Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Robert James Magliula, OHC
Br. Robert James Magliula, OHC
Palm Sunday -Year A - Sunday April 9,2017
|Br. Robert James Magliula|
Palm Sunday is a day of high emotion, teetering on the edge between happiness and heartbreak. The Christological hymn in Philippians, which predates all the Gospels, provides a way of entering into this contradiction. From his prison cell, Paul takes the story of the cross and transforms it into an exhortation to Christian discipleship: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”. Paul urges us to let Christ’s way of thinking and acting serve as a template for our own lives. His poetic reflection challenges conventional understandings of both divine and human power.
Western Christianity has long operated with a static image of God as a Supreme Monarch and a distant Critical Spectator, whose love is perceived as unstable and preferential. To human beings caught up in envy and selfish ambition, equality with such a God sounds like a great deal, something to be exploited for our own purposes. We admire strength, importance, self-sufficiency, and autonomy. This is the American way and we, unfortunately, become the god we worship.
The God whom Jesus loves and relies on, by whose power he heals and forgives sin, is not a political tyrant or an aloof authority figure. The God of Jesus Christ is overflowing with mercy and justice. Unlike us, God has no position to defend, no personal interests to protect. There is no envy or selfish ambition in the Godhead. In the Trinity the divine life is found in dispossession, in an eternal circle of unrestricted giving to the other. God’s mystery rests in mutuality: three “persons” perfectly handing over, emptying themselves out, and then fully receiving what has been handed over. The mystery of Trinity is about letting go, which looks like weakness. This “kenosis” or self-emptying, as Paul calls it, is what we see in Jesus who is the incarnation of God’s love and power.
Those who orchestrated Jesus’ death were preoccupied with power and fearful of change. Their actions are both distressing and instructive, affording us an opportunity to reflect more deeply on our own lives, as we begin Holy Week. Our present times can try our capacity to hear Paul’s exhortation to put on the mind of Christ. Whether 1st or 21st century Christians, we must ask ourselves how we exemplify selflessness and regard for others, particularly in times of controversy. If the mind of Christ is in us, how is this manifest in our character, our grappling with our internal conflicts, in the new thing God may be trying to birth in us?
As those who seek the mind of Christ, we should beware of triumphant processions that exalt rivalry and selfish ambition, knowing that Christ has emptied those human spectacles of their power. By taking the human form of a slave, the heart of God is revealed in a willingness to identify with the least. Jesus’ triumphant entry points ahead of itself to his death when the subversive character of his kingship is revealed. The self-serving, violent forces that did their worst toward Jesus are emptied of their power. In confessing and imitating Jesus Christ, we subvert the authority of the lords of privilege and violence. Matthew’s Passion narrative affirms that whatever lies ahead for Jesus’ followers has already happened to Jesus. Whatever we might suffer, he has suffered already; the death we face is the death he already endured.
In each of our lives the time will come, if it hasn’t already, when we are driven to our knees. The question at that time is not, are we strong enough to bear it. The question is, are we pliant enough to accept the circumstance and give our lives and our wills to God when our own resources are inadequate and we are utterly defeated? This is the moment of grace and decision. Faith is demonstrated in relying upon God in the lowest moments of our lives. In the liturgy of this day we meet Jesus, not as a charismatic teacher but as the one betrayed, abandoned, and facing the inevitability of death.
The people who can handle power well are those who can equally let go of it and share it. They have made journeys through powerlessness. If we haven’t touched the vulnerable place within us, we project seeming invulnerability outside and judge others for their weakness. Human strength projects and protects a clear sense of self-identity and autonomy rather than relationship. Vulnerability, surrender, trusting don’t come easily and are never going to appeal to the ego. We must reclaim relationship as the foundation and ground of everything.
We like control; God, it seems, loves vulnerability. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, accountability, and authenticity. If we want deeper spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.
In the Trinity God has forever redefined power. The Christian God is properly called all vulnerable as much as all mighty. Jesus’ Passion incarnates this deep wisdom. As he was stripped naked, we’re reminded not to cling to the trappings we use to make ourselves feel powerful and important. It keeps us from our True Self and gets in the way of honesty, vulnerability, and community. As he emptied himself, so he says to his disciples: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross, and follow me.” Between happiness and heartbreak, this day calls us to let go, and give our fears, sorrows, and burdens over to Christ.
When we do, we allow ourselves to see God in all moments, and recognize that nothing is ever wasted, that God is in the business of generating life from every situation. +Amen.