Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Last Thursday marked a day of great celebration for Anglicans and Episcopalians around the world. Last Thursday, the Most Reverend Justin Welby was officially inaugurated as the one hundred and fifth Archbishop of Canterbury. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual head, the pastoral leader of eighty million Anglicans around the world. Including us.
Canterbury Cathedral was filled with bishops, priests, and deacons. The Cathedral was brimming with dignitaries, world leaders, politicians. When eighty million people inaugurate a new leader, the world begins to notice. Gathered in Canterbury Cathedral was royalty from England and even the Prime Minister. The people had on their best suits, the ladies had the most fashionable hats, the bishops were decked out in their finest rochets and chimere.
Not being a bishop or a world leader or really much of anybody, I was watching the service at Canterbury Cathedral on my laptop, drinking a cup of coffee, in my gym shorts. But along with millions of fellow Anglicans around the world, I tuned in digitally to watch this historic event.
And the big moment came. The moment when the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is admitted into the Cathedral. Tradition has it that the new Archbishop bang the west doors of the Cathedral three times with his bishop’s staff. Bang! Bang! BANG! Went the reverberations throughout the grand Cathedral. With a trumpet fanfare the doors were opened, and decked in resplendent cope and mitre, the new Archbishop stepped foot inside the ancient Cathedral.
And wouldn’t we expect a grand welcome? Perhaps the Prime Minister, or another bishop, maybe even the Queen herself would welcome him into the Cathedral. But no. The Archbishop steps into the Cathedral and is greeted by a seventeen year old Anglican girl from Sri Lanka. Her name, Evangeline Kanagasooriam. Petite, in a flowing green dress, she steps up to this grand man, the Archbishop of Canterbury and asks him three questions: “Who are you and why do you request entry?” The Archbishop states his full name, seeking God’s grace. Evangeline then asks, “why have you been sent to us?” And the answer is even grander, “to serve as your Archbishop and to proclaim the love of Christ.”
And then the petite Evangeline asks her final question, “How do you come among us and with what confidence?” Remember, the Cathedral is stacked full of dignitaries and royalty and world leaders. We would expect the new Archbishop to give his full resume. To say he receied England’s greatest education at Eton College and then Cambridge, was a successful leader in the oil business, that he has been properly ordained as a bishop and has all the grand vestments to show for it. But no! Evangeline asks, “How do you come among us?” And Justin replies, “I come knowing nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
We know Jesus Christ and him crucified. It’s really an absurd statement. To say that the person we proclaim, the one person who means more to us than anybody else in the world, was crucified. That he was betrayed by a friend, arrested on trumped up charges, given a perfunctory trial in the middle of the night, beaten to within an inch of life, and then stripped naked, and executed next to two common criminals. That is the Jesus Christ we know. And that is the crucifixion we proclaim. The whole drama we just played out this morning.
In this world, we are tempted and charmed by authority. We trust those leaders who have accumulated power and prestige, who wear the nicest suits and have the best business record. And there is a hope, somewhere in our psyche, to be like them. But I tell you, if we know Jesus Christ and him crucified, we will not be powerful. We may very well end up humiliated and shamed and out of power. Because of Jesus Christ and him crucified.
In this world, we can be seduced by clever tricksters and preachers. “Follow Jesus, and you’ll get rich.” “Follow Jesus, and your life will be perfect.” “Follow Jesus, and you will win at life.” Try telling that to Jesus himself, as he hangs there in naked humiliation, suffocating to death, with nails through his hands and his feet. If that’s what it means to win at life, then we need to change the definition of winning.
Or try telling Christian martyrs in Africa’s most impoverished countries that if only they believed more, they would be rich. Try telling that to Evangeline Kanagasooriam, the young girl who greeted the Archbishop. Try telling Evangeline that if only the Anglican Church in her native Sri Lanka loved God more, they would be winning at life, even as her fellow country members are “disappeared” in the middle of the night by her own government. We know Jesus Christ and him crucified. And if we know him, we just might end up like him. Crucified.
I know, this is not a particularly happy message. But it is the message of Palm Sunday. That Jesus Christ, the Lord over this world, was killed by this world. And what Palm Sunday reminds us, is that if we follow Jesus, we should expect to end up like Jesus.
Pick up the cross and follow him. Follow that poor, beaten, lonely, Jew to the placed called Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. Do what it takes to follow him. Which might just be incredibly unpopular, and wildly absurd. Do not resort to a college degree, or rely on a figure in a bank account, or live by a pompous title. Know nothing, except for Jesus Christ and him crucified.