Palm Sunday in Arizona

Palm Sunday in Arizona

By the Rt. Rev. Robert Shahan, Bishop of Arizona
Palm Sunday A
Trinity Cathedral - Phoenix, Arizona

We have begun a great journey this morning. This journey begins with the story of Palm Sunday. For those of you who have longer memories, it is also called the Sunday of the Passion. This comes from a Greek word - Passio - that means suffering. This Sunday tells the story of how Jesus came to suffer and die.

Palm Sunday has three major elements:

  1. it represents the gateway to Holy Week
  2. it is, in one sense, a feast in honor of Christ the King. This is the first time Jesus allowed himself to be treated as royalty.
  3. We experience the first reading of the passion. It prepares us for His death, a burden that we must share.

When we received a palm today, we declared ourselves ready to accompany Jesus on the road to Calvary.

We have begun that journey, a journey that must function at two levels. We are both participants and observers.

The liturgies of Holy Week beginning with today will retrace the steps of Jesus during the last week of His earthly life.

Today Jesus initiates the entry into Jerusalem - an entry that is filled with danger for Him - but it is other people who (according to the Gospel of John) have heard the story of the raising of Lazarus, and now turn into it into a triumphal entry.

He comes on a colt in the manner of a royal person coming in peace. People cheer Him on the way. They throw down their cloaks. They take branches from the trees to wave as banners.

The people were wonderfully excited by the arrival of Jesus. And yet, in a matter of days their cries of "Hosanna!" soon turn to cries of "Crucify Him!"

The events of this week move quickly. We are constantly back and forth in time and in the story. We need to remember the story. We need to remember the whole story.

The opportunities for you to be part of the story are found in the schedule of events for Holy Week and I encourage you to make the effort to be part of the story because you are part of the story. It is a story not just about then, it is a story about now.

Most of you know I have written and spoken out recently about our call to be a more compassionate church. I have told you that the Latin word for passion means suffering. The combined form of compassion means with suffering. It is an invitation to join, to be a part of something requiring sacrifice and often pain.

The thing that is most peculiar about all of this is the varying sources of pain. Some people experience the pain of rejection, vilification, ridicule, and outright violence. Other people are experiencing the pain of loss of control of a church that gave them stability. This pain is acted out in many ways.

Some people have written very supportive letters and e-mail to me. Others have called for my resignation suggesting that I be retired on a medical disability due to insanity or as one recent letter put it, I should just "go away."

I was giving an adult forum in one of our congregations recently on the topic of my writing we know as: The Epistle. It was a difficult morning as a person interrupted me with a question in the form of a speech he wanted to make with a question stuck on the end of it. I was my usual "non-anxious" presence in the face of this attack; however, those who know me well could see my ears turning red.

The rest of the forum was awkward after this exchange and a couple of additional interruptions. However, I did end the talk by saying that if I am forced to choose between one Episcopalian's anger and another Episcopalian who wishes to treat others with dignity and respect, I will always support the person seeking dignity and respect. I said that for those who wish to follow, I will lead. This will be a more compassionate church.

I received some letters of apology after the meeting. Some persons were embarrassed by the behavior of one individual. I also received one letter pointing out that the applause I heard at the end of my talk was not directed at what I had said, but was rather done out of respect for the office of bishop. This is a most peculiar notion, but I received the perspective in the spirit in which it was offered, if you can figure that out.

Remember, we are all in the story and it is a story of today. This is where it all comes together for me. We have heard the reading of the Passion this morning and many of us have heard it dozens of times before. But, I can tell you this, I will never hear it read again in the same way.

I am just baffled by how we can hear this story and not be changed by it. Do you get it? Do you know who was upset by the Lazarus story? Do you know who was repelled by the teaching of Jesus? Do you know who felt that Jesus was teaching false doctrine? Do you know who wanted this man to "go away?"

It was the righteous, the orthodox, the people who knew how to do it correctly. It was the keepers of the Law. It was the people who knew the rules.

How can we hear this message, this story, and not see in the mirror the faces of self-righteousness. The voices once crying "Hosanna" are now saying "Crucify Him."

Jesus came with a message of compassion and inclusiveness. He came with a willingness to die for the sake of the message that the Kingdom of God is at hand. It is here. It is now.

What do we do? We are no different than those who have gone before if we cover the mirror with a drape to keep us from seeing the face of the self- righteous. If we cover the mirror, we are merely part of the crowd.

I don't want to be part of that crowd. I don't want you to be part of that crowd. I don't want the church to be part of that crowd.

I read a line this week that describes the crowd perfectly. It was in a piece talking about faith and taking stands. The sentence that stopped me cold was this: "Faith is what you are willing to die for. Dogma is what you are willing to kill for."

I say to you and to the church. Stop the killing! Stop the attacks! Stop the cries of "Crucify Him!" Just stop it!

We serve the merciful God, in spite of what Bible dippers may find in Scripture to the contrary, and it is that God who teaches us through the story of this week, that no sacrifice is too great for this message.

Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. And here is the trick. He did it in advance. He did it for you and for me before we were even here and it is ours for the taking. The cost is very simple. You must accept that salvation and forgiveness is for everyone else in creation. If you leave anyone out, anyone, then you remove yourself from the greatest Grace and fullness of life.

You put yourself in a position of having to earn your salvation through your own efforts and good works in opposition to your neighbor whom you may despise and destroy in the name of righteousness.

We worship the God of Grace and the God of Glory in a big room. It is a big room with a big table and there is room for all of us. I mean all of us, absolutely everyone.

How in heaven's name can you hear this story and believe anything else? It is beyond me, it is beyond belief, but it is part of the story nonetheless.

This week will continue with us as both participants and observers. There will be victory at the end, but it will be a victory won with great sacrifice.

I invite you in the name of the living God to accompany the Church on this journey, this week, in this place. I ask you to remember the story. I ask you to remember the whole story. I ask you to remember all of it. Please make the commitment and the effort to see it through. It means everything. Let us continue. In Jesus name.


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