The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks–Palm Sunday—Year A (video link)
I never can move through this day without a serious case of whiplash. It all happens so fast, too fast. How do we get from spreading our cloaks on the ground and waving our palm branches like crazy and shouting “Hosanna!” doing a little victory lap down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem, how do we get from there to “Crucify him!”
It all turned on a dime. We turned on a dime. It happened a step at a time. We didn’t intend to end up here, but steps add up, and when it was all said and done, the One we loved, the One we followed from Galilee lay dead in a tomb, stone rolled in front, sealed for good measure.
Today, we get the whole story crashing over us like a wave. It assaults our senses. It strips away any pretense of what our humanity is capable of. Humanity is capable of great courage—Simon, who carries the cross; Joseph of Arimathea, who tends the body and holds that space for dignity in death; the women who can’t stop following and sit vigil outside the tomb—humanity at its most noble.
And humanity is capable of horrible choices and evil actions. And we are always a mix of both. It’s important not to lose sight of that capacity for courage, but it’s equally important to let a hard, hard truth settle into our bones—humanity is also a mess.
Whether it’s the way we sell-out for 30 pieces of silver, or our propensity to be asleep to what is actually unfolding around us, or the bravado that promises to stand fast that runs away at that first hint of trouble; whether it’s that painful moment when we deny our deepest commitments, or that even more painful moment when we realize that we’ve just denied our deepest commitments; whether it’s the stock we put in the power of the sword to keep us and our loved ones safe, or the stock we put in our tradition so that we don’t have to accommodate love that won’t act in the prescribed way; whether it’s the choices we make that are politically expedient, or the inability to listen to that intuitive voice calling us not to move down this path of inevitability; whether it’s all the mocking and all the insults and all that putting down that gives us that strange sense of feeling superior, when it is all said and done, this humanity that’s a mess—this humanity, it’s our humanity.
If we don’t allow this day to touch that place inside of ourselves that knows we are fully capable of all of these choices and actions, then we’ve got no chance to experience the unbelievable good news that rests in this week.
And that good news only gets revealed as we peel back layer after layer after layer of those aspects of ourselves that settle for power and control over presence and the love that simply flows, those aspects of ourselves that settle for esteem and affection over love, those aspects of ourselves that settle for safety and security over engaging the world with arms wide open, heart fully exposed.
The only way to rise to the life that God longs for us to know, the only way to be born into the love that is beyond what we can fathom or measure is to die to all the ways our small self tries to plot and control and secure its own place.
Make no mistake, our small self will fight to the death this week to keep a hold of the reins, but as we move through these rituals—as we allow the scriptures we hear to sink into our bones, as we feel the rhythm of the actions, as we allow the silence to settle over us, as we anoint and lament and ask for healing, as we wash feet and eat bread and drink wine and strip the altar down, as we descend into darkness and wait, little by little, a tomb is getting carved out of the stone of our hearts; little by little, space will open up; little by little, a spark will ignite, a seed will shed its skin, and deep in the hidden places, something new will start to unfold.
None of us likes to confront all that is laid bare this week, but there’s no getting to Easter without this journey.
So, hold on, tap into your deepest courage to carry the cross, don’t fear the death that will surely come, follow all the way to the tomb, acknowledge all the shadowy places along the way, and then, wait and trust—trust that when that stone gets rolled away one week from today, we’ll already be down the path dancing in the life that is to come. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
April 9, 2017