There he is. Right there.
Certainly, this man was innocent. Then what is he doing there? Whycouldn’t he save himself? Why wouldn’t he reject all the taunting and
ridicule and show the crowd what’s what? How did God’s son, the Messiah,suffer and die a death that we replicate in our words and in this crucifix in this very place and all over the world?
On Palm Sunday I often find myself scouring the landscape for good news. When I read today’s gospel, I find only betrayal, denial, abandonment, condemnation, and more betrayal. In the newspaper…more of the same.
And then I look up, and there he is, surely not to reinforce our despair at
the suffering around us and within us.
Unlike the first crowd watching Christ’s passion, we know, of course,
that Christ’ death on the cross is not the end of the story. And yet, here he is, suffering.
Here he is. It’s the first thing we see when we come in. Especially people
here for the first time. Not all of us have a body like that one. Not even Jesus, probably. I’ve heard him called the “ripped Jesus.” “Jesus with a six-pack.” There is no mistaking that this is a human body we’re looking at, a suffering body.
We know from the Gospel story that suffering is the way to hope, and
that we are to look for hope in suffering. That this cross, this suffering man, is to be for us a sign of hope. In the worst of times, the prophets call us to be hope-full in the literal sense of the word: filled with hope. Like every Christian since before Christians were even called Christians, we live in times when it’s often hard to map that hopefulness that we find in the cross onto the rest of life.
I had a therapist for a while who used the word “suffering” a lot. (Almost
too much.) But it was helpful to be reminded that suffering includes our own experiences of depression, anxiety, exclusion, confusion, disappointment—the whole ball of wax of being human.
Christ’s agony is in all of this. Only when we let ourselves experience
betrayal and sadness, passion and outrage and agony, either on our own behalf or on behalf of others, will we be able to enter into his suffering and death. It is in our suffering with him, and in our suffering with the world, outside our door and around the globe—it is in our compassion that hope is to be found.
* * *
If every Eucharist informs our experience of holiness and hospitality in
daily life—as I hope that it does—perhaps every Palm Sunday can inform our response to the suffering and dispossession that surrounds us. What if we bring the Eucharistic holiness of all things to bear on the experience of suffering? What if the hospitality we find at this altar becomes the doorway through which we join others who suffer? When we join in the suffering of Jesus on the cross and the suffering of the world, Christ is present in us.
Why can Jesus not come down from the cross to save himself? Because
then he would not be here, and here, and here. When we enter this place on
Sunday mornings, and when we leave, we bow twice. First, we reverence the presence of Christ at the altar, and then we reverence the presence of Christ in all of you. Christ is present in us even as we let despair and hopelessness move through us like a fever leaving our bodies.
In his poem “East Coker,” from The Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot writes:
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. (Repeat)
This darkness is God is part of our Holy Week journey, part of the passion into which we are invited to enter. Our very participation is a reminder that God is present in darkness, and that darkness turns to light.
I pray that you may find some stillness in your souls. And, this whole
week is a week of movement. As we move through our Holy Week worship, the Great Three Days, our Triduum, you might pay attention to the movement in you of darkness and light, hope and despair.
Later today (as we entered…) we will walk around the block, waving
palms, as signs of victory that are at the same time signs of suffering. We have no delusion about the outcome of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. At the same time we anticipate the victory of hope over suffering, life over death. Only in letting our whole lives be infused with suffering and hope coexisting as they do in God can we make sense of what is before us on this day, and what lies ahead.
There. He. Is. Here we are.