Palm Sunday Sermon

nathanielkiddnathanielkidd on 01 Apr 2012 22:57

Prepare ye the way of the Lord – Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Behold, Zion, your King comes to you, humble, and riding on a donkey. Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

Today, the King comes to Jerusalem; he comes, that is, to our hearts, to the very center of our being. Today, the Great King comes to us; he comes to us on a donkey, on the foal of an ass. He comes to us, that is, humbly borne by ancient words and symbols and riddles and rituals, left in the hands of frail and sinful men.

Today we witness a miracle. Heaven and earth are joined together; the past and present and future collide. The cosmic liturgy becomes visible, performed in time and space. It is a miracle, and nothing less; a profound miracle, perhaps the profoundest of miracles. But it is a fragile miracle, let us not forget this – it is a fragile miracle. It will happen whether or not we are aware of it. But if we lose our focus, if even for a moment we let our minds wander, or our spirits be absent, or our hearts cluttered about with other thoughts we may miss these marvelous things taking place among us.

Be attentive, then, be alert, be awake: the King is in our midst. What respect would you spare an earthly potentate, were he to appear among us, were he to spend some time with us? Would you not learn to properly reverence his every quality, in every way he expects reverence? Would you then deprive the King of the Universe of the same? Be attentive, be alert, be awake, and learn the praises he would have you offer.

Today is the Great Entrance. Today is the Great Entrance. Today the Lord is on the move, he moves from the altar of his life, where he gave himself as a perfect example, to the altar of his death, where he gives himself as the redeeming sacrifice. The Lord is on the move, and the universe arranges itself to accord with his footsteps. All along the way Holys and Hosannas intermingle, the air is alive with a restless energy, a gentle breeze moved by the fluttering of angel feathers and the swish of palm frawns.

We prepare the way for him, laying our garments in the path before him: laying our garments, that is, stripping ourselves of all ungodly thoughts and impulses, leaving aside every earthly care that we might receive the King of All. Our lips ring loud “Hosanna,” our breath is raised in praises, we the troll ancient strain Baruch haba b’shem Adonai, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Our accolades sound through the corridor of the ages, reverberating through time and eternity. A great cloud of glory descends, and the air becomes electric with expectation.

But expectation of what? Do we know what we say? Do we know whom we hail? For the people of Israel in that day so long ago, it was just another messianic claimant that they received. It was a fine excuse for a parade, for gathering thrill seekers or the curious. It was a worthy cause to raise the standard of hope, perhaps, at least part way, at least for a time. But no hearts were turned, no eyes opened, no spirits refreshed, for in but a few days would these same voices be raised to yell “Crucify!” when he seemed but yet another charlatan. They did not know what they said. They did not know whom they hailed.

For us, today, it is just another Palm Sunday; just another lead in to Easter. Just another run through of the familiar story, a story, perhaps, entertaining or inspiring or sentimental; maybe interesting, maybe tedious; but a story, in any case, that seems to have very little impact on the way that we actually live our life and understand our world. It’s worth coming out to see the goings-on, to stick with the tradition, or to fulfill the requirements placed before us. But do we know what we say? Do we know whom we hail?

Were the stones to cry out, as Jesus says they would, if we were silent, if the stones were to cry out, it would be surprising, no doubt, but it would be no miracle. The Lord who made the stones can give them lips, can bestow them breath, can command their praises. Behold the soaring towers of nature he has erected for himself: the yawning chasm of the Grand Canyon, the infinite mountainous expanse of the Himalayas, the pillars of Meteora. But that he has extracted praise from these sordid and rebellious lips; that praises should arise from us, even ignorant and spiritually blind as we are, this is a miracle; this is a far greater miracle.

Do not be satisfied with this. Do not be satisfied to know these things only vaguely and from afar. Do not be satisfied with praising and prophesying unawares. Do not be satisfied to stand at the back, scarcely glimpsing his homely form over the chaos of the assembled crowd. Push through the crowd to see him. Push through, push through the crowd, that is, the crowd of thoughts, the crowd of distractions, the crowd of anxieties, all the appetites that weigh you down in the concerns of the body, and behold his holy and perfect body: behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.

Behold him. Behold him, and fix on that image, focus on him. Strive to see him as he is, pray the Spirit gives you eyes to see. Strive to see him transfigured.

Remember: the Mountain of Transfiguration is not merely a physical place. It is not merely that at one particular time one particular handful of Jesus’ disciples got a little taste of his glory. The transfiguration is a symbol, also, of when we see him whom we thought familiar to us. Then we stand inwardly on the mountain, and we behold his glory. That inward mountain is the faith received, and the eyes that behold him in glory are the eyes of the heart.

Oh that we might so see him now! Oh that we might so see him as he comes towards us! His garments dazzling white, resplendent with the uncreated light pouring forth from the fount of Divinity. He comes to us, Priest, Prophet, King; Sacrificial Lamb, Messiah, Redeemer; our Lord and our God; Christ, our King and our God. We behold the mystery of the divine nature joined to our human nature, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; here, God come in the flesh, that he might present all flesh to God.

His procession comes near enough that we might reach out and touch him, yet at the same time, it is as distant and powerful and inexorable as the sun and the stars in their courses. He moves through the parted crowds, a pure shaft of light, a pillar of flame, a tower of smoke; passing by in silent cacophony. No force or necessity compels him, but he who sets all things in motion moves also himself, moving with each step towards his unspeakable end when he shall be given up, rather, when he shall give himself up, for the life of the world.

Today, he sets his foot on the first stair of the temple, ready to ascend, slowly, majestically, to the altar of the Cross, where he will be both priest and victim. Ascend with him, inwardly, and learn to ascend: for this is your vocation, O Christian: to offer in and with Christ, first yourself, and then the world. Be attentive, be alert, be awake: watch him, watch with him; the King of all is in our midst. The King is in our midst, and we have come to his Holy Week, that great and terrible time, the time of his scandalous, inverted coronation; his ultimate defeat turned ultimate triumph.

Now is the time. Have you been negligent in your fasting? Fast now, the bridegroom is being torn from you. Have you been casual in your abstinence? Abstain now, for the Lord forsook all things for your sake. Have you been lazy, hazy, sleepy in your devotion, in your watch with Christ? Awake, O Sleeper; O Sluggard, arise, watch and pray, journey and labor, for the day is not yet over, but twilight approaches, and the gentle light of gloaming will soon descend to cold dark night: the darkest night, the coldest night, a night when even the stars stop singing.

Let tears become your bread. Let sleep come only in snatches. Let your wicks be trimmed and your lamps burning. For urgent is the hour: urgent as the fevered prayers that ooze from his pores as drops of blood. These are holy days, his holy days; not holidays, not days designated for our relaxation and bodily indulgence, but days sacred and set apart. The terrible weight of his glory descends, becomes to the discerning a thick cloud of heavenly seeing and unknowing. Let reverence and awe and fear descend upon you, for the King of All is in our midst.

The Lord whom we seek is suddenly come to his temple. Behold, behind him and before is a raging fire. All about him are his ministering spirits, in countless myriads his angels attend to him. The earth quakes at his presence, his lightnings flash to and fro. With our eyes, we see but modest ceremony; a mediocre, lackadaisical procession, quite unbefitting to the sophisticated modern world we inhabit, or even to the earth-shattering Gospel we proclaim. But oh, may the Lord give us eyes to see! A countless host marches with us! A tremendous force is gathered around us! Our Lord leads the final siege on the forces of darkness! The Gates of Hell are rattled and shaken, and soon they will be burst in sunder, and by death will he trample down death, and to those in the tomb, whether living or dead, he will bestow his life.

Now is the time. Now is the time to reach out and touch the real, to grab hold of the heart of the existence. Now is the time to be swept up in the truth, to be stamped with the seal of the unseen drama that sustains the universe. Now is the time to take in hand the fiery sword of faith, and beat back every spiritual foe. Now is the time to prepare our hearts, that when the time comes, we may lift them up to the Lord as our own sacrifice of reciprocating praise.

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