easier, but we are the light of the world, we are the body of Christ. And like Christ, we are called to be out in the world actually encountering and relating to people who are different from us. Jesus was in conversation with Pharisees and tax collectors, sinners and Romans. Jesus spoke with outsiders and insiders. The early church was a hodgepodge of Jews and Gentiles, poor and rich, those in power and those out of power.

We can be clear about our values while still treating people who think differently than we do with dignity. We can disagree about policy related to immigration or ISIS while agreeing to be friends. But our promise to treat each person with dignity, and Christ’s overwhelming love for all humankind makes it impossible for us to embrace racism, hatred of the refugee, and hatred of Muslims.

Following God is costly. Jesus was willing to lose everything—power, privilege, even his life. Are we willing to follow?

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