Palm Sunday

April 17, 2011


Philippians 2:5-11

John 12:12-19


A movie poster shows a picture of Jesus. It reads: “The real Jesus was different. He was human.” We look to that human Jesus so that our own human lives might be illuminated and transformed.

Two thousand years ago a small group of people thought that they got reconnected to the source of life by following after Jesus.

When he talked about being alive, it seemed as easy as a grain falling into the ground and producing a great harvest of wheat.

When he talked about returning to God, it seemed as joyful as coming home into the arms of a loving parent.

Even when he talked about losing your life to save it, it not only seemed to make sense, it almost, almost seemed possible.

People found that as they followed this human being they were more alive, more human that they’d ever been before.

Jesus comes into Jerusalem to the praise of the multitude. Within a week he is carried out of the city by a throng of people shouting crucify him. This is enough like our own lives that it seems familiar, real. We know that life does not come with a very extensive guarantee. We make our commitments—as we do everything, really—with a faith that allows us to act with no iron‑clad assurances.

We know the gladness of Palm Sunday—and celebrate God’s power and love.

We also know the horrible defeat of Good Friday—and still celebrate God’s power and love.

Ultimately we know a love that is stronger than death. Even on Palm Sunday and Good Friday we turn our eyes toward the empty tomb.

When the Gospel of John speaks of Jesus being “glorified” it refers to all of these events. Jesus is betrayed, arrested and crucified. Jesus is raised from death by the power of God—in all of these events we see his glory.

Look at Jesus as he heads into the city. What we see is one human being pursuing his course with resolute determination.

Of course, it could have been different. Jesus could have stayed in relative obscurity and complete safety. Instead he made the difficult decision to act in accordance with his call to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to proclaim the year of God’s favor. He could have quit—at any time. Instead, as it has been said, he did not flinch at the critical moment.

This is a week in which we look at the death of Jesus. But first we must enlarge our own concept of death. Death is more than the last moment of life. We die all our lives. Life begins to be limited from the moment we are born, and continues acquiring limitations until we come to the last, final limit.

When we look at the death of Jesus then, we are really looking at the life of Jesus—how he took up the conflicts of life, how he embraced the journey of life. Jesus embraced death just as he embraced whatever life brought him—his joys and his sorrows, his conflicts and his confrontations for the sake of his message and his life, his way of living.

When we watch, what we see is commitment—the result of faith that dares to act with no iron-clad assurance of success.

Unlike the disciples who did not understand what was happening, at the time, we know the whole story of this week. And we know that everything does not work out.

We live, not with a promise of certainty but with a call to commitment—the commitment of love. One theologian put it like this: “When we talk about love, we have to become mature or we will become sentimental. Let us not say that we as Christians are potential martyrs or that we are more unselfish than other people. That is not what love means if we take it modestly.

“Basically, love means responsibility toward our family, toward our nation, even toward all humankind, which includes our enemies. Love honors the commitments that we make even in the face of all that would stop us. Love does not depend on “everything working out.” It acts with responsibility even in the adversity that can be all too familiar.

The pinnacle of this love is forgiveness—the awareness of our own sinfulness that gives us the humility, the strength, and the ability to forgive others.”

If we will go through the days ahead with humility and repentance, we will discover that we are walking on a path of responsibility and love. On this path we commit ourselves and our energies to a world where love, peace, a community of sister and brothers, a world where openness to God, will be less difficult. It means that we denounce situations that generate hatred, division, and the practical atheism that surrounds us. It means we proclaim—and practice in that love—justice in family relationships, in schools, in our economic transactions, and in political action.

Something happened to change everything. Something happened to change the course of history, the shape of life even as we know it today.

Jesus gave up his life—he died and was buried. And somehow we have found new life because of that.

Now we are set free to trust God—even in our own suffering—knowing that God was faithful to Jesus even in his suffering.

We are set free to trust God—even when life goes well—knowing that the whole point of Jesus’ life and death was that we might be fully alive.

We are free to trust God—even in our dying—because this human being Jesus was faithful even to death and has thereby opened up life eternal for all.

In this world truth and justice, love and beauty—even incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth—can be defeated and trampled down. Evil is strong indeed.

Our hope is not in positive thinking. Our hope is not in looking on the bright side and waiting for spring.

Our hope is in God’s power to begin again, in God’s power to renew destroyed lives. Our hope is still found in the continual springtime of God’s mercy.

We are often defeated.

Even Jesus was defeated and died.

God however is not defeated.

But that is Easter. And we have much to learn in the days to come before we once again face the empty tomb.

May the crucified and risen Christ continue to lead our way.