March 25, 2013

The Film of Palm Sunday

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday.
Your reactions to this may well vary, but my feeling about the liturgy of that day
is that it is as singularly powerful as the palm procession and Passion reading are already lengthy;
that too much of attempt to provide elucidation beyond the experiencing of the text itself
can be onerous and problematic;
that it's too easy to say too much and offer too little.

So this year and last, I have provided written homiletical meditations
that seem to provide their own kind of context in people's private meditations at home
or in the silent spaces we offer in tbe service itself.
They're simply inserted into the bulletin.

I say and do this from experience, having earned some of it the hard way.
As usual, your mileage may vary and for the best of reasons.

So anyway, this is what I wrote for Sunday.

Palm Sunday

Meditation for Year C, Palm Sunday
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
March 24, 2013
St. Thomas Episcopal Church

The moods shift perceptibly and quickly from scene to scene as we move through Luke’s Passion narrative. Each change of scenery brings a fresh set of perspectives. In the Passion, we go with the narrator through eleven scenes, some of which are only a verse in length:
·  the table (22:14-38)
·  the garden (22:39-53)
·  the courtyard (22:54-71)
·  the places of two trials, one each by Pilate and Herod (23:1-25)
·  the Way of Sorrows (23:26-31)
·  “the place that is called The Skull” (23:32-43)
·  “the whole land” (23:44)
·  the heart of the Temple (23:45)
·  returning to the cross (23:46-49)
·  following Joseph as he bears Jesus to the tomb (23:50-54)
·  following the women of Galilee as they depart (23:55-56)

It’s easy to think we know this story well enough to be able to gloss over it, but that would be an error in thinking. Instead, think of these “scenes” not as individual things but rather as a whole collection of scenes that together make up the story of the passion.

The entire arc of the movie is something like this: the “camera” stays with Jesus and his disciples until the last possible minute before his death. Then the scene shifts to “the whole land” (i.e., the world) and the torn curtain of the Temple (i.e., the visible center of the faith) before returning to Jesus on the cross and his dramatic death. Everything that follows directs our attention to the place of Jesus’ burial, and then to the final scene, when the women walk away, and the camera follows them out. Fade to black. The End.

Here’s something you’ll want to know about the Gospel of Luke. It’s all about the Word of God getting to Jerusalem, and then from there, that Word is meant to be spread widely abroad with all due haste. The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were originally one book, and when you put these two together, it’s easy to see this happening: the Word of God going to Jerusalem (in part one, the Gospel of Luke) so that the movement can be spread to all the world (in part two, Acts of the Apostles). The world, or what Luke calls “the whole land,” is now ripe for the harvest of disciples that is to come. The temple curtain has been torn in two, and God is universally known rather than hidden or (if you will) contained. God, in Christ, is meant to be shared by all.

This is incredibly good news! In an unimaginable death, Jesus the Word of God incarnate makes God “available” to all. To everyone. There are no restrictions as to who will share the riches of God’s grace, life, compassion, and favor. We as followers of Christ must consciously choose each day whether we will enable this flow of grace and life or restrict it – to ourselves, to others, to the world.

The Temple curtain has been torn. God’s life is poured out for the life of the world as Jesus’ life ebbs away on the cross. Holy grace and divine community cannot be restricted, managed, or otherwise imposed upon. Anyone who claims to have a corner on the market and who sells such “secrets” should be questioned and dismissed. God’s mercy is opened and offered freely to all through Jesus Christ.

Today’s liturgy does bring us this message, but it does so in a way that first we have to ride this emotional roller coaster. With palm branches and great pomp, we acclaim Jesus as our king and escort him into Jerusalem. (As Bishop Vono has said of this day, we do love our parades!) And then just as suddenly we put him on trial and find ourselves acting as the anonymous “crowd” whose violent impulses must be satisfied with blood. Then, of course, we see it only halfway through and leave the story dangling where it must stop for now. Since all this only takes a few minutes, we end up compressing a week of Luke into a startlingly small amount of time. Later in the week (our actual week), especially Thursday and Friday, there will be other opportunities to pause the action, ask what it means for us, and pray for guidance. For now, we have to ride this roller coaster.

We are meant to have the sensation of having been through something significant and emotionally draining and a little disorienting. We are supposed to wind up feeling as many of us will – spent, confused, maybe a little guilty.

In other words, dear friends, this is not a “good” day in the conventional sense. Even though there is amazing news about God’s life being so freely extended to each and every one of us without restriction or condition, it doesn’t mean we don’t have to be confronted with the ugly human condition that governs us one and all. These impulses are at war within us.

We need to be able to find the strength to keep going. For this is but the first stop of many this Holy Week.

My prayer for each of you – and myself – is that we find what we need this week in order to be fully present to all that God would have for us.

No comments: