Monday, March 30, 2015

Sermon For Palm Sunday

On Mark 11:1-11
AND Mark 15 (Whole Chapter)

There was perhaps no more overplayed song in all of the 1990s than Alanis Morisette's ISN'T IT IRONIC. That song was everywhere. There were two different music videos for it playing constantly on MTV, and you could flip through four channels on the radio and it would be on all of them.

The song was annoying. It was ostensibly an ode to irony. Basically it just listed various scenarios and followed them with the rhetorical question, "Isn't it ironic? Don't you think?" But in point of fact none of the scenarios listed in the song are actually ironic. They just suck. Take the first verse, which describes a man who was afraid to fly his whole life, finally gets on a plane and the plane crashes. That's not ironic. It just sucks.

Or take the chorus: "it's like rain on your wedding day", "it's like the free ride when you've already paid", "it's the good advice you just didn't take." Those scenarios aren't ironic. They just suck. They're just bad. In fact the only irony in the song is that Alanis apparently has no grasp on the concept whatsoever....

....she would've done well to study Palm Sunday....

Today we wear palm leaves and we have a special liturgy in the Great Hall to commemorate Jesus 'triumphant entry into Jerusalem'. And Palm Sunday is unusual, because it is the only day in Holy Week that has a celebratory feel to it, until the end of Easter Vigil. But that original Palm Sunday was a day steeped in bitter irony.

On the surface, it seems there is a reason to celebrate. People are proclaiming Jesus to be Messiah, calling Him, "the one who comes in the name of the Lord", and are calling out "Hosanna", meaning "save us", which is exactly what Jesus came to do.

But when you look at the details, you realize that those people did not understand what kind of Messiah they were welcoming into the city. They saw Jesus in the mold of a political and military power. They were seeking political and military salvation. It's right there in the text. Jesus comes into the city riding on a donkey, which was a symbol of peace, but the people lay at His feet palm branches, which are symbols of conquest. When those people cried out 'Hosanna' they were really saying 'Conquer us. Rule over us. Rule over a worldwide empire with this city at it's center.'

The spirit that animated those people that day was not the Holy Spirit, but the spirit of the desert, that same satan who had tried to push Jesus into the very mold they wanted. And that sin is particularly insidious, in fact I'd say it is the very kind of sin Jesus came to save us from, because it is a sin that is hidden behind a mask of righteousness...because it appears to be worship of the true God. There is no more terrible idolatry than that which appears to be worship of God, when it is really just worship of our selves.

And to stack irony on top of irony, each year Christians get together and celebrate that day. And they celebrate it by acting like those people. I mean, really, what are we celebrating? That those people didn't get it? That even when we see the face of God, we just twist it into our own face? That even our highest worship is corruptible by sin?

No, if there is any reason to celebrate in Holy Week, it is found not on Palm Sunday, but on Good Friday. It is found not in our first reading from out in the Hall, but from our second reading from here in the church. From Mark's passion narrative. For however terrible the Cross is, there is something good in it, too. However right we are to weep over the cost of our salvation and the depth of our sin, we must remember that they are tears born of the pain of an infection being cut out.

For the Cross reveals to us God as He actually is and not as we imagine Him to be. And it also reveals the sin that was concealed on Palm Sunday. And sin revealed as the cross reveals it, has the power to break down our ego and open the doorway to true remorse and repentance, and that remorse and repentance are the very beginning of hope, salvation and happiness.

If there is any hope and happiness, it is in our willingness to let the cross have that power to reveal and breakdown our sin. If there is any hope and happiness, it is in our willingness to say, " us!" Save us not from some particular from of oppression, but from the alloy of sin that infects all human endeavors and so is the cause of all oppression. Save us not from obscurity, discomfort, and insecurity, but from our unwillingness to share in the vulnerability that God IS. Save us from our sin. Save us from the spirit of the desert. Save us....from ourselves.

If there is any hope and happiness, it is in our willingness to take the palm branches of conquest and twist them into the shape of a cross....well would you look at that. I guess there is a reason to celebrate today, after all. But you know I think we only get that for moments. We at best get minutes or hours where we bask in the glory of the One True God. We just as often replace Him with a god of our own making, in our own image. Even with the Cross ever before us, we just as often pick up those palm branches, and seek to be conquered. We trade the God we need, for the god we think we want...and isn't that ironic? Don't you think?

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