Palm Sunday March 20, 2016 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend
Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:14–23:56
Christ Episcopal Church
The Rev. Samuel Torvend
We have just heard St. Luke’s narration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his last supper and arrest, his suffering and death. But let us be clear on this: you and I know the end of the story; we know of Jesus’ resurrection from death into the life of God, God who is present throughout the world: present in the cosmos and present in you and me. Thus, our purpose is not, is not, to imagine that we are walking with Jesus into 1st
Jerusalem or standing beside him at the cross. Rather, the ancient story questions you and me in the 21st
c. The ancient story asks you and me to consider the world in which we live now and our purpose as individuals and as a community shaped by this story, a story heard by millions throughout our nation, a nation now polarized by serious divisions and astonishing outbursts of anger.
This past Tuesday, the bishops of our church, meeting in Texas, addressed the people of God with their concerns: “We are troubled,” they wrote, “by the violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric. Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others. There is legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it may take us … We call for prayer for our country,” they conclude, “that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.”
When the disciples who were with Jesus saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword? Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched the man and healed him.
And then, this: The men who were holding Jesus began to mock and beat him … and heaped many insults on him.
Yet Jesus remained silent. And then, this: When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified Jesus with the criminals. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
What is your true self? What is our true self as a Christian community living in a country where violent forces are being released and neighbors are turning against each other, particularly those on the margins of society? Does the story of our Savior’s passion not give us hints and clues? For you must know that when attacked how instinctive, how easy is the urge to fight back, to engage in retribution, in revenge. And yet we hear Jesus say: “No more of this!” and witness a gesture of healing. You must know as I do that when mocked, how difficult it is for the tongue to refrain from matching insult with insult and, in the end, accelerating the spiral of aggression. And yet we hear nothing from Jesus. There is only silence; nay, more than this: a silent strength that will not be caught in the trap of violent speech. You must know that to dehumanize another means that one becomes dehumanized. Did you see the elderly white man punching a young black man this past week and then proudly announce that if he saw the young man again he just might have to kill him? They crucified him with criminals, writes St. Luke, and then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them.”
Too many people, the Christian commitment to non-violence in the presence of aggression, to forgiveness when harmed, to silence in the face of accusation appears unrealistic, weak, and passive: an illusion of the hopelessly idealistic out of touch with the world as it is
. But, then, the history of the world as it is
, from ancient Egypt to the present day, is the story of empires lusting after the land, the people, and the treasure of other nations: a lusting supported by striking with the sword. And so I wonder and ask you to wonder with me: does the wounded and risen Christ not offer you and me, our nation, and this world an alternative to violence, to seeking security at the expense of others, an alternative to the rhetoric of fear? And is this other way of living in the world not steeped in that most challenging practice of foregoing retribution and pursuing the therapy of reconciliation? Let’s be clear: Forgiveness does not mean calling an evil thing good. It is not the attempt to hide from reality or subvert justice. Rather, it is the power of our merciful God, working within you and me, to release ourselves and others from the deathly snare of retribution, of violences great and small.
No wonder we hear these words – Shed for you and for many for the sake of forgiveness
– as the last will and testament of Jesus to his followers, to his church, to you and to me.