Palm/Passion Sunday falls on April 1st this year. This is appropriate for a number of reasons.
I write regular articles about ethics, religion and sometime technology for IEET.org. I am tolerated as a curiousity - a religious person who kind of makes sense. Still it isn't my primary goal in writing these articles to make sense, but rather to offer glimpses of another kind of sense that isn't easily accessed by the world we live in. Sense in this world is about balancing rights and needs, profit and responsibility. Worshipers of the bottom line say that it is just unreasonable to expect companies to reduce profits to feed those who are starving. Food prices go up, people are moved off of land that used to feed them, and the number of hungry increases.
The sense I offer is the foolishness of God. That love, that attitude and action of care, can - must - has triumphed. We just need to recognize the power of rejecting power, the wisdom of counting ourselves as fools, the audacity of thinking of ourselves as more than somewhat intelligent apes.
It is that foolishness of God that comes to mind as we look at the juxtaposition of Palm Sunday and Passion. Here we have Jesus riding in triumph into Jerusalem. It is a victor's parade, his steed shows that he is a peaceful King, but still there is no doubt he is a King. When the pharisees tell him to quiet the crowds, Jesus replies that if the crowds were quiet the very stones would cry out.
This is success as we understand it. If the life of Jesus were written by Hollywood, the movie would end here. There would be a fade out as the adoring fans of Jesus cover him with praise and his enemies are defeated.
Yet this isn't Hollywood and we know that life rarely gives that kind of victory. In little less than a week that victory will turn into the bloody, painful death of crucifixion. There are many theories about what happened. Why did Jesus die?
Atonement suggests that Jesus died for our sins. He was the ultimate sacrifice; choosing to give his life to reconcile God with humanity and erase the sin that blots our life by the shedding of his blood. People look at this these days and think eewwww. Few folks understand sin anymore never mind the need for sacrifice to atone for them. They just see a cruel God who demands that His Son die to pay for something that they only have the vaguest idea about. The other problem with the atonement is that it doesn't explain the entire life of Jesus. He wasn't about purity and piety. He was all about justice and relationship.
So perhaps the crucifixion was a political murder. It was the leadership that Jesus challenged that set him up to die. They were the ones that maneuvered the trial to end in Jesus' death. They were the ones who manipulate Pilate into giving the death warrant. It is true that Jesus challenged authority. He put people ahead of cultic religion. The same cultic religion that practice the atonement sacrifices that we talked about above. The political murder theory also doesn't cover all the bases. It explains why Jesus died, but not why he had to die. Jesus knew he was going to die. As soon as the disciples get that he is the Messiah, Jesus starts talking about death, like his death is an inevitable part of his ministry.
There are parts of both these theories that work, and there are a lot more too. The one I want to talk about this week is that God is playing an April Fools joke on the world. Here we have a guy who is a King, who rides into the city in triumph. People are thinking that now they will see a change. This guy is going to do something. All the time God is thinking. You have no idea what is coming.
What is coming is the utter humiliation of that person. Kenosis means emptying. Jesus emptied himself of everything. All his plans, all his preaching, all his followers, all his power, all his personality, all, all all of it gone. He hangs on a cross dying. Why? Because he chose to be there. He chooses to be there so that we will meet him when we experience the darkest places of our lives. We want to blame God, judge God for not running the world properly. There he is, on the cross, subject to our judgement. We demand death for his failure and we mete it out. We kill our neighbours, we kill our faith , we kill love. God weeps and bleeds for us not to cover our sins but His. Sin is separation, and God is separated from us, separated by our pride, our need to blame, our need to be right. So God dies.
Jesus is there on the cross utterly empty and we can't take our eyes off of him. His very emptiness compels us. We realize that this world we depend on is empty. We are empty. We are lost. We have killed Love.
But that isn't the end, the punchline isn't the cross, it comes three days (more or less) later when women go to the tomb and find that it is empty. Empty of death, empty of guilt, empty of sin. God is laughing with joy because this is the joke. Here is the point. Love wins. It isn't about sin, except that it is forgiven, it isn't about politics and power, except that they have no lasting power. Love wins. Jesus emptied himself so he could be filled, so we could be filled with the only thing that is eternal
Jesus died because he loves us, even when we don't. This God, She isn't about blame and sin and the games of guilt and shame. She is about welcome and hope, and most especially Love.
It is good to weep on Good Friday, it makes the laughter on Easter all that sweeter.