Sermon Archives

Sunday, April 9, 2017
Palm Sunday (Year A)
The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 …5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

Contrasts…MC Escher[1]and[2] is one of the world’s most famous graphic artists. Although he was a sickly child, and failed the second grade, he excelled at drawing contrasts.  You have seen his work – Are the stairs ascending or descending?  Is the water running uphill or down?  Are those black birds on a white background or white birds on a black background?  Famous for his impossible constructions, his work is inescapably mathematical, respected for contrasts of intellectual and lyrical qualities. Contrasts are the theme of today’s liturgy.

Marcus Borg[3] reminds us how the scene was set that “…spring day in the year 30,” when two contrasting processions entered Jerusalem. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives in a peasant procession. The followers had journeyed from Galilee, about a hundred miles to the north. From the west, Governor Pontius Pilate entered Jerusalem in an imperial procession. The followers were enlisted cavalry and soldiers, brought to reinforce the fortress overlooking the Jewish temple. These two processions embodied the central conflict and contrasts leading to Jesus’ crucifixion – his message of Love against the political message of power and might.

Narrowing our focus, we see Jesus: the charismatic teacher riding triumphantly into Jerusalem who was the betrayed, abandoned and humbled one facing death. Our adoration of him gives way to cries for crucifixion. His consolation for us gives way to his anguish and uncertainty before God. His verbose message of compassion gives way to an unnerving silence.

These contrasts point us to the One whose love for us bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.  These contrasts shout out loud how God’s love never ends.[4] These contrasts stress God’s continuous saving acts throughout Israel’s history and that of Jesus and his followers.

The drama compels us.  We are drawn into the violence, moral outrage and conflict of players in a tragedy not unlike any TV drama we might see.  We repeat this drama every year because the enduring power of this narrative – our own narrative - captivates our imaginations. Why is that? Because our lives, too, are fraught with contrasts. Our culture values vitality yet our bodies are frail. School bullies get away with violence yet we know we are supposed to love anyway. Our bellies are full yet our neighbors in Detroit are hungry. Our lives are fraught with contrasts.

We see this contrast in the person of Jesus: the source of the conflict and yet the most calm and collected of all the actors.  The others – Pilate, the crowd, the soldiers, the bandits, and the bystanders are all “beside themselves.”  Perhaps their conflict with Jesus reflects their own inner conflict with themselves and confronts them with who they really are.  Is that a confrontation hard for us to bear, too?  We, as a society, yearn for peace and yet we go to war.   We want to be a nation of great values, yet we use violence to control.

Perhaps through this drama, Jesus “compels each into their own moment of truth.”[5] What is a moment of truth?  It’s when you must make a decision that has important consequences.  It’s when you realize maybe you have been serving two masters, “having and eating your cake” and you have to choose.  In a moment of truth, your choice both reveals and creates the person you really are.  Can we wonder together…how is Jesus, today, both revealing and creating us as a faith community –  grounded in love and hope and faith?  Is this our moment of truth?

In the contrasting drama of his passion, Jesus forced options.  He didn’t manipulate behavior, he stood before others so that a response could no longer be ambiguous.  Their choices revealed their values.  Perhaps we, too, know moments of truth in our lives so filled with tension and so filled with truth that only the best of who we are can come through in utter clarity and for greater good...

We respond with love and compassion. We pray for peace and healing. We respect the dignity of our neighbors.

In his own moment of truth, Jesus gave his life.  Those who were keeping watch saw, finally, who he was, God’s Son, with utter clarity.

So, we are compelled by Love.  “Today we say neither the confession of sin nor the confession of faith.”[6] And that’s not because it would elongate the service.  That omission is because although repetitive, every year, we play the crowd and confess our sin. Each time, we accept Jesus’ radical and essential forgiveness, and confess our faith.  This is our moment of truth, in the contrasts of Hosanna and Crucify him.

Throughout Holy Week, from tomorrow, Monday through next Friday, we will worship together each day with a service that will draw us ever more deeply to the full power of Easter.  Every day, we hear with fresh ears (again!) how to know & live the Good News of Jesus Christ. Today’s contrasting drama draws us into God’s gift of love and forgiveness, through God’s mighty acts of unceasing love, God’s intimate, delicate last breath and God’s surprising resurrection in the person of Jesus Christ.

Today’s drama draws us into a thin place, like an MC Escher drawing where distinctions between time & eternity fall away, where we proclaim how the death of Jesus is integral to our Good News.  May we know nothing but Christ and him crucified. For through him, God redeems our lives and the life of the world. And through him, may we know God’s love for us on earth as it already is in heaven.


[1] cited on April 7, 2017

[2] cited on April ­7, 2017

[3] Marcus Borg, The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem, (HarperCollins, San Francisco, 2006), p. 2-4

[4] 1 Cor 13:4-8: 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.

[5] David J. Schlafer, What Makes This Day Different?: Preaching Grace on Special Occasions, (Cambridge, Cowley, 1998), p. 86

[6] Ibid.