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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Ride On to Die

Jesus enters Jerusalem with full awareness that he his heading to his death, completing his covenant of love, and revealing the true king he is.  He chooses to love us, not destroy us, and to face our worst in order to win us back to God.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Sunday of the Passion, year B; texts: Mark 14:1 – 15:47; John 12:12-16

Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

We heard John the Evangelist say today, after telling of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on this Sunday of Holy Week, “His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him” (John 12:16).  They didn’t understand, until they had seen the rest of what happened – his trial, suffering, death, and ultimately his resurrection.

But Jesus did understand, even as he entered.  And that’s what we need to remember today.  It’s too easy to pretend that there are two conflicting things happening which we celebrate today, a joyous, triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and a descent into contemplating the terrible and awesome story of Jesus’ passion.  It may be that from our point of view these look like two different things.  Hosannas fade into shouts to crucify.  But for Jesus, they are one and the same event.

There’s a nineteenth century hymn written for this day that initially sounds like it’s taking the first point of view.  Each stanza begins “Ride on, ride on in majesty.”  But two of the stanzas continue with these words, “In lowly pomp, ride on to die.”  One stanza describes the angels in heaven watching the entrance into Jerusalem with “sad and wond’ring eyes to see the approaching sacrifice.”  The crowds and the disciples might not yet understand what’s going on.  They might think it’s a parade, a fun day.

But the hymnwriter is correct.  There are ones who really know what’s going on, the Son of God, the angels, and they know that this is already a funeral procession Jesus is making.  It is right that we hear an account of his Passion on this day.  It’s the only logical conclusion to his actions.

This is the only answer left to the Son of God who has come to complete God’s covenant of love with us.

It is only in this action that we fully can look back at God’s covenant with Noah with which we began Lent this year and see it as the covenant of non-violence that it was.  All along this Lent we’ve tried to understand God’s need to restore our relationship with him in a way that doesn’t destroy us.

Choosing a family, sending the law, calling prophets – none of this ultimately works.  And last week’s promise through Jeremiah’s mouth made this week inevitable: God would make a new covenant in our hearts, teach us the truth about God so that all would know, and forgive us, remembering our sin no more.

The coming of the Son of God into the world was that effort to show us God’s heart, to teach us.  That all might know God.  It is possible that the cross wouldn’t have been necessary, had we for the first time ever listened to God and followed.  But just as we rejected God from the beginning, so we rejected the Son of God when he came in the flesh, in person.

And because he will not fight us, he will love us to the end.  Even if we kill him.

Of course, the irony of our confusion about this day is that Jesus does enter Jerusalem today in a clearly royal way, calling to mind what the prophet Zechariah said.  All four Evangelists remind their hearers of this prophecy, that this was a king’s entrance he was making.  There’s a reason people shouted hosanna.

But only Jesus knew, though as John says his disciples figured it out later, only Jesus knew just what kind of a king he was.  He entered in apparent majesty, making a powerful political statement.  But he rallied no armies to his side, made no speeches.  He challenged the moneychangers in the temple that week, he faced off against the religious leaders in such a way that they felt compelled to arrest him.  But he never sought power.

We will see this most fully on Good Friday when we hear John’s telling of the Passion story, because it is John who most clearly says that Jesus is a king, but one who reigns from the cross.  Jesus will fulfill the covenant of the Creator of the Universe with us to love us and forgive us by doing this even as we kill him.

What this entrance with palms tells us more than anything else is that Jesus goes to the cross not as a victim, not as someone who is trapped, but as someone who will hold his course to bring God’s love to us in person even knowing that he will die for it.  Who will ride in as a king, knowing he will die to show us the kind of king he is for us.

We do this day in worship, and we celebrate the events of Holy Week not simply to re-tell the stories, but because, like the disciples, we don’t always understand.  But on this day, we are given this much: Jesus knew what would happen and he came to Jerusalem anyway.

He chose this over destroying us.  He chose this because he loved us.  He took this path because it was the only way to reconciliation God could see.

Matthew and Luke tell us that during Holy Week Jesus offered this lament over Jerusalem, that he had longed to gather his people together like a hen gathers her chicks, but they were not willing.  They were not willing.  We were not willing.  This is the story of the Old Testament.  The story of our lives.  So he chose to love us to the end.

And so we enter the deeper mystery of this week.

Not that the mood of the people changed, or that it went from a good start to a bad end.  But the mystery that the true God would so love us that the Son of God would face death to bring us back.  Would allow us to kill him in order to show the depth of his love and the commitment not to force us back.  Would not use power against us, even if it meant the worst.

And by letting us do our worst, even killing his Son, God overcame our hatred and rejection with the power of sacrificial love.  Best of all, in rising from the dead, Jesus once more invites us into the covenant relationship God has wanted all along, into the outstretched wings of the mother hen.  We may not yet understand.  But with the help of our risen King and Lord, one day we will.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

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