Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday – April 14, 2019 – Luke 22:14-23:56 – Trinity, Winchester
Both the story of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, which we read on the Square, and the passion narrative, which we just read together, are familiar to us. Even though they come from different gospels each year of our lectionary cycle, these passages offer us a version of a story that is important to repeat, no matter how well we know it.
This story is important to repeat because it gets right to the crux (pun intended) of our faith: Passion. Death. Resurrection. We’ll put that last part on the shelf for a few more days. Today we get right to the passion and death.
After walking as with Jesus in celebratory fashion into the Holy City, we get right down to brass tacks. All of the sudden, it’s later in the week, and we dive headlong into the rest of the story: arrest, trial, death.
We all know Easter is coming, but we must live through Christ’s passion first because it makes his death real, and that makes eternal life more meaningful.
Thursday and Friday night we will again recount Jesus’ arrest, trial, and death. Let’s be clear, the purpose of hearing these stories today is not to give you an excuse not to come this week. It’s just that the Church really wants to make sure you get the point. Plus, more scripture is never a bad thing, right?
Hearing the scriptural account of Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion, without quite making it to resurrection, keeps us cognizant of the fact that life—even Jesus’ life—includes suffering. This morning’s holy cliff hanger is, in some paradoxical way, comforting to us because it shows us that God has first-hand experience of human pain.
We mortals are well acquainted with suffering. Human experiences are filled with pain, tragedy, and sadness. The passion narrative shows us that God identifies with us even amidst these hard realities by sending a son who suffers right along side of us.
We tell the story of Christ’s passion this morning and this week, not for the sake of the stories themselves, but because they point us to Jesus. They point us, ultimately to his glorious resurrection, yes, but first to the pain that he endures.
The suffering of his passion was only possible because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Think back to the first Sunday after Christmas when we talked about important truths of the incarnation. Christmas, we said, is a season, not a day. It is the season of the incarnation. You already know that, but today I want to remind you that that season never ends.
On Epiphany, it was still Christmas because the incarnate one was with us. Through these forty days, it has been Christmas all along because God has walked with us in the flesh. Even now, at the outset of Holy Week, it is Christmas. The trials and tribulations of the upcoming week are only possible as a result of the incarnation.
Flesh and blood are never more relevant than during Holy Week. The incarnate one walked among us in the flesh unto the point that we rejected him in the flesh. Even on Palm Sunday we preach Christ because he became human and dwelt among us.
You might not have expected to come to church on Palm Sunday to hear about the mystery of the incarnation, but here it is. I promise, I’m not making it up. It’s right there in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
God became human to show us the true strength of God. Though he was in the form of God, he “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death–even death on a cross.”
Because of this, God exalted him “and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend . . . and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
In other words, because Jesus was humble, he was exalted. Because Jesus deigned to be one of us, we confess him as Lord. Because he was obedient then, now he reigns supreme. Because he died, he lives forever.
It doesn’t really make sense at first, does it?
That’s why we have to keep going over and over these stories year after year, until they finally sink in, until their reality takes hold of our hearts and we finally see the full manifestation of the incarnate one.
Even on the cross.