March 25, 2024

March 24, 2024, Palm Sunday

March 24, 2024, Palm Sunday


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord.


Blessed Holy Week! Today begins the celebration of Christ our Lord’s death and resurrection, the biggest event of the Church year. As the body of Christ, we celebrate with our Christian siblings around the world and with our siblings who have gone before us.

And I am struggling; struggling with the idea of celebrating what is going to occur this week. Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem and joyous resurrection next Sunday – sure! I can celebrate those, but how can I celebrate the heinous act of Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross? I remember asking my Mom when I was younger why it was called “good” Friday when something so bad had happened. I don’t remember her answer exactly, but I know it was a difficult question for her to answer. Fair enough! Perhaps that’s why my family only attended Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, in an attempt to shield us from the grimness of the event. And so I still question; why do we celebrate the day of Christ’s death and call it “good”? And why did Jesus’ die in the first place? Why does his death matter so much? Was it even necessary?

If you haven’t heard of Atonement Theories before, no worries, I wouldn’t expect you to! Essentially, it is the theological study of these exact questions, attempting to answer how Jesus atoned for us; atonement being how Jesus reconciled God and humanity. Atone is literally a combination of the words “at” and “one”, being made one, being in harmony. There are dozens of theories and combinations of theories of how this “at-one-ment” happened and of why Christ’s death occurred.

Some theories see it as a necessary payment of our sins, either as a substitutionary penalty paid to appease God’s wrath, or as a ransom payment to free humanity from the Devil’s clutches. In opposition to these theories, there are theologians that argue that understanding Christ’s death as some form of required payment risks viewing God as vindictive and violent or elevates the amount of power that a figure other than God, namely the devil, has. Some focus on Jesus’ obedience even to the point of death as an example of how God wants us to live, while opponents fear that when obedience to suffering becomes the emphasis, current suffering of our siblings can be viewed as salvific and that suffering is what God wants for us. Some emphasize the moral influence of Christ’s life and example that can change the hearts and minds of sinners by the loving demonstration of God through Christ. And some theories elevate the event of the cross no higher than any of the other events of Jesus life, but shift the event of atonement to incarnation, word made flesh, and the entirety of Jesus’ life, emphasizing the way God’s transformative power works not just through death, but through the span of a lifetime. But then, do these types of theories downplay the cross too much? Some believe atonement to be limited and others unlimited. Some are sure of their beliefs and understanding of atonement and others find no real conclusive or satisfactory answer. One common thread we can seem to find in all of these theories is that God manages to transform. Despite all the harm that humanity is able to cause, God demonstrates transformation through it all.

Now, if we pivot from all of the philosophical and academic attempts at reconciling Christ’s death, the historical reality is a poor Jewish man in 1st century Palestine was crucified at the command of a delegate of the Roman Empire, who was encouraged to do so by the religious elite of the time. This event didn’t happen out of the blue. The Romans didn’t go around executing just anyone for no reason. They knew how to maintain order. They were quite religiously tolerant, as long as no religious leader attempted to undermine Roman authority or incite their followers to rebellion. Additionally, the Jewish leaders were generationally tasked with maintaining and understanding God’s law that was given to the Jewish people to set them apart. This was no easy task in a society that promoted purity and honor. The reality was that the Romans wouldn’t just crucify some guy out there preaching cutesy parables unless there was an undercurrent of going against the established order, and the Jewish leaders wouldn’t target a peasant unless there was a perceived threat to their authority. Jesus was teaching of a new way to live, redefining what power looks like, and that was a threat to those in power. And so, Jesus’ death was an injustice; an injustice done by human hands in order to maintain order and authority, and suffering that did not have to happen. See, it’s not that God demands suffering and death as a payment for sins, but that suffering and death are direct results and consequences of our sins. In the cross, we see some of the worst of human sin; the death of God our creator, God the Word Incarnate, God our Savior.

And that’s where the passion story ends today; with death. This abrupt, intentional ending allows us sit in that suffering and discomfort this week; to acknowledge how our actions impact those around us, to recognize systems of injustice that permeate our society. To ask the question: How do our personal and communal, known and unknown, things we have done and things we have left undone sins impact God’s good Creation around us, our fellow human beings, nature, and ourselves?

But we also get to live in hope, because we know that’s not the end of the story. Because God is stronger than death, stronger than any suffering our human hands are capable of causing. God’s love for and desire for relationship with us surpasses our inabilities and shortcomings. When the bible tells us to “take up our cross”, does this mean literal death like that of Jesus’? Or does it mean a type of spiritual death? A death of selfishness, thinking we are always right, and aiming to elevate ourselves at the expense of others. It’s a death that we know isn’t the end of the story, because we’ve already seen God transform death into life. So when selfishness, hatred, and injustice are put to death; humility, love, and justice are brought to life. That is the transformative power we get to see and experience during Holy Week. Because through these events, we get to see the ultimate example of God’s transformative power, that of death to life. And if God is able to do that, so too can we recognize God’s ability to transform power to humility, elevating the powerful to elevating the lowly, tearing down to building up, and focus on following the rules to focus on caring for Creation. That’s why it’s Good Friday, because in spite of all we do to harm, God transforms to good, emphasized by the death and resurrection of Christ our Lord. I hope you take this Holy Week to recognize God’s transformative power that is taking place all around us.


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