Year A, Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion
April 13, 2014
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“O Christ, what can it mean for us to claim you as our King?”
This is a line from a hymn composed by a Benedictine nun Delores Dufner, and it gets to the very heart of this movement in time and space that we begin today, Holy Week. What does it mean to claim Christ for our King? What does it mean to claim Christ? What does it mean?
Today I am not going to preach on the procession into Jerusalem. I am not going to preach on the Passion of our Lord, His trial, his torture and his death. The story speaks for itself, and as much as we treasure our Catholic heritage, the rites and sacraments and traditions and elegance, we also hail from Protestant stock, and therefore have the bifurcated blessing of being able to engage scripture on our own, AND actually having to do it. Read it this week. Maybe every morning, even. Read the whole story, chapters 26 and 27 of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Read it. Ponder it. Inwardly digest this story. Then do the work you have really been given to do: make meaning of it.
We‘ve had a fantastic adult education series this Lent, reading The Last Week by Crossan and Borg and discussing it on Wednesdays. It has been fantastic, the conversations have been energetic, a bit heady, perhaps, but good learning happened, and good formation of ourselves as faithful Christians trying to understand this tradition we are heirs to.
One of the most important take-aways I found from these conversations is a deeper appreciation of the difference between history and parable, fact and truth, and what the real importance of Holy Scripture is.
The truth of a story does not have to be related to the facts of the story… Aesop’s parable of the dog with the bone in its mouth looking at her own reflection in the pond… that never happened, it is not a journalistic report of something the slave Aesop witnessed, but it is truth. Plato’s white horse/black horse, the shadows projected on the wall… again, as true as true gets, but not history. Of course there were good Samaritans, of course there were and are Prodigal sons and workers in vineyards, but these were not stories that Jesus Christ relayed to us as fact, these were not tales of a Samaritan or that prodigal of those workers; they are relayed to us a truth, like Crossan’s lecture title, “Parables: Stories that never happened and always do.” What would happen if we approached scripture, in particular the stories of the Passion in the same parabolic way? (Of course besides burn in hell for heresy)?
What if we did that that, if we read this long story of the last week of our Savior’s life as a parable, what then do we get from the story? If it didn’t happen this way, factually, if this story could not have been reported on the Jerusalem evening news as fact, why bother remembering it? Telling it? Getting emotionally and spiritually involved in it? What is the point of them if they did not, maybe happen this way? Because truly we don’t know the facts of the story. The gospels are inconsistent, for one, but more importantly, the way and reason that stories were told and recorded in antiquity are a whole lot different that we moderns (or post-moderns) might understand.
Meaning. “The importance of these stories lies in their meaning.” That is how Crossan says it. The meaning to the people who were there, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the other women. The importance lies in what these stories meant to St. Paul, to the fledgling community of believers, to the authors of the Gospels and the communities they wrote for and to. The importance lies in what these stories have meant to the lives of our spiritual forbearers over the past 2000 years. The importance lies in what these stories, what this story, the Passion of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ means to us in this parish, to you in your heart and how it informs your relationship to God in Christ and your relationship to us, your brothers and sisters in faith. “The importance of these stories lies in their meanings.” The privilege and responsibility we have as Anglicans is that much of the meaning to be made is left up to us. It is left up to you. Do not trust me or anyone else with that task.
So I am not going to make meaning of the Passion today. That is on you. But we are Anglicans, and if one thing is more true about us than anything else, it is that you have this responsibility, to make meaning of these stories, but you will not be left out in the cold with your Bible to do it by yourself. No. We’re Protestant but that only goes so far. No, our fatih, our understanding, our meaning making is a very communal process. And how do we do it, how do we communally make meaning together? Common Prayer.
Have you heard the term, “Praying shapes believing”? It is the Anglicanization of the ancient Christian formula lex orandi, lex credendi. We make meaning by praying together, gathering around this table together, saying words and singing songs that have been said and sung in much this way for many of the same reasons for 2000 years. That is powerful, powerful medicine for a sin-sick soul, for the afflicted, perplexed, persecuted and struck down; for through making meaning together, at this altar rail we will not be crushed, not be driven to despair, not be forsaken, not be destroyed. Of course meaning making is something done in our own hearts and minds and bodies, but we also know that we must do that solitary work in the midst of this larger body of Christ, the Church, this gathering of saints, here around this altar in this very moment. As Rumi says, Come, come who ever you are, wander, worshiper, lover of leaving, ours is no caravan of despair, come, yet again, come.
That is my invitation to you to the cycle of Holy Week. This is your opportunity for an ordeal weekend, a holy departure from normality, from the patterns that make up our daily lives. Maundy Thursday begins with a shared meal, at a large shared table at which we celebrate Eucharist, passing the broken bread and the cup to each other remembering that Last Supper and the great commission, the mandate from which Maundy comes from. We then process upstairs for the ritual foot washing, then the solemn stripping of the Altar under the words of the haunting 22nd Psalm. Some of us will spend all night on Thursday, that is powerful, or will sit in vigil in 2-hour shifts as Jesus asked his disciples to do. Good Friday takes us through the Stations of the Cross and the grim liturgy and the chanting of the Solemn Collects and the Veneration of the Cross. I encourage everyone to say on your own the brief Holy Saturday liturgy on page 283 of the Book of Common Prayer, the memory of Christ’s descent to the dead, the harrowing of Hell. Then we gather for the biggest and best moment of the church year, the kindling of the light of Christ at sunset (7:40) on Saturday as we celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord at the Easter Vigil. Then, of course, the traditional festivities of Easter Morning, the primary Feast of the Resurrection with the pomp and circumstance and booming organ and Easter Eggs and Potlucks appropriate to the occasion.
There is endless meaning to be made in the course of this week. Meaning that might take root in your mind, may alight on your heart, might come to roost in your body. Maybe all three. Come gather with us around this table this week as the Passion of our Lord unfolds yet again. Come join us in this place that you and we might come closer to God, togther as our ancestors have for generations. Come. Come. Come, come who ever you are, wander, worshiper, lover of leaving, ours is no caravan of despair, come, yet again, come.