Calvary Episcopal ChurchPhoto of Peggy Gunness
Memphis, Tennessee
April 16, 2000

Palm and Passion Sunday

Palm Sunday --Two Processions
The Rev. Margaret B. Gunness

Gospel: Mark 15: 1-39

This is the day known as Palm Sunday, the Sunday of the Passion, a day unlike any other. It is a day of contradictions, of both ecstasy and agony, of crowds of people hoping against hope and crying out "Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!" But then later, the very same voices are saying "Away with him! Crucify him!" It's a day of hopeful yet tenuous joy, a day of courage and then of fear, a day when we hear of victory - and then of of defeat - and then finally, victory again. Yes, Palm Sunday is a day full of confusion and contradiction.

Yet one things is certain: Jesus is the focus of this day. He is the central figure in this drama that unfolds year after year before our very eyes, a drama in which you and I are players and in which the very life of Jesus is at stake. And perhaps this is where the power and the lasting significance of this day lie, because in this drama of Jesus and of the events of this day of Palm Sunday, our lives - your life and mine - are at stake as well.

Now, I want you to be aware that two great processions are a part of today's liturgy - not just one, but two. The first procession is where we cry out with the people of Jerusalem, "Hosanna!, Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!" How joyous and hopeful this procession is! We join it with our hearts beating and our minds daring to contemplate what might be. But then, all too soon, the sounds of "Hosanna!" fade away, and with the crowds of people we too give voice to that other cry, so chilling and so different: "Crucify him! Crucify him!" And then the other processions begins, the procession that sets out for Golgotha and the cross. The crowds seem subdued now. They somehow seem to know that this procession, this event, is bigger than life itself, and that for all humanity and all time, nothing will ever be the same again.

So what is the great thing that is happening here? I believe it is this: That Jesus so identified himself with us and with our humanity, that in him everything, every characteristic that we know as human is embodied, is personified in his person. And if that's so, then what we must understand in the readings today, and what we must see in this Jesus - as he enters Jerusalem, and as he stands before Pilate, and as he makes his way to Golgotha - what we must see in him is nothing less than what we ourselves have done, and not just to Jesus alone, but to the wholeness of humanity itself - how we have broken it and scarred it, how we have diminished in it the very beauty and wonder for which God is longing even now.

Reflecting on the suffering of the crucifixion and its cruelty to humanity itself, a friend of mine has written this: that it is only through Jesus' becoming fully human that he could actually enter and be caught up in the cycle of our human self-destructive violence. And only through him could God get near enough to end this cycle with the blessings of healing, reconciliation and reunion. It is only through the fullness of the humanness of Jesus that God can save the fullness of our humanness as well.

So, all of this on a Sunday recalling two processions. Such ironies are in them: the joyful, triumphant procession of palms actually leading Jesus to conviction and to death on a cross; and the slow, agonizing procession to Golgotha, leading to the very essence and power of life itself, not just for Jesus, but for you and for me and for all humanity as well. So I wonder, which of these two processions do you and do I wish to be a part of? I think we need to be fully a part of them both.


Copyright 2000 Calvary Episcopal Church

Gospel: Mark 15: 1-39
As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate.
Pilate asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" He answered him, "You say so." Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, "Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you." But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, "Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?" They shouted back, "Crucify him!" Pilate asked them, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him!" So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the
governor's headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews." And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!" In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that
we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the
afternoon. At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "Listen, he is calling for Elijah." And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down." Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was God's Son!"

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