A homily offered by Lacey A. Hudspeth at the Episcopal Church of the Advocate, Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018.
I love the story of Alice in Wonderland. The story of a small girl who falls into a hole where she must navigate many odd and even absurd events in order to find her way home.
I love it because in the story there is this constant need in it to press two different questions—questions about Alice’s character
questions about Alice’s mission:
This story of Palm Sunday is often one I have a difficult time with, because it involves a
feeling of triumphalism that makes me uncomfortable. Jesus rides into Jerusalem, the
political epicenter of the time, amidst people fawning palm branches before him saying,
“Hosanna!” which translates literally into “God save us”.
As I have thought this week about why this story makes me so uncomfortable, I have come to realize it is because there are other people in our own more recent American story who live into the political triumphalism, who are swayed by a group of people saying something similar to, “save us, we put our hope in you, God has sent you to us.” I have a difficult time with the nature of triumphalism— it comes across as arrogant, rooted in worldly success, and I find it confusing in the face of the Jesus that I have come to know— I think we have to do something similar to the characters in Alice in Wonderland this morning. We have to look inside the gospels and ask of this Jesus riding into Jerusalem
Who are you? and What is the purpose of this?
AND, ask ourselves… What IS IT that we are committing to when we kneel before someone and say, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord ”
We must press Jesus on both who he is as a human and who he is as a God. Let’s look at this man we lay down palm branches for, a man we beg to save us.
Let’s look first at Jesus as a man. What is MOST unusual about Jesus, what sets him apart from other men is threefold:
1. His relationship to God
2. The shape and narrative of his life as teacher and justice seeker
3. His building relationships with outsiders, with the marginalized
As a man, Jesus very clearly sets himself outside of the triumphalist crowd. The palm branches mentioned in the gospel of John are meant to be reminiscent of the processions that greeted the political victories of the Maccabees.
But, Jesus quickly and clearly corrects this vision of himself as their political savior the people expected him to be— a man who rides into the epicenter on a jeweled chariot, a man who celebrates power.
Instead Jesus acts out a prophecy— he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey to show that, like the King promised in Zechariah, he has come to bring peace and salvation, NOT riches and political glory.
Jesus rides in on a donkey to say of his character:
I do not come to set up a hierarchy of power; I come humbly, a child born in a trough, a man riding in on a donkey, I am coming NOT to wield power over you, but rather the exact opposite— I have come to die for you, so that you may live.
Here we see the nature of Jesus as both human and as God.
Jesus, the man and the God, turns this triumphalism on its head. When the crowd tries to triumph the coming of Jesus as political-glory… Jesus instead celebrates what will be— the triumph of gratuitous love, the gift of the
Incarnation sent to gather us all into the mystery of the Trinity.
And when we press him, when we interrogate Scripture to more fully understand who he is as both fully human and fully divine, I think we come to know God as Pseudo Dionysius does— Jesus is the divine goodness who maintains and protects all creation and feasts on them with its good things.
At the core of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, Jesus is one who seeks and finds relationships— indeed, it is precisely through the incarnation— through the living work of Jesus present on earth as both fully human and fully divine—
We dont celebrate power.
We celebrate the mystery of God gathering us into the life of the Trinity.
When we look deeply into the character of the humanity and divinity of this God, we look deeply into the face of gratuitous love— love that is poured over each one of us without any regard for worthiness.
If we are like Alice, working through the absurdities of the world, trying to find our own way home— I think Jesus once more turns the questions around and looks at us and says,
Who are you? What do you believe?
What is your character and what is your mission?
How will you live out the gratuitous love I have shown you?
Will you be set apart by your love and relation to God?
Will you be set apart by your narrative of justice seeker?
and will you be set apart by building relationships with the marginalized?
These are the questions of Palm Sunday.
Amen and Amen.