How do we break this silence – this holy silence, when our Lord died? What words, if any, dare to follow the moments after Jesus breathed his last?
The truth is there are no adequate words.
Preachers across the church will do their best on the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, but (in my opinion) we will all fall short… because words fall short. There are no words amid the Good Friday moments of our lives. Artists and mystics understand this best. The story is just too powerful.
And if we have any words to muster, they are simple words, spoken from the heart. Words like:
I love you. … I love you, Jesus.
Thank you. … Thank you, Lord.
Here at the foot of the cross, we marvel at the mighty works of God. Here at the foot of the cross, we are given a salvation that tried, over and over again, to call us back.
Back to God’s self. Back to our God-given-ness. Back to love. A love that created us from dust. A love that we will one day return to. A love that Jesus tried to show us, even unto death.
The question before us is: Will we embrace it? Will we embrace this logic-defying love, given to us so freely, at such great cost? Will we abandon ourselves, our preoccupations with fact-versus-fiction, with aloof criticism? Will we fully engage resisting a sort of spiritual voyeurism, as we allow this story to wash over us, healing our deepest wounds?
In moments like these, our full presence, our full engagement becomes a form of devotion. To commit to staying unflinchingly present to the stories told today, and stories that will be retold in the liturgies of Holy Week. As we stay present, as we stay engaged, we are invited to allow these stories to speak deep truths to intersect with the sighs and silences of our own lives.
The truth of these stories is hard to stomach. By this time in the liturgy, most of us are gutted.
The liturgy forces us to confront that within each one of us is the proclivity to both praise and curse God. That each one of us possesses the ability to both shout praises, “Hosanna in the highest” as Jesus enters Jerusalem; and to condemn him saying, “Crucify him, crucify him!” at his trial.
If you are anything like me, you have no problem participating in the liturgy of Palms. Everyone likes a big procession, an outrageous parade, a righteous march. We easily get into character, holding signs and banners, waving palm branches and spreading our cloaks to greet Christ who enters Jerusalem.
On this side of town, we can see Jesus riding on a colt, just like the prophet Zechariah predicted. Jesus has entered into a stronghold of the Roman occupier, Jerusalem. He rides in from the Mount of Olives, the place that we know is where the final battle for Jerusalem’s liberation will occur. He rides in on a colt, a very symbol of peaceful intentions, as he performs a bit of street theater to mock and resist the logic of imperial power and violence that would soon kill him
Yes, it is easy to identify with this side of town, in this procession; after all we are on the right side of history, are we not?
But then the liturgy takes a turn.
We go in a direction that we do not want to go. All of the sudden we become part of the violence and domination that will kill him. We move from singing praises to condemning Christ.
We join a different type of procession, a different sort of march. On the other side of town is Pilate, mounted on a warhorse, flanked with a show of military prowess that sends the message of imperial rule and domination. Jesus is in front of the crowd and Pilate asks him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And Christ answered him, “You say so.”
Seemingly out of nowhere, we are suddenly, joltingly joining the crowd saying, “Crucify him!” No, no, this is not how we want to remember our part in the story. We would never curse him! Right? …right?
Like the disciples who fell asleep in the garden, or like Peter who denied him three times, and like the crowd who demands his execution, today’s liturgy force us to own up to the ways that we too antagonize Christ. The gift, the grace of confronting the truth about ourselves as champion and antagonist is that in so doing we see just how lavish is the one who loves us – even if we are the ones who conspire against him and abandon him to the cross. It is this God-in-Christ, whom we forsake, who (as a collect in our prayer book puts it so beautifully) “stretched out his arms on the hard wood of the cross that all might come within the reach of his saving embrace.” And this is the scandal of the gospel. This is the good news – that through our blessing and cursing, God still loves you and me.
And, here we are at the foot of the cross, witnessing what the Kingship of Christ really looks like, and just how the law of Love will win.
What more is there really to say to Christ, but:
I love you, Jesus. …and… Thank you, Lord. Amen.