31 March 2007

Will you follow Christ to the Cross?

The Procession
Palm Sunday 2007: Luke 19.28-40
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Luke Church, St Paul Hospital, and Church of the Incarnation

“Who is that on the donkey?” Most of us are cheering. Most of us are waving palm branches and some few of us call out his name, naming him blessed. But some of us are unsettled by his celebrity and the praise he is receiving from the crowd. Is he truly the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy of the coming of the Messiah? “Who is this who rides into Jerusalem like a slave but is cheered like a king?”

He is the one given to Mary the Virgin by the Spirit of God. He is the one proclaimed by Simeon in the temple. He was baptized by the prophet John and was often found in the company of whores, lepers, tax collectors, and Gentiles. He healed a few, fed a few, and taught a few more the meaning of the Law. He confounded the Pharisees and scribes. He blasphemed by calling himself “Son of God.” His feet were perfumed by the woman in Bethany to prepare him for death. He is the one betrayed by his student and friend, sold for the price of a murdered slave—thirty pieces of silver. His blood is the new covenant, the new wine shed for the forgiveness of our sins. He is the one double-crossed, arrested, falsely accused, questioned by Pilate, and, finally, given to his executioners by the same crowd that had cheered him on the donkey earlier. Scourged, mocked, spat upon, and stripped naked, he is the One nailed to the cross, pierced by a spear, the one who dies so that we might live.

Who is this? We know now what the Roman soldier shouted aloud then: “Truly, this is the Son of God!”


The Mass
Palm Sunday:
Phil 2.6-11 and Luke 22.14-23.56
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Luke Church, St Paul Hospital and Church of the Incarnation


Paul says that Jesus, emptying himself, took on the form of a slave and became one of us to die as one of us for all of us. We can cheer all we want. Wave palms all we want. No one here will ask Jesus to let his cup pass. No one here will volunteer to hang on that cross and let Jesus go free. Are we cowards? No. We know that Jesus must die so that we might live. The certainty of his death is the only possibility of our eternal life. Only he is Son of God, Son of Man; fully human, fully divine. His death pulls us down into the grave and his rising again draws us up with him. Everything that needs to be healed will be healed. All repairs will be made. Nothing will be left broken or hurt.

But today, just today, knowing what we know about his journey from here to the tomb, even still we must cheer and whistle. And wave palms. And shout “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” And we want so much to grab the tail end of his departing scene and pull it back, just yank it back to the garden or the roaring sea or the mountaintop or the desert or to any of the dozens of place where we sat with him to listen to God’s wisdom, to see the radiant glory of his love for us.

We want him anywhere but here in Jerusalem. He rides to the cross, ya know? And we must cheer. We must cheer because later we will shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” What did we forget between our cheering him into the city and our heckling him to the cross, between our exuberant welcome and our jeering blood lust? To be Christ we must follow Christ. Who wants to follow Christ to the cross? Who wants their flesh torn and bleeding? Who wants the thorns of a mocking crown piercing their scalp? I deny him. I do not know him. No, I’m not his disciple. Never heard of him, never met him. Who? Who? No, sorry, doesn’t ring a bell.

We’ve come too far for that now, brothers and sisters! That desert was forty days long. Along the way we dropped coffee and tea, booze and cigarettes, TV and shopping, email and chocolate. We dropped gossiping, nagging, sex, meat, cussing. We picked up extra hours of prayer, daily Mass, weekly confession, spiritual reading, volunteer hours, being nice to little brother and sister, obeying mom and dad, obeying husband or wife, extra money in the plate on Sunday. The devil bought out his best temptations to show us our weaknesses and sometimes he won and sometimes we won. But he knows and you need to know if you don’t already: God wins all the time, every time, for all time! And He has given us Easter to prove it. But now…if you will be Christ you must follow Christ. Walk right behind him. Feel the stones. Wipe the spit. Hear the curses and jeers. Taste the salty iron of blood. See the cross on his shoulder. And know that he carries for you the only means of your salvation. The sacrificial victim carries his own altar to the church of the skulls.

How far will you follow?

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