Homily Palm Sunday Deacon David S Reiser 4-17-2011
Walking from Bethany to Mt. Zion is a notable journey, by no means an easy one; it is a mile and a half climbing and descending through the hills of Judea. You cross the Mount of Olives and pass by the olive trees, which have been there since the time of Jesus. Then you descent into the Kidron valley, passing by the burial grounds of the prophet Zechariah …The one who said that the Messiah would ride into Jerusalem humbly seated on the foal of an ass. And then as you climb out of the Kidron valley you are faced with the formidable walls of the City of Jerusalem. Unfortunately, that trip is not possible today; there is another wall, an obstacle, which prevents you from taking this journey. Because of fear and mistrust it’s a wall separating the land between the Palestinian territory and Israel, between Bethany and Jerusalem.
As we begin Holy Week, the journey starts with the joy of carrying and waiving the palms on this Palm Sunday… and ends up as Passion Sunday with Jesus carrying the cross, to be crucified on Mt. Zion. Our life’s journey is similar, with peaks of joy and valleys of obstacles and fears that we face carrying our cross, in our daily existence. So, as we contemplate Christ’s life and death, we are invited to contemplate also our own lives and deaths. Jesus dies so that we may live. What is life for us? Are we willing to accept Jesus’ example: true living is to give our lives in the service of others?
In the Gospel narrative on the Passion of Jesus, there are many people who played a role. Who do we relate closest to? We have an opportunity today to look at our role and at the obstacles and fears that are in our way to the Cross. What obstacles and fears to you see in your life?
The people who praised Jesus on Palm Sunday went astray late in the week, because they did not think for themselves… and so often, we let others tell us what is right and what is wrong, without thinking things through.
Do we choose lawlessness, as the people chose Barabbas… or do we choose the law and Jesus? Do we value the sanctity of human life… or do we discard it as something useless and un-holly and join the culture of death?
Out of fear that they might lose their power, some of the religious leaders sought a scapegoat for their own shortcomings… and so often fear can make us lash out at those whom we do not understand, or who are unlike us.
Do we have envy as the chief priest did handing Jesus over to Pilate… or do we treat our family and friends with kindness? Do we mock people for their disabilities and shortcoming… or do we respect the disabled, the elderly, and the outcasts?
Pilate went along with a scheme to condemn an innocent man, when he saw that it was going to be too much trouble to try to set things right… and so often we go along with what we know is wrong to avoid trouble for ourselves.
Do we treat Jesus as HE was treated by the Roman soldiers, who bound him and led him away… or do we embrace Him?
Do we care for the poor, the hungry and the migrant, or do we bind them up and ignore them? Do we remain silent in the face of others who suffer… or do we let our voices be heard?
If we can somewhat understand the actions of Pilate, the soldiers, the crowd, their leaders, Judas and the apostles, because we have done these sorts of things ourselves, then the real surprise comes from what Jesus did, to show us God’s love.
Christ’s passion teaches us about God’s love, as he exposes us to our obstacles, fears, weaknesses, prejudices and sinful attitudes; even when we let others keep us from thinking for ourselves; even when we let our fears cause us to see a human being something other that a child of God; and even when we fail to resist evil. The good news remains that Jesus never abandons us in our condition of spiritual nakedness.
We remember the one who was betrayed by a friend, denied by another friend and abandoned when he was most in need of support and companionship. We remember our Lord, who ate a last meal with his friends and gave himself as Eucharist, so that his disciples, you and me, would have a memorial of his saving life, death and resurrection.
As we listen to the account of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, we can allow ourselves to be involved in this most terrible event, which is also the most wonderful event of our salvation. We can place our hearts alongside the Lord, and walk with him through this whole event, in order to understand it more… but also and more importantly… to let our souls be touched deeply by this love of Jesus for us, and to experience his real presence until he comes again.
William Barclay, a well know biblical commentator, comments on today’s reading this way “Jesus took this life of ours upon himself. He had done our work… and faced our temptations… and borne our trials. He had suffered all that life could bring. He had known the failure of friends… the hatred of foes… the malice of enemies. He had known the most searing pain that life could offer.” Put simply – Jesus faced the same obstacles and fears that you and I face today, and He did this out of love for us.
So, as we enter the Old City of Jerusalem and take the same path the Jesus took on the way to the cross, the Via Dolorosa, we pass by the same barriers, the same stumbling blocks and fears that Jesus faced on the way to the Cross-, and we end up, facing the Cross-at Golgotha. From that point we can descend down by a narrow staircase to the church of the Holy sepulcher, we come down from the Cross and face the open tomb… were Jesus awaits us with the resurrection.
We have a choice here. We can remain behind our obstacles and in our comfort zone or …we accept the Cross and embrace the resurrection.