Palm Sunday A 2005 Matthew 21:1-11; 26:36-27:66
Today is Palm Sunday. We began this day by standing with Jesus before the gates of Jerusalem. We rejoiced with him across
the years as he rode into the city in what used to be call the Triumphal Entry. We danced in the streets; we stood with the
crowds waving palm branches, the palm branches that were – and are -- used over the centuries as signs of victory, of
rejoicing, of celebration. It was a glorious triumphant joyful day, and we were there. And we followed him into the gates
of the Holy City singing “All glory, laud, and honor, to thee, Redeemer, King, to whom the lips of children made sweet
Suddenly the mood shifts. Gone are the glad sweet hosannas. Gone is the dancing in the streets. Suddenly we are saying
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? and are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress?
O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer;
by night as well, but I find no rest.
And singing things like, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” and “When I survey the wondrous Cross.”
A darkness has fallen across the land. It is the shadow of the Cross, awaking our darkest, deepest fears of death and dying.
A wise man once wrote that: “The terror of dying has to do with leaving everything we have known and
everyone we love. We have no idea what awaits us. This is true of no other human reality. Jesus was “greatly distressed
and troubled” at Gethsemane. Love leads us to want the other to be, and here we are not. It seems to cancel everything
that we sense in a primordial way should be.
“Instead of reconciling us to this, Christianity agrees with that primordial sense. The world should not be a place
of suffering and death; yet it is…. We can distract ourselves from the tragedy of our condition, which is the agenda
entire culture; or we can try to detach ourselves from it philosophically.
“But instead of detaching us from the suffering that contradicts our sense of the way the world should be, Christianity
shows us that the love which calls us into being was shown most completely as flesh nailed to wood. (1)
But before we can understand that love we must walk in the shadow of the Cross until we climb to Golgotha and stand at the
foot of that Cross. This climb, this new procession of Holy Week, is a story of death by a state-sponsored execution -- what
we call today "capital punishment." This story demands among other things, that we as a Christian people stop along the way
to the Cross and consider just what it is we do think about such things as capital punishment.
Our way in the streets of Holy Week Jerusalem in the shadow of the Cross lead us through a story that includes cruel mockery
and torture before the execution itself.
This shadow of the Cross stretches far beyond the Jerusalem of this Holy Week. It darkens the entire world. God’s
people everywhere are mocked, denied, tortured, and even killed for being who they are or for believing what they believe.
People are being sold into slavery in the Sudan simply because they are Christians, their villages burned, their families
killed or in flight. Young women are sold as sex-slaves in Ghana and Thailand. Innocent infants and children dying with
the AIDS contracted from their parents. Protestants and Roman Catholics watch an uneasy peace with one another in Northern
Ireland. Israelis and Palestinians caught in an even more uneasy truce punctuated by senseless terrorist violence. Suicide
and car bombs threatening the fragile freedom just born in Iraq.
Here in our own Jerusalem, gay and lesbian people discriminated against even in Christ’s own churches, crack babies
being born in our core cities, homeless people dying on the streets of our nation's capital, the poor at our doorsteps and
the heads of our lanes leading to our great houses on the water. And we have our own lives darkened thereby by the shadow
of the Cross.
Then, of course, there are those whose lives are darkened by the shadow of the Cross from such benign sounding entities as
"the economy," "free markets," "globalization," and the like: those who lose jobs, those who work as sweatshop labor for pennies
a day – the list is endless. There are too many people who live their entire lives in the shadow of the Cross.
So this story of the shadow of the Cross remains the story of our world and our lives in it. Last Sunday we left off with
Lazarus coming out of the tomb, and Jesus telling the crowd, "Unbind him and let him go!" Today it is Jesus who is bound
and led away to his execution at the hands of Pilate, as the crowd jeers at, delights in, his plight.
And how strange it is that one of the most notorious and cold-blooded of all Roman functionaries, Pilate, is pictured as washing
his hands of the whole thing. A man who routinely, even daily, ordered people to death without a second thought is hesitant
and subject to pressure from people who were not even Roman citizens.
Imagine being a Roman centurion on that wall keeping guard over the city during this festival weekend when pilgrims from all
over the ancient world are in town. Your job is to see to it that these people do not cause trouble, let alone get a taste
of freedom. You know it is time for the daily executions outside the city on the hill. And you do your job. Routine. How
surprising, then, to hear that it is a centurion who cries out in a loud voice, filled with awe, "Truly this was the Son of
God!" Or is it so surprising?
Near the end Jesus cries out with the opening verse, of Psalm 22: Eli, Eli, la'ma sabachtha'ni? My God, My God, why have
you forsaken me? (2) In our Lenten study of Jesus’ resurrection, one of the panelists raised the question of what
good is a God who is so weak and helpless, who allowed himself to be mistreated and killed this way. To answer, Tom Wright
quoted from a poem by Edmund Shillitoe written in response to the suffering of the wounded soldiers during World War One:
If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn marks upon Thy brow,
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the scars.…
...The other gods were strong [the gods of war, that is]:
The other gods were strong, but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne,
But to our wounds, only God's wounds can speak
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone. (3)
1. John Garvey in America, (Feb. 28, 1997), as quoted in Synthesis for March 2005.
2. Adapted from a sermon by The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek, Rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, Maryland,
at Worship that Works, Selected Sermons 2001-2002 for Palm Sunday, at dfms.org.
3. Quoted by NT Wright in Session 5 of Jesus’ Resurrection, Then and Now, THABGA Foundation Productions, distributed