From “Hosanna” to “Crucify Him”: The Journey of Palm Sunday

Sermon Notes – Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday) – Year B

I would say that these notes will be shorter than normal because there are other services to prepare for this week, but I’m a bit verbose and hate cutting down on a word count. I apologize in advance if this takes a while to read!

Peace,

Porter

Liturgy of the Palms

Hosanna, hosanna. Hosanna in the highest. The Sanctus should be ringing in your ears as you listen to these lessons. The Lord has come to Jerusalem. His face has been turned toward the city like flint since coming down Mt. Tabor after the Transfiguration. The story has been moving toward this moment, yea this week, for months. The journey to Jerusalem is not the journey to the “hosannas” but to the cross. However, we cannot yet come to “crucify him!” without the triumph of, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of LORD.”

Either lesson can be used here: Jesus is yet again deconstructing our understanding of power; he is turning Roman imperialism on its head. Caesar, or any conquering general, would ride back into Rome on a chariot and/or warhorse as evidence of their successful military ventures—as proof that they had won. Often prisoners or war or foreign captives would be paraded as well. The people would cheer and the sing the praises of almighty Rome. Now, however, we have the one who is to be King (he already IS King!) entering not on a warhorse or chariot but on a donkey. What?

The crowds are absolutely correct with their sung praises of Jesus, even their ascription of a title, but their image of a King is way off. Jesus is indeed the One who is coming in the name of the Lord. He is blessed! He is the King of Israel! Their words come from Psalm 118 and are full of the promise that God will radically reverse the reality of his people; that God will uphold his covenant-promise through his steadfast, covenant love (hesed). N. T. Wright is so good on this point: though back in her land Israel is still living in exile. Rome is the ruler of Jerusalem, the Temple is empty of the Presence, and God’s people are waiting. They are waiting for their King and they think he has entered, but…

But he is not a militaristic king nor he is about to overthrow the political regime of Rome. His Kingdom is different. His Reign is humble—all powerful, yes!—but humble and founded on love. Power is not to be lorded over the gentiles (), it is instead demonstrated through the willing and voluntary death of Christ, through his humble entry into the city that he will weep over, in the helpless babe and crucified One.

In fact, if you want a good resource for Passion Week and Eastertide then go out and purchase N. T. Wright’s How God Became King. This is one of my favorite books by Bishop Wright and it gives a wonderful overview of kingship throughout the Old Testament and culminating in the incarnation, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection and exaltation of the Faithful Israelite. Any good Kingdom Theology will have this book as a resource.

The last verse in John’s account is important. The mystery of Christ is maintained until after the resurrection. The disciples did not, no they could not, understand what was in front of them (Jesus) until after his death and resurrection.

Liturgy of the Passion

Having entered the city we now turn our attention to the events of the following days. The task of the preacher on this Sunday is great. Sure, the imagery and texts may be rich and the possibilities endless, but how do you possibly cover such a vast story in 20-25 minutes? This is the beauty of Palm Sunday…while the entire Passion narrative may be read; one does not have to cover such ground in the same message. The whole Passion narrative was included in the lectionary in order to combat low church attendance on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday (not to mention the other days of Holy Week). It would be extremely confusing for someone to arrive at church on Palm Sunday and hear about the Triumphal Entry only to return the following Sunday to hear about the Resurrection: what happens in between is extremely important and to see the story as a complete story rather than individual pericopes is important.

The Triumphal Entry is behind us and we are now able to turn our attention to more important matters. No, that would be to miss the point entirely! We need to drag the humble procession of Christ into this long narrative. To really dig into the meaning of these scenes we must juxtapose the image of the crowds crying “Hosanna” with that of Jesus standing before Pilate and the crowds chanting “crucify him!” I’m about to go from preaching to meddling very quickly. It is not enough to feel anger toward Judas or toward the disciples over even toward the fickle crowd. Actually, that’s letting everyone off the hook easy. No, the really work is to recognize that I (and therefore YOU) am the one shouting “Hosanna” one minute and “Crucify him!” the next. 

Much of the “meat” of these lessons will be unpacked throughout the week. On Maundy Thursday you can really dig into the Passover meal that Jesus shared and transformed with his disciples, how he instituted the Eucharist with his words and actions. You can dig into the idea of taking him at his literal word when he says, “This is my body” and “this is my blood” or you can focus on the acts of taking, thanking, breaking and giving as acts that we should live out in our lives eucharistically (I will post on this soon).

On Good Friday you can really cover the nature and meaning of the Cross. You can get into Atonement theory to your heart’s content. You can draw parallels between Psalm 22 and the words of Jesus on the cross. You can look at the forgiveness Jesus bestows even while being murdered. You can show the picture of humiliation only to then show the picture of victory on Sunday.

All of this is good, it is very good in fact. But none of this is really the point of Palm Sunday. No, the point of Palm Sunday is to demonstrate-in my opinion—how quickly Palms can turn to Passion.

So who was it that was on the cross? Well, it was the Servant of Isaiah 50 who was a good teacher and yet became the victim of hatred. It was the one in Philippians 2 who emptied himself (kenosis) and took on the nature of a man, who was obedient unto death. It was the one who had a woman anoint his feet with expensive oil, who cleared the temple, who shared a meal with his disciples, and who willingly went to the cross. In short, is the was Suffering Son of Man; it was the King of Israel who had been cheered only to be jeered; it was Jesus of Nazareth who would prophetically become King of the Jews as a label of scorn. It was the turning upside down of power. It was the victory of love. It was God drinking the cup to the dregs. It was Jesus’ self-offering, his oblation as an act of worship.

The Orthodox have a beautiful line in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom during the Eucharistic prayer. It reads: “On the night He was betrayed, or rather gave Himself up for the life of the world.” The oblation of our Lord was no accident, nor was it done against his will. Jesus’ self-emptying was purely voluntary—in fact it is the very picture of power, of being in control. Preach on that!

To me these lessons really hone in on what it means to have the mind of Christ, what it looks like to embrace true humility, and yet they also demonstrate that our hearts are fickle. We are the victors of Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday and we are also the crucifying crowd on Good Friday—I’d even suggest that we are the betrayer on Maundy Thursday but that would get me into trouble!

Try preaching from the Liturgy of the Palms and juxtapose the scenes of the crowd crying, “We have no King but Caesar…Crucify him!” It’ll be a tough pillow to swallow on such a High Sunday but I think it’s a good practice.

Leave people with hope. We hope in the cross because we worship the Triumphant and Risen Lord. We are looking at this story from the side of Christ’s glory and can allow ourselves entrance into his narrative but always with the end in mind.

Re-post: “The Discipline of Fearlessness”

I am in the process of moving some of my favorites posts from porterctaylor@wordpress.com over here to my new blog. This is another Lenten reflection from three years ago (February 27, 2012). Enjoy!

I deal with fear.  I would not say that I am a fearful person, per se, but I definitely struggle with a type of fear.  I am not afraid of death or eternity (though I used to be!), and I am not afraid of spiders, clowns or the number 13.

I am afraid of living as a new creation.

Before you write this off as a silly idea, let me explain.  Lent is a season of self-reflection and examination.  During this period we discover the areas of our lives which miss the mark completely and those that are misdirected or misinformed.  I have been thinking about fear for the past few days and I think I’ve been given an insight:

I am not afraid of what I am as much as I am afraid of what I could be.

I am afraid of what the Lord can do in and through me. 

I see my sin and know the areas which need to change, but when push comes to shove I am afraid of what that change might look like.  I prayed several weeks ago for the gift of creativity.  Since that prayer I have had the itch to write poetry, continue this blog, and to begin painting.  I want desperately to do so, but what happens if I am actually good at it?  What happens if I had a gift of creativity?  Can I accept the fact that change and transformation are good?

The title of this post exhorts us to the discipline of fearlessness.  The goal of this discipline is not to become a type-T personality with the need for an adrenaline rush, nor is the goal to move through life unafraid.  Instead, the goal is to hold in tension the reality of our sinfulness in one hand and the hope of new creation in the other.  The goal is to live without fear of what God is calling you to be and of the ongoing work his Holy Spirit is doing to transform you.

My commitment is to continue working on this blog, my poetry and any other creative endeavor that the Lord puts in front of me.  I will not allow the fear of new creation and unknown transformation to cause me to live as the old man.  He has called and I will follow.

That’s the goal.  What’s the discipline?

Fix your gaze upon Christ. 

When Peter began to walk on water and it was only when his eyes were off of his master that he began to sink.  Peter was afraid of what he was doing and it had a detrimental effect.  Fix your gaze firmly on Christ and ask him to continue in you the works he has planned and started.  Pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be manifest in your life and for an anointing in Kingdom work.  Seek the Lord in everything you do and know that in him you are a new creation – the old has gone and the new has come.

Living as a new creation should be cause for rejoicing, not for fear.  We are not trying to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps or celebrate our own ability, but rather we are celebrating the diverse gifts of our creative God.  We are acknowledging that he is the Creator and we are his creatures…(it’s almost as if we are admitting that we are dust and that to dust we shall return…)

Our challenge this Lent is to take on the discipline of fearlessness with the knowledge that the Risen Lord is calling and drawing us to himself.

Fear not, He has redeemed you and called you by name.

Child, you are His.

Entering Lent With Intentionality

Here is an article I wrote first for the Diocese of C4SO monthly newsletter. It was then picked up and published by Anglican Pastor.

My social media news feeds are a flutter with posts about the beginning of Lent: Shrove Tuesday meals, Ash Wednesday services, Lenten disciplines and strong opinions about the relevance of the season. It seems that there are differing views and/or misunderstandings about the nature of the Lenten season. People write about Lent being “Roman Catholic” or that there is no need for Lent because “Jesus already paid for my sins.” I think that we need to unmask Lent for those who are unsure about this penitential season. I think that we need to see Lent for what it is, and certainly for what it is not.

Lent is not a time to earn forgiveness for your sins. It is not a time to begrudgingly give something up temporarily only to greedily pick it back up after Easter. It is not a time for false humility or personal piety. Lent is not only a tradition for the liturgically minded.

I believe that Lent is for the priesthood of all believers.

I believe that Lent is full of hope.

I believe we must journey to the foot of the Cross before we stumble upon the Empty Tomb.

Lent is catholic

Lent is catholic, not Catholic. This is not meant with any insult toward our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, far from it! It is for the one holy catholic and apostolic church.

In this Lenten Season we are athletes in intense training rather than sinners in the hands of an angry God. There are ancient disciplines and biblical practices that help locate and combat the spiritual flab on our souls. Much like a marathon runner needs to practice for weeks and months on end, stretching before each run, we are stretched through our continual workouts as we practice for the kingdom. N.T. Wright challenges us to begin practicing in the present for the full reality of Jesus’ kingdom in the future.

The call in Lent is the call to discipleship. That is, in this penitential season of self-reflection and intentional spiritual awareness we look down the slopes of the Mountain of Transfiguration straight to the cross on Golgotha and journey with Jesus, the disciples, and one another as we follow the One who has called us. Jesus’ 40-day temptation retreat in the wilderness provides the framework for our introspection and spiritual regimen.  Why?

Because we know that we need the cross daily.

Because we know the areas of our hearts and lives that are not aligned with God.

Because we know that we are but ashes and dust; we are creature not Creator.

Our call is not to become spiritual superstars or to take on disciplines to the notice and laud of others. Our call, as Christ-followers and as the Church, is to sacrifice our entire person as our spiritual act of worship (Rom. 12); to be formed spiritually as “new creation” (2 Cor. 5); to “decrease” so that Christ might “increase” (John 3); and to grow in maturity in the faith together (Eph. 4). As you can see, this is the call for all believers. In fact, historically the local church took on disciplines throughout Lent—particularly prayer and fasting—while her newest converts went through the catechumenate to prepare for baptism during the Easter Vigil. Lent was a church-wide tradition. I think it still is Church-wide, or at least still can be.

Lent teaches us to live in the shadow of the cross and the radiant light of the empty tomb. We learn to die to self and rise in Christ. Taking on of spiritual disciplines, coupled with “giving things up”, helps form us more fully as members of God’s Story rather than our own. Our desperate need for grace and the radical reversal of our realities plant us firmly in the tradition of the one holy catholic and apostolic church which teaches us to rely on God absolutely.

Fridays are for Fasting

As stated previously, prayer and fasting are two of the oldest spiritual disciplines in Christian spirituality and Lenten preparation. The faihtful would fast alongside and on behalf of those new believers in Jesus who were readying for baptism. Fasting has become a regular fixture in my weekly schedule as I set Friday aside for the abstinence of food. Why? I am fasting because I want to draw closer to God through lack of food—I want to encounter him in my hunger—and I have found that prayer and meditation are actually much easier when I am not interrupted by the need to feed.

Recently the majority of the 32 postulants for ordination in this Diocese have agreed to spend Fridays in fasting and prayer for one another. Fasting has become a sort of spiritual solidarity that they can offer up in the midst of any circumstance or trial. We are not earning or winning anything through this spiritual practice, in fact I have personally found myself desperately hungry well before the time is up. If I can meet our Lord in the bread and wine of the Eucharist then why can I not meet him in the words that “flow from the mouth of God” because “man does not live by bread alone”?

In On Liturgical Asceticism, David Fagerberg relates a poignant story about fasting from the Desert Fathers, “No fast should be held inhospitably rigid that it cannot be broken.” He goes on to share a story in which a monk breaks his fast and his dining companion asks why. The monk replies, “Because I can always fast but I will not always be able to dine with you. We can eat not and I can resume my fast later.” The point is not to become self-righteous or Pharisaical but to approach the Father through our own oblations and sacrifices in the knowledge that he has already wooed us to himself and that he desires our praises, both verbal and physical.

Will you join us and set Fridays in Lent aside for fasting? This is not a “misery-loves-company” type invitation but rather an opportunity to train our bodies, hearts and minds in the contemplation and adoration of He Who is Greater than we can ever comprehend; it is a request for you to participate in the spiritual life of the Church in a meaningful way; it is a chance for you to remove every hindrance and encumbrance while we run the race set before us. The goal is not weight loss or personal holiness (per se): the goal is always God. It is the God whom we meet in the absence of a few meals and it is He whom we meet in the presence of physical hunger.

Perhaps our physical hunger can serve as a mirror or catalyst for spiritual hunger. What if I longed for God the way I longed for food after a 24-hour fast? What if I pursued God with zeal as I do the meal ravenously consumed once my fast has broken? What if? Perhaps this is an opportunity to the glory of God…will you join me?

Pass this along to friends and family as a challenge to live life in Lent together. Join with those who have gone before and set the example for those who will come after. Lent is a launching pad for the life of the disciple to be continued daily after Easter.  May we journey together as one voice, one Body. May we all observe a holy Lent.