Sermon Preached by the Rev. Harold T. Lewis, Rector
Calvary Episcopal Church, Pittsburgh
Palm Sunday, 16 April 2000
"And he entered Jerusalem, and went into the temple, and when he had looked round at everything, as il was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. " (Mk. 11:11)
I have a friend who collects antiques. He prides himself at his ability to enter an antique shop, whether it's in an upscale neighborhood or a sleepy town, stand at the door, and size up the merchandise. He can tell whether there's anything in the store worth buying, or haggling over. I thought of Tom when I read this verse in today's Gospel. The parade has taken place. "The humble beast pursues his load with palms and scatter'd garments strowed." The triumphal entry has taken place. But when Jesus arrives at the temple, Mark tells us, he seems totally unimpressed. There's nothing worth hanging around for, so he gathers up his disciples, leaves the big city, and beats a hasty retreat to the country. Mark tells us that Jesus looked around, but he doesn't tell us what he saw, so we can imagine. He probably saw some ofthe moneychangers and animal sellers trying to make a quick shekel in the temple precincts. He probably saw Roman soldiers, with all the trappings of power, trampling in the streets, lording it over the people. But he also saw the widow putting all that she had into the offering plate.
What would Jesus see if he entered our cities today? If he went to Miami, he would see a six year-old boy, made into a political football, tossed back and forth between an aging Communist leader and wannabe American presidents. If he went to New York City, he might find traders on Wall Street, who perhaps have laid up for themselves treasures on the earth, lamenting over the unprecedented nosedive of the NASDAQ. If he came to Pittsburgh on Friday, Jesus would have discovered that six homicides had taken place on that day. But in all these places, Jesus would also find unsung heroes and heroines, ministering to hospice patients and feeding the hungry.
Today has two names -- Palm Sunday and the Sunday ofthe Passion -- and two moods. There is the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, with palms being strewn in the path of jesus, and there is the Passion narrative with the account of the betrayal and death of Jesus. Two moods, two sentiments, two attitudes, two emotions. And if we are honest, Palm Sunday provides us with a look at ourselves that we see at no other time of year. We can identify with the fickleness ofthe crowd who shouts "Hosannah!" in one breath, and "Crucify" in the next. We can identify with the disciples who, like Peter, are indignant even at the suggestion that they would deny Jesus, but in the next moment, as soon as things get a little testy, all forsake him. And out ofthe lips from the Savior himself come the words "Let this cup pass from me," and "Not my will but thine be done."
Palm Sunday teaches us that we don't have to choose between a rational response and an emotional response. It's all part of who we are. There's an old evangelical hymn that asks: "Is your all on the altar?" It's not a matter of "putting our best foot forward," trying to impress God. Conversely, we don't merely offer him our hangups, our shortcomings and our transgressions. No: Is our all on the altar? Our selves, your souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice. We are called to take the ambiguity, the confusion, and the conflict of emotion, and see that the only thing that can make sense out of them is the reconciling love of jesus Christ. The Cross shows us that God's love does not do away with suffering and tragedy. But God's love makes it possible for us to bear it.
Let us pray:
Lord, in loving contemplation, fix our hearts and eyes on thee,
Till we taste thy full salvation, and thine unveiled glories see.
For thy sorrows we adore thee, for the griefs that wrought our peace;
Gracious Savior, we implore thee, In our hearts thy love increase. (1)
1. Walter Shirley, "Sweet the moments rich in blessing," The Hymnal 1940, No. 72.
Please feel free to contact Dr. Lewis if you have questions or comments about this or any sermon.
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