The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Homily for Palm Passion Sunday, March 20, 2016 Based on Luke 23: 1-56

How are we doing? Is your heart, like mine still hammering, after trying to listen with fresh ears to Luke’s account of Jesus’ arrest and trial, his crucifixion and death, and then his burial in a rock-hewn tomb as arranged by Joseph of Arimathea? Or perhaps, you are having a different response to these stories from Luke’s gospel. Perhaps they have not held your attention being so long and painfully and vividly descriptive as they are.   Another possibility at work here this morning might be that many of these chapters of Jesus’ last days are so familiar to us that we have decided to follow our thoughts and feelings in some other direction entirely.

There can be no doubt that wherever your thoughts and feelings in response to our readings might take you this morning, I take great hope in the apostle, Paul’s words to the people of the early church at Rome and that is this: ‘…neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all Creation will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8, verse 37)

With that sure knowledge, then, let us come together in prayer: Holy One, this is your week. This is the week when you teach us once again that violence and death will not have the last word though the wantonly cruel events of Jesus’ last days seem to challenge that truth. Give us strength and courage for the work of finding glimmers and glimpses of your compassionate presence hovering in the shadows of this sorry tale and all it calls up from us in our lives and in our relationships where callous fickleness or betrayal prevails, amen.

To my way of thinking, its Jesus’ integrity or his commitment to what he thinks is the right thing to do that has brought him into deep conflict with the Roman authorities in first century Palestine. It’s Jesus’ integrity that has him embodying God’s preferential option for the poor by breaking bread with tax collectors and sinners; and its Jesus’ deep sense of commitment to bringing God’s vision of shalom, or God’s peaceable kingdom into being that has him turn his face, like flint, in the direction of Jerusalem. It’s Jesus’ radical vision of God’s kingdom coming to pass that has brought him to his life’s end as we have heard from the gospel according to Luke this morning. It’s also Jesus’ integrity that has motivated his ministries of healing and teaching that has continued throughout the course of his life’s journey.

One stream of thought we might follow here is to consider the idea of two parades arriving into Jerusalem as did John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg in their book, “The Final Week-What the Gospels Really Teach Us About Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem” (2006) For example, Borg and Crossan invite us to imagine a crowd of jubilant folks accompanying Jesus travelling into the Holy City from the Mount of Olives just east of the gates. Further to that, they also posit another crowd of Pontius Pilates’ cavalcade of more surly Roman soldiers entering into Jerusalem from the west. In the first parade we might envision a ‘power with’ authority while the second we might think of those who live out of a place of ‘power over’ authority. Further to that, what if, in the ensuing madness, the two parades become blended making it nigh unto impossible to distinguish one from the other. In this new crowd those who had thought themselves faithful now realize their fickleness; the committed losing ground to their fear. Meanwhile, the numbers of those needing to just stand and watch, just grows and grows.

Where is it then, you find yourself in these vignettes of Jesus’ last days? Though time this morning will not permit that sharing in the context of worship this morning, there’s always coffee time or other conversations in the coming days.    

What caught my attention this morning in trying to listen with intentional focus to these most vividly realistic readings from Luke’s gospel this morning is this: Here, Jesus consistently embodies a highly non anxious compassionate presence in response not only to Herod and Pilate, but also to Simon of Cyrene, to the wailing women at the side of the road. Here, Jesus maintains a compassionate and forgiving stance even with his crucifixion companions, two common criminals. Here, what shone through the chaos and the brutality of the stories for me was this: As this man lived, so also this man died.

For me, what rings true in these vignettes is Jesus’ ability to be his most authentic self, so completely plugged in as he is, to his relationship with God. In just this very way, Jesus sets in motion a new way of being in relationship, a new way of being God’s faithful ones as participants in a different kind of kingdom. It will be a place where ‘power with’ will replace ‘power over’. Here in the spiritual epicentre of the ancient middle east is where life for Jesus as he knew it comes to its end and where life for the faithful will begin.

Let us pray: Dear God, be with us in our mourning and in our grief as we move through the days of Holy Week as best we can. Help us remember that violence and death will not have the last word and that, indeed, a small group of people can and will change the world. As we journey together, help us to sense your accompanying presence, guiding and supporting us each and every step of the way. In the name of our brother, Jesus, this is my heartfelt prayer. May it be so, amen.