Homily for Palm Sunday, Year A, 2011
Sunday, April 17th, 2011
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford ON
He enters in triumph, amidst shouts of “hosanna,” and is proclaimed as a great prophet, but the shouts of “hosanna” quickly give way to the cry of “crucify him!”, and to the derision that he should save himself if he is truly the son of God.” The dramatic sweep of Palm Sunday is summed up so eloquently and poignantly in the exhortation, “we follow him this week from the glory of the palms to the glory of the resurrection, by the way of the dark road of suffering and death.” And although our Lord told his followers again and again, that he was going to Jerusalem to suffer, although he told them again and again, that if they were to be his disciples they must take up their cross and follow him, time and again they could not see it. They chose not to believe it.
Who can really blame them, though, that they looked forward with joyful expectation? Who could blame them when they thought that Jesus would lead them in revolt and overthrow the oppressor who occupied their land? Even though he entered Jerusalem not as a mighty warrior king, but as a lowly king riding on the foal of a donkey, they chose not to see what they wanted not to see. They were looking for instant glory and oh, how their hopes were dashed.
Although this story is one that unfolds in a distant time and foreign place, in a world that seems unimaginable to us, is this story really any different from the story that unfolds before us, the story of our lives? Do we not hope for instant glory? Are we not prone to a sunny optimism about the world, and our lives before us?
This week I heard an interview on the CBC with an author who was speaking out against the myth of eternal youth, and how the post-war generation has somehow come to believe that aging can be beaten, and indeed that death can be beaten, that somehow we can and live forever, if only we buy the right anti-aging products, live to a certain standard, and have the right mindset. If we rebrand the word “Boomer” with “Zoomer” the inevitable reality of aging, and yes, of our eventual deaths, will suddenly disappear, no longer a possibility on the horizon of our existence, and we shall become the first generation of ageless immortals.
We may convince ourselves of this alternate reality, and even live in this alternate universe for a time, but what happens when reality breaks through the veil? What happens that phone call comes, what happens when we get tragic that tragic news about our own health or the health of a loved one? What happens when a cloud descends and blocks the rays of sunny optimism? What happens when the crown of gold is revealed to be a crown of thorns? What happens when “Hosanna to the king,” becomes “crucify him”?
And thus we find ourselves,when stark reality destroys the dream. We find ourselves fragile, we find ourselves alone, mournful, perhaps even angry, but most of all deeply vulnerable. When all our dreams are crucified, wherein shall we seek our hope? Has hope been destroyed?
We gaze upon the hope that is nailed to the tree and weep. We weep over our broken dreams, and we weep to think what we have lost. We weep over our foolishness in thinking that we might be masters of our fate, that we might somehow defeat death on our own, and we weep over our false pride, now a lifeless consolation.
In our vulnerability at the foot of the cross, we realize though, that those things that veiled our vision have fallen away. We come to see, and what is more, to feel, what it is to be truly human. In accessing our deepest pain, in beholding it nailed to the tree, we can at last let go of those thing which we have clung to out of fear, for they have been crucified with our Lord.
As the layers of protection against suffering and death with which we have clothed ourselves fall away into the mists of nothingness and we stand exposed, we contemplate the exposed figure on the cross, stripped, beaten, and lifeless. But he had no false layers to be cut away, nor did he have false dreams that needed to be broken. His vision was ever clear and he was ever meek and humble. His gentleness, his authenticity, his vulnerability was an offering that we might find these very things in ourselves and that our pride and vainglory might be unmasked.
In one short week we shall gather to share the rest of the story, and in between, journey together in the removal of the layers that we have placed upon ourselves to protect ourselves from pain and hurt. In one short week we shall know that to live forever does not mean cloaking ourselves from pain, from suffering and from death, but indeed, eternal life is embraced in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death. Eternal life, the resurrection from the dead, is found when we stand exposed at the foot cross and we behold true hope in the exposed lifeless figure, whom we know and believe shall live again.
c.2011, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves