Saturday, March 24, 2018

Palm Sunday

Readings: Mark 11:1-10; Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 14:1-15:47

The story is familiar:
we hear it every Palm Sunday and Good Friday;
we might reflect on it in the stations of the cross
or the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary.
But for all its familiarity,
the story of Jesus’ death
remains shocking in its brutality,
disturbing in what it reveals
about our human capacity
to inflict pain on one another.
It begins slowly,
with Judas’s kiss of betrayal
and the arresting soldiers’ clubs and swords.
It gathers momentum
with lies carefully crafted to ensure Jesus’ death,
with spitting and fists,
Peter’s threefold denial
and Pilate’s injustice.
The cascade of cruelty becomes unstoppable
as Jesus is beaten and mocked and stripped
and nailed to a cross:
placed on shameful display.

To make it through the day,
I force myself to forget
what cruel beasts we humans are,
the ferocity with which we tear at each other,
our capacity to crush the weakest
and to destroy the human spirit.
I don’t want this to be true about us,
about me.
But year after year the passion of Jesus
confronts me with the truth of human cruelty,
a truth that is on display all around us,
if we will simply open our eyes to see it:
in prisons and slums,
on battlefields and city streets.
It is a truth that I must own as my truth:
I, too, have my share in that rage to destroy,
to inflict pain, to humiliate, to kill.
I, too, join Peter in his denial,
Pilate in his cowardice,
the crowd in its cries
of “crucify him,
crucify him.”
At home,
at work,
in the voting booth,
in the church pew,
I, too, let myself get caught up
in the careless cascade of cruelty
that courses through human history.

But even as it confronts us
with the cruelty of our species—
with our own cruelty—
the passion of Jesus
confronts us also with God’s love.
Golgotha, the place of the skull,
the place of supreme brutality,
is only a few short steps from the garden tomb
in which Joseph of Arimathea will lay the body of Jesus,
a few short steps from the place of hope,
from which new and unending life will spring.
A few short steps,
but a distance that can be spanned
only by the infinity of God’s love.
For love of us, Jesus hurls himself
into the cascade of human cruelty,
to bear our hatred and break its power,
to rise triumphant
from the tomb of brutality
and offer us a new life to live,
a new story to tell,
a new path to walk,
the path of God’s infinite love.
In the days ahead,
in this most holy of weeks,
let us walk together
on that new path
and let God’s love carry us
those few short steps
from cruelty into compassion,
from the cross into the new creation.