April 9, 2017/ Palm Sunday: Narrative // First Congregational United Church of Christ, Ashland, Oregon // Rev. Christina G. Kukuk // “Passion Parade: We Walk This Way”: Luke 19:28-40; Luke 19:37-44
This is a week for all the feels. This is a week of high emotion. You may have heard it called Holy Week, but another name for it is Passion Week. Passion. The word comes from the Latin word for suffering, “passio.” It means the inner emotional experience that we can feel. According to Kierkegaard it’s passio that shapes our sense of truth and gives us genuine faith, not outward objective certainty. In Christian tradition, this is a week of passio: Joy like you heard in the story this morning of the triumphal entry, with people exclaiming about God’s deeds of power. Anger as the story goes tomorrow, when Jesus enters the temple, and in anger and rage over the economic exploitation of religion for profit, throws out the money changers. This is a week for love, the tender love of someone taking dirty feet in their hands and tenderly washing them. This is a week for pain, the pain of abandonment and betrayal. This is a week for All. The. Feels. (as folks write it on social media)
It’s not just a week for all the feelings that have been tidied up and sanitized by 2,000 years. It’s not a week just to tell an old, old story of a time long ago. We still have all these emotions. We still live in a world of passio. The government still puts its greatest faith in displays of military might, the same way it would have during the Passover Festival in Jesus’ time, Caesar’s army entering the city in formation, shields glinting, swords and stallions glistening on the other side of the city from Jesus and his disciples’ motley parade. We are in this time still betrayed by our most intimate friends and family, as Jesus will be betrayed and denied when those closest to him will say later in this week, “I don’t know him.” It still happens that religious leaders will collude with the state in order to retain some power. It still happens that the state will wash its hands of murder, saying, “We were forced to do it. We had to kill him or her. Our hands were tied. This is still our world. This is still a week for all the feels.
My invitation as we begin this week is that we would enter the story anew. I’d ask you to make some time this afternoon, from here in chapter 19 through the end in chapter 24. Sit with it and feel all the feelings that you feel. Or, if you’re not a reader and you’d prefer a movie… I cannot recommend Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. (Just don’t.) But I will commend to you Jesus of Montreal, a French Canadian film in which a young actor is auditioning for a Passion play and it all starts to get really real for him. Or, if you are into musical, you can even watch Jesus Christ Superstar, and you’ll still feel the deep emotion of the same themes: military power, love and anger, broken-heartedness… and joy. My invitation to all of us this week is to enter the story anew and attend to our passio. (Pause)
Jesus, in our story this morning sets the tone for displays of emotion. As he enters Jerusalem on this joyful day, he comes near and sees the city, he weeps over it, as Luke tells the story, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another…. Because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” You didn’t see what makes for peace. You didn’t recognize those moments of divine visitation. (Pause)
My question at the end of today’s story is: Can we? Can we recognize the time of our visitation from God if we enter the story of this week anew – holding our story with it – and let ourselves feel all the feels?
We feel anger. Perhaps we raged this past week at the sight of a Syrian father holding twin toddlers in his arms, toddlers he took to the hospital for healing, toddler who could not withstand the chemical weapons President Bashar al-Assad used against his own citizens. Perhaps your blood boiled instead this week when you calculated the cost of a single Tomahawk missile, and added up in your head how many refugees could have been resettled for the cost of those 59 Tomahawk missiles. We have anger, that much-maligned emotion that is neutral, that means we care, whose energy can be used to build up or tear down. We know anger.
Maybe this week, we also know joy. I did on Sunday night as welcomed a bunch of people to our house to eat food and have conversation, just delighting in one another, and it felt so good. It was a moment of joy. Will we recognize God’s visit in those moments of joy? Maybe when we are sitting with our triplet or here with someone in a pew, and this other person tells about the Spirit’s power in their life, we are moved to tears of joy that God has been so active for this dear one of ours. We have joy.
We know love, too. We know in this place the love of tender hands holding one another. We know the love of one person’s hands washing another’s feet or hands or face or body, and that tender care human beings can give. We know love. I saw it this morning in two men embracing in this place, two men I know are going through hard things, two men who offered one another a moment of care and concern and a word of “I’m with you.” We know love.
And because we know love, we know broken-heartedness, too. One band I was introduced to only this past year sings in one song, “Love’s the only thing that hurts you.” We are broken-hearted because we care. And this week, maybe we are feeling some of that pain. Whether it’s pain created by the unwelcome specter of disease or physical loss or that ultimate finitude, death, we might be carrying some pain this week. Maybe the ache comes from some absence around the dinner table or here in our faith community this week, and we cannot but feel our broken hearts and the shape of a scar left by that leave taking. We have pain today, too.
This is a week for all those feels. This is Passion Week. In this week, we remember that in Jesus, God joins us in all of this – from the global to the most personal – uniting with us to “share our common lot,” joining us in our passio, in our human condition, so that we might be raised to God-life. That name we sing so joyfully at Christmas-time, that lovely name Emmanuel, God-with-us… We rejoice to sing it at Christmas, but this is the week when the rubber must really hit the road… our road. Can God be big enough to embrace everything that we endure as humans in this world? The mighty cloud of witnesses says, Yes. This is a week for all the joy, anger, broken-heartedness, and love that makes us human. This is a week to recognize that each and every one of these moments – each and every moment of passio – is also potentially a moment of visitation from God.
So let us enter into this week, to feel all the feels, to look and listen for the moments of divine visitation. Amen.