What the Blank Just Happened?
Good morning, Grace. If you’re like me, you might have found the last fifteen minutes or so disorienting, for a number of reasons. Very quickly, from the time we processed from the front steps waving out palms to the end of the Passion story, we passed from what seemed like a triumphal celebration of Jesus to the brutality of his crucifixion. We started today’s service by together shouting, “Hosanna!” and ended today’s Passion shouting, “Crucify him.” We traveled the distance of about a week’s time in just a few minutes, and we found ourselves traveling the distance from acting like Jesus’s disciples to acting like his betrayers in those same few minutes.
It's a strange experience of time distortion and compression that mirrors our experience of the past three years, in which time sometimes went on forever and sometimes passed in the blink of an eye. There were times when a week, or two weeks, or month would pass by, and would think, “What the blank just happened?” And now, as we find ourselves at the end of three years, I still find myself saying, “What the blank just happened?”
Part of us wants an answer to that question, another part of us just wants to forget. These three years have been painful, and confusing, and full of loss. We experienced many of our own passion weeks stacked upon each other. It’s feels so tempting to want to forget them altogether. But the problem with trying to forget those passion weeks, is that we run the risk of forgetting all of the ways we found resurrection, individually and as a church.
What the blank just happened over these last several years of Holy Weeks and Easters is that we gathered and prayed and worshipped in new ways. What the blank just happened is that we were reminded that the Church, with a capital C, is not the building, it is the people of the body of Christ. What the blank just happened is that we went deeper into our discipleship with Jesus, and deeper into the mysteries and paradoxes that our faith, especially our Episcopal tradition, embraces.
I’ve said a number of times from the pulpit that our Episcopal tradition is a both/and faith, one in which we can hold more than one thing being true at the same time. One both/and truth we recognized, and which we just experienced in our passion reading is we are sometimes Jesus’s loyal disciples, and sometimes we are his unintentional betrayers who act in ways that fall short of the mark. Today’s Passion story, and many of our upcoming Holy Week readings tell the stories of deniers and betrayers that Jesus loved anyway. Judas, and Peter, and many of the crowds that had followed him, suddenly turn their back on him.
And Jesus loves us anyway. He especially loves us when we can’t wrap our minds around the way he calls us to follow him, when we get scared, when we have a different idea of what we want Jesus to be, even though he shows us in today’s reading just exactly who he is. The way I was told the story of Palm Sunday when I was a kid was that Jesus was presenting himself gently and humbly, riding on a kind of stumbling donkey, before a jubilant crowd who shouted Hosanna as a way of praising him. What I wasn’t told was that on Palm Sunday, Jesus was turning the idea of an imperial procession on its head, the same way he turned so many things on their heads.
I wasn’t told that Jesus coming into Jerusalem on a donkey was a mocking of the way a Roman Emperor might enter Jerusalem after a war campaign. Whereas an emperor might enter the city gates in a mighty chariot, on big white steeds, followed by captured slaves and the spoils, Jesus came on a lowly donkey, with not slaves and the spoils of war, but accompanied only by the people he had come to liberate. And not liberate in the ways they had expected him to but liberate their spirits into the reality of an eternal life that begins now. This is the real Jesus, the one who came into Jerusalem surrounded by a peaceful protest. This is the Jesus we sometimes follow, and we sometimes betray. And this is the Jesus who still loves us.
Another both/and truth we can embrace is that when we cry “Hosanna,” this morning, and at other times, it can mean two different things at the same. For us, as followers of Jesus in 2023, we often think “Hosanna” is a sort of synonym for hallelujah, a way of giving praise. And it’s not incorrect to use it that way. But for the Jews who were travelling with Jesus as he went through the gates that first Palm Sunday, they meant what the original Greek meant, which was “save us.” Save us. It was a cry during that passion week that we still cry in our own passion weeks, when what the blank seems to keep happening over and over again.
It’s hard to proclaim resurrection, to practice love, when it seems like the sufferings of Passion Week never end. And yet, that’s what Jesus did, even unto the cross. And that’s what we are called to do. And not only proclaim it, but work toward that resurrection for all people, even when it’s so difficult that we end up betraying Jesus as often as we follow him.
And in order to proclaim resurrection, we also proclaim “Hosanna,” as the crowds did during Palm Sunday. Not only to honor Jesus in praise, but because we have to cry out, “Save us!” We cry “Hosanna, Save Us!’ When another school shooting is met with not just with confusion and exhaustion, but, lately, with indifference. We cry “Hosanna, Save Us!’ when the right to medical care is being stripped away from many of our most beloved transgender siblings in Christ. We cry out, “Hosanna, Save Us!” when we see so-called Christian nationalists seeking to replace the true Jesus of Nazareth, who promises to open wide the gates of Beloved, with a false Jesus of Empire who would bring isolation and domination. We cry out, Hosanna, Save Us.
Grace, what the blank happened here, in our reading this morning, is what’s happening right now. Jesus is coming to us, on the way to the cross but also to resurrection. Instead of coming through the gates of Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus is coming through the gates our hearts, preparing us for the work of revolutionary love.
We are sometimes Jesus’s loyal disciples; we are sometimes his betrayers. Sometimes we act as he asked us to, sometimes we seem to do the exact opposite. And yet, it is in our weakness, and even our betrayals, that Jesus loves us. It’s no accident that Jesus died between two thieves. If we didn’t need the love and example of Jesus’s mercy, he wouldn’t have had to come to be among us.
Grace, as we enter this Holy Week together, let’s not forget the resurrection lessons we’ve learned and the resurrection lessons before us. Let us extend Jesus’s merciful love when we act as his loyal disciples and let us receive his merciful love when we unintentionally betray him. What the blank happened here was that Jesus brought his saving kingdom of love to us, and what the blank is going to happen is that his saving kingdom of love is never going to end.
In the name of the saving, revolutionary, and resurrected Jesus,