Sixth Sunday in Lent, Palm/Passion Sunday
Out of the Depths……Into New Life
- Psalm 118
- Isaiah 50:4-9a
- Matthew 21:1-11 Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem
Matthew 27:11-54 — Jesus arrives in Jerusalem: Triumph and/or Tragedy?
It all comes to this…..this destination Jerusalem…this journey of Jesus and arrival in Jerusalem that began with cries of “Hosanna” soon turning to cries of “Crucify him”….this city of Jesus’ destiny that hosts an outpost of empire and the Temple of Israel.
Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, as we have heard every Sunday of Lent, has been a litany of encounters where Jesus meets temptation with God’s Word, thirst with living water, blindness with sight, death with new life.
Of all Sundays of the church year, none is more conflicted than this Palm-Passion Sunday leading us to the climax of Lent and into this Holy Week. This is the Sunday when Jesus arrives. This is the city of destination over which Jesus lamented, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, would that you know the things that make for peace but now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke ).
In this city on this Sunday Palm parades and loud “Hosannas” quickly give way to Jesus’ Passion and sacrificial cries to “Crucify” Jesus who in the end cries out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus is hailed and then betrayed, abandoned, accused, tried, convicted, and crucified. What an inglorious tragic end.
If we can really feel this tragedy today we can get a small sense of that day in Jerusalem when Jesus died on the cross.
The throngs of 1 st century Palestine shouting “Hosanna” at one moment and “Crucify him” the next are as fickle as the throngs of 21 st century Christians shouting praise on Sunday and hailing empire the rest of the week.
On no Sunday of the church year do I feel more inadequate and more compelled to proclaim the dark reality and stark truth of this traumatic terror which Jesus so passionately lived even unto death – death on a cross. I can only give barest expression to this defining event of human history. I cannot do justice to the fullness of this biblical word but I must strive to condense into a few summary glimpses that can and should sharply disorient us so that we may begin to be re-oriented to this life with Jesus the Christ, a life of walking in the resurrection – if we first face the cross and our part in it.
The Psalmist proclaims for our hearing, “The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is God’s doing. It is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:22-23). These prophetic words we heard in today’s Psalm. They call us to join in the refrain, “This is God’s doing. It is marvelous in our eyes” rather than joining the builders who reject the cornerstone.
Matthew 21: 1-11 – Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem
The first Gospel we heard was Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem. While this parade was the culmination of a long journey into Jerusalem for Jesus and the disciples, it is also a disorienting entry. It is a mirror and a mockery of the King’s entry into the city.
Matthew helps hearers recall the prophet Zechariah’s words:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
Triumphant and victorious…
humble and riding on a donkey ….(9:9).
Everyone knows that a king and his armies ride into the capitol on fearsome horses with force of arms not on a donkey. Not so for Jesus.
Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem is an unmistakable political act. He has come to be acknowledged as a king….Yet this king triumphs not through violent revolt, but by being for Israel the one able to show it that its worship of God is its freedom (Hauerwas, Matthew , 2006, p. 182).
As Mennonite theologian Chris Huebner put it in a sermon on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem
The triumphal entry involves the renunciation of triumphalism. In the letter to the Philippians [lectionary text not heard today], Paul writes that the lordship of Christ is not that of one who rules by domination and might. It does not resemble what he elsewhere calls ‘the powers.’ Rather, we are reminded that Jesus emptied himself, became humble, and took the form of a servant. Unlike other rulers, Jesus does not rule by forceful imposition…..but as a servant (“Putting Ourselves in Question,” A Precarious Peace, 2006, p. 205).
Jesus’ Passion…..Crucifixion – Matthew 27
The political reality of Jesus’ triumphal entry renouncing triumphalism unfolds dramatically in Jesus last days in Jerusalem. Jesus is betrayed, arrested and brought before the warped judgment of religious leaders and empires stooges. One crowd’s joyous cries of “Hosanna” are replaced by another crowd’s sacrificial cries of “Crucify him!”
Jesus’ death on a cross begs two questions. They are our questions this Holy Week.
Who killed Jesus? Why was Jesus killed?
British scholar John Milbank poses these questions this way:
Who then killed Jesus and why? The only consistent thread in these [Gospel] narratives is that Christ was constantly handed over, or abandoned to another party. Judas betrayed [Jesus]; the disciples deserted him; the Sanhedrin gave him up to Pilate; Pilate [gave him over] to the mob who finally gave him over to a Roman execution, which, somehow, improperly, they co-opted. Even in his death, Jesus was still being handed back and forth, as if no one actually killed him, but he died from neglect and lack of his own living space. (Hauerwas, Matthew, p. 234 quoting Being Reconciled: Ontology and Pardon , 2003, p. 82)
We want to blame someone else for Jesus’ death. And we treat Jesus as one without living space who died from neglect. The various parties to this tragic night in Jerusalem wanted to absolve themselves or discount Jesus as a homeless person – which he was.
The hard questions of who killed Jesus and why takes on a harsh urgency in light of the response of the people to Pilate’s washing his hands of Jesus’ death and saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves” (27:24). And the people replied, “His blood be on us and on our children” (27:25).
Christians have used these words to blame Jews for Jesus’ death. Christians have called Jews “Christ-killers” and treated them as murderers. Christians have turned Jesus who came to end bloodshed into justification into endless bloodshed – the blood of anti-Semitism across the ages. It is also an underlying impulse for our wars on Middle-Eastern and Muslim peoples today.
This is tragedy is particularly poignant for me as I recall our powerful Lenten worship and communion 5 years ago today that prepared me for joining other Christian Peacemaker Team colleagues in Baghdad in the early days of this war.
Who killed Jesus? Hear Matthew’s report: “Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children.'” “The people as a whole” places responsibility for Jesus’ death on all parties who “handed Jesus over” to die on the cross.
Who killed Jesus?
Matthew [tells us that] the answer to the question of who killed Jesus is that we all killed Jesus . The disciples killed Jesus by deserting him. The crowd killed Jesus because they were a crowd [acting out sacrificial mob violence]. The elites of Israel killed Jesus because they feared his call to holiness. Pilate killed Jesus because he had a responsibility to maintain order [and empire]. ‘The people as a whole’ killed Jesus because they had nothing better to do. We all killed Jesus and continue to kill Jesus. So let us all say that “his blood be on us and our children!” (Hauerwas, p. 235) .
Why was Jesus killed?
Jesus must be killed because Jesus has called into existence a new people who constitute a challenge to the world order based on lies and deceit. Jesus must be killed because he is a threat to all who rule in the name of safety and comfort. Jesus must be killed because we do not desire to have our deepest desires exposed. Jesus must be killed because we do not want our loves governed by [Jesus’] love. Jesus must be killed because we refuse to forgive our enemies. Jesus must be killed because we do not believe in a God who creates us and who would come among us after our likeness. So we have learned from Matthew. (Hauerwas, p. 235).
The Gospel’s answers to these hard questions are harsh to hear and weigh heavy on our hearts this Holy Week.
Finally this Passion Sunday, we leave Jesus on the cross with an anguished cry and a last breath: “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” These gut-wrenching words echo down through the ages to haunt our ears today.
Jonathan began the first Sunday in Lent with sin. Let us end this last Sunday in Lent with sin. Our sin at the cross is not God’s abandonment of us but our abandonment of God. In our sin we stand with the crowds and the Pilates of this world swept along by mob violence or the violence of our own systems and perceptions of power which Jesus has already overturned.
Yet God is most revealed when [God] seems to us most hidden…In the cross of Christ God refuses to let our sin, the sin of [Jesus’] tormentors, determine our relation to [God]. God’s love for us means that [God] can only hate that which alienates [God’s] creatures from the love manifest in our creation….By calling on “My God,” Christ does so on our behalf and in our place. Hear these words, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” and know that [God’s own Human One] has taken our place, become for us the abandonment that our sin produces, so that we may live confident that the world has been redeemed by this cross (Hauerwas, p. 241).
Today the last word and breath is Jesus’ — “Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.”