Collision Course of Two Titans

PALM/PASSION SUNDAY 2016

They came from two different places; one from the south, the other from the north. One came riding on a donkey, accompanied by something of a rag tag group on foot waving palm branches and some throwing their cloaks down on the ground in front of the man.
The other came on a noble steed with a cohort of soldiers riding at break neck speed, their leather battle attire slapping the saddles of their horses. It was in the scheme of things that the course that the two men traveled with such purpose would collide in Jerusalem.
Our liturgy this morning is something of a reenactment of this collision course in Jerusalem. We begin with a Palm Sunday parade that leads directly into the Passion of Jesus, his betrayal, his trial and his death. It begins with Jesus calling for a donkey and the people cutting palms from the trees to wave him on. The crowd is ecstatic shouting Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of Lord.
And so we took up our palms, sang Hosanna and left the Undercroft for the church following the cross, albeit veiled, which I always think of as a hint or foretelling of what is to happen—you can see it but it is hidden in the purple shadow. And, when the strains of All glory, laud, and honor finished, the tone changed rather abruptly and before we knew it we immersed in another story, this one of betrayal not adulation, trickery not truthful speech, death not life. One actually leads to the other.
Jesus, on the donkey, coming from the south on the Mount of Olives has his eyes firmly set on Jerusalem. For three years he has been preaching and teaching, healing and challenging his disciples and anyone who was listening to live into the Kingdom of God. By this point he is clear that he has been called by his Father in Heaven as Son and heir to the Kingdom. He has galvanized the poor, the outcast, women and children, all those whose vision of God’s mercy and justice transcended the prevailing teaching of the religious authorities who were about the business of feathering their own beds at the expense of everyone else.
By this point Jesus is clear that he is dangerous to the status quo and that the CIA of Jerusalem will want him dead. No revolutionary is a good revolutionary. Some might say that Jesus is riding into a trap when he comes down the Mount of Olives and traverses the Kidron Valley and enters through the Golden Arches that take you up to the Temple Mount. Not so. His eyes as always were wide open to the reality of the collision that was about to happen.
While Jesus is coming down the Mount of Olives on the donkey beneath the sway of palm branches, Pontius Pilate is bearing down on Jerusalem from the north. He is furious. His anger has little to do with the moral or legal ins and outs of this upstart Jesus. Rather he is annoyed beyond words that he has to leave the Mediterranean glories of Herod’s palace, just a bit north of what is now known in these modern times as Tel Aviv. Life in the emperor’s palace is cool and luxurious. Jerusalem, on the other hand is hot and chaotic. Pilate, a Roman, has been promoted as the chief of police of Israel—a post he never wanted. It was a backwater territory and not worthy of any upstanding Roman. Now, word has reached Caesarea Marittima, the palace of Herod that he is required to put down what looks as if it could be a rebellion. Without even meeting the so called upstart, Pontius Pilate is in a bad mood.
You know, in many ways, this whole trial that Jesus was forced to endure was a farce. Well, we’ve seen this so often in our own life time. A man is accused of a crime and all the responsible persons in charge of administrating the law just want to get the job done, go home and not be bothered any more.
There’s a great line in the musical drama, Jesus Christ Superstar that goes, “What’s the fuss, tell me what’s a happening?” Its Pilate’s line, the one who has just rode in from the north, irritated that there is a fuss and he has to clean it up. “Not interested; pass this upstart Jesus onto someone else. Just let me go back to the beach.”
It would be a farce if it were not so brutal and demeaning to the one who was accused. It is so often the case for men and women who speak of justice and mercy; so often the case for men and women whose vision of the human family is not based on a hierarchy of power of have and have nots but a community of equal sharing. So now it is the case for this man named Jesus who breathed the truth of God in the face of corruption; he is destined for death and in this land and in this time, death for such a man accused of state insurrection, death meant crucifixion. And, it was done.
This day, in 2016 we are left contemplating the collision of two men—one from the south, the other from the north. This day that we celebrate as Palm Sunday—we are plunged head long into the Passion and we are forced to think hard and long about the collision between Good and Evil that catches up with us. And when it happens it is the most unpleasant circumstance that any of us will ever face and yet there it is. It is then that we are asked to make the choice. Whom are we riding with?
In our minds we know not just the difference between right and wrong—any student of the Ten Commandments knows this. But making choices on the bases of love—unconditional love is often a sticky thing.

Love and compassion can take us into uncharted territory; into people’s lives who want or even need more of us than we want to give. So often we are beguiled by the warnings that we must be cautious, we must be pragmatic and not rock the boat.
To ride with Christ is, as our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says is to know “the values on which we stand. Love, at least as Jesus articulated it, has to do with seeking the good and the welfare of others before one’s own enlightened self-interest.”
But we are well aware to pitfalls in upholding such values. Choices based on love and mercy can throw economics into a downward spiral. Look what is happening in Greece and all through Europe as the number of refugees mounts. Ah, here’s a solution. Build a wall and keep those people out; they’re not our kind and they are costing us just too much!—you know the rhetoric.
This articulated unconditional love has consequences. Jesus carried that unconditional love not only in his heart it permeated his mind and his soul and it translated into what he said and whom he touched with his hands and into what territory he walked with his feet. His whole body was a blaze with the love of God—He was what we call the incarnation of the Holy One.
It was just too much for people like Pilate to understand; it was just too much for people afraid of losing their power, their wealth, their lives.
And, the two men collided in Jerusalem. The clash of the titans—one titan of the empire and the other the titan of God. But in the providence of God a new direction was taken. Not south and north but a brutal downward propulsion into the bowels of death. Pilate must have thought, when he heard that Jesus had taken his last breath, “What a loser!”
Oh course, he had no way of knowing in the downward spiral of Jesus into death was to be met by the power of the Spirit—the spirit of God that forged an uniquely new direction. An upward thrust, a resurrection that left Pilate behind, a thrust that always in the confrontation of good and evil leaves the force of evil behind in its own ashes. But that is another story that we will celebrate next Sunday, an Easter story that is for us who ride with Jesus the story of our lives.

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