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Sermon for Palm Sunday

Fr. David Curry

Christ Church, Windsor, NS

April 9, 2006

“Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us,

and on our children”


Palm Sunday is a day of dramatic and frightening contrasts.  We go from shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David”, shouts of joyful acclamation, to the vicious and repeated cries of “Let him be crucified…Let him be crucified”, cries of violent repudiation.  Through the disturbing contrasts of this day we enter into the week of the Passion of Christ, the week we call Holy Week, and what will we behold?  The good, the bad and the ugly, to be sure, but the beauty of our salvation, too.  We will see ourselves in all of the confusion of our conflicted and contradictory hearts and lives, on the one hand, and we will see the patient suffering and hear the words of Christ, on the other hand.  If we care enough to enter into the drama.


Holy Week unfolds the drama of our salvation.  Through the extreme intensity of this week, we contemplate the two great spectacles of sin and love – our sin and God’s love for us.  Both are made visible for us in the Passion of Christ.  He is “made sin for us”, meaning that he bears the true meaning of our sins in his body.  In Christ crucified, we contemplate the meaning and nature of sin itself.  This week will reveal the full spectacle of our human hearts in complete and utter disarray.  It is, perhaps, what we would rather not see and hear. 


Yet, it belongs to the Church to proclaim these things, to make visible the spectacle of sin and love.  There is nothing about our humanity as willing and knowing beings that is not revealed.  The good that we might want to claim as belonging to ourselves we will see as being at best partial and incomplete, powerless in the face of evil, unable to do even what we think is right and true.  We have to contemplate the full spectacle of human sin and know ourselves as part of all that we see.  This week is meaningless to us if we suppose that we are not in this story, if we suppose that the fault somehow lies in the stars and in the actions of others and not in us.  ‘O, I am a good person’, is the sad and empty bleat of those who know not what they are and know not what they do, an empty assertion that at best deals with degrees of sin but more often shows a denial of the reality of sin. 


I know.  You are thinking.  I didn’t kill anybody this week.  I didn’t rob any store.  I didn’t even cheat on my income tax, at least not much.   I gave to charity, indeed, I always do, at least, a loonie or a toonie or two, that’s enough.  Ah, yes.  This and this have you done.  But what have you said and what have you thought?  Have any of us done all that we know needs to have been done?  Can we really think that we have not done things which we know we should not have done and not because of circumstance and happenstance? 


Let us be honest with ourselves.  Let us be honest about our pride, mine and yours, supremely on parade in our claims about ourselves that obliterate altogether the truth of God.  Let us be honest about our envy, mine and yours, far greener than the greening of the valley, far more destructive of human character than we imagine.  Let us be honest about our wrath and anger, mine and yours, that wreaks such havoc in our homes and our communities and all because things have not gone our way; ‘curses on you, God’, is what it really means.  Let us be honest about our sloth, mine and yours, our laziness or the mindless busyness that is an excuse for not doing what is required.  Let us be honest about our greed or avarice, mine and yours, our insatiable appetite for more and more possessions and things, the stuff of our lives that clutters our souls and leaves no room for God.  Let us be honest about our gluttony, mine and yours, ah yes, the food and drink that consumes us even as we consume such things far beyond any reasonable need; our god is our belly and our bellies are stuffed and bulging.  “I am a potato”, sorry, “I am pumpkin”, this is Windsor.  Let us be honest about our lust, mine and yours, the lust of our eyes, the lust of our hands and our hearts, the lust that is about sexual self-gratification through the use of others either in the voyeurism of our pornographic culture or in the intimacy of our lives behind close doors, the lust that denies the created order and the moral order, any port in a storm, after all, and denies the God whose love sets all loves in order. 


For let us be honest about this parade of the so-called seven deadly sins which is one way of naming the disorders within our souls.  They are all about love in disarray: love perverted in relation to what is to be loved and known, love defective by virtue of indifference and disregard for what is to be loved and known, love excessive by virtue of loving too much things that are of passing worth.  And in a way that only the technocratic culture of modernity could accomplish on a grand scale in the parade of genocide and mass murder in the name of the totalitarianism of humanity, the totalitarianism of human presumption, there is the full horror of the destructive rage of our humanity against God, the very thing that we contemplate in the crucifixion of Christ. 


A pessimistic view of our humanity?  So some, perhaps, many, would claim.  Sed contra, to know ourselves as sinners is the most realistic and most positive thing that can be said of us, for then, and only then, we are open to the mercies of God in Jesus Christ.  The more we cling to ourselves in the vanity of ourselves, the more we are only looking at ourselves.  It really isn’t a pretty picture, if we will be honest.  Only in looking to God, can we be transformed into something more lovely.  In a way, that is what we contemplate in Holy Week, namely, the possibility of the transformation of our sinful and broken humanity into something glorious.  We contemplate it in the drama of redemption, in the agony and the ecstasy of the Passion of Christ. 


None of that can happen if the fingers of blame point elsewhere rather than at ourselves.  Isn’t it Judas’ fault?  After all, he did say, at least as Matthew tells us, “I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.” Oh, I forgot.  The Church got it all wrong.  Christianity is all a conspiracy theory.  The Gospel of Judas, of course, gets it right, never mind that it is an obscure text belonging to an obscure group writing in the late second century, a text that we have known about since Irenaeus mentioned it in 180 AD, a text that is far removed from the texts of the four gospels that were in wide and common circulation since the end of the first century AD.  But then, history is always written by the winners, it is said.  Some winners – like the Jews who have borne the brunt of history’s callous rudeness, like the early Christians and those in every age who died confessing Christ in the face of cruel tyranny and persecution?


Judas was just following orders, says The Gospel of Judas, just doing what Jesus wanted.  Jesus wanted Judas to betray him so that Jesus would be taken and become the saviour of the world through his crucifixion and resurrection, or at least the appearance of his death and rising.  He is God after all and God cannot be made sin for us, God cannot die on the cross for us, God cannot rise again from the dead.  Judas was just helping Jesus, just following orders in the divine plan.  Just doing what he was told. 


The problem, of course, is that this denies the orthodox teaching about our salvation.  It isn’t just play-acting.  It isn’t just about being in the know.  It is about the reality of suffering and death that are really embraced by Jesus who is both God and Man, not just God playing the part of man, as if matter and the flesh were something evil, as Gnosticism, in general, assumes.  No.  The work of redemption is far more exciting and compelling than that.  This week reveals a much profounder view of our humanity in all of its complexity and reveals the profounder nature of God’s willingness to engage our humanity in all of its disarray and to do so through the utter reality of the humanity of Jesus.  Why?  Because redemption is not just a play, it is the drama in which we take our part. 


It isn’t just about Judas.  He isn’t the scapegoat.  He is the symbol of what is in all of us.  Which is exactly what all four gospels each in their own way show us.  “His blood be on us, and on our children”, the people say about Jesus.  The point of our liturgy is to place us in the crowd.  The point of our liturgy is to know the Judas in all of us, that we are the betrayers of Christ in one way or another.  The ways are at once unique to us and boringly the same.  Nothing more boring than sin, yet our sins are uniquely ours.  They are made visible to us in the spectacles of this week.  We are the actors in this drama and we confront ourselves in the picture of Christ crucified who prays the “forgiveness of his foes’ fierce spite.”  We behold the spectacles of sin and love.  Such is redemption. 


“Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us,

and on our children”