If we hadn’t just experienced this election season, we might wonder how things can shift so quickly. Here in this one Sunday we have a compact story of extremes—a dizzying swing from “hosanna” to “crucify him!” from the thought of things changing to more of the same, from joyful exuberance to the heartbreak of disappointment, loss, and despair. And the thing is in this story its all the same people. And they is us!
But what that really means, how that is—especially as it has to do with us—is hard to get at. And the thought of trying to get there, trying to understand is more than a little intimidating. It threatens us. It is a dying of sorts. Surely not us Lord! We would not abandon you like the others would.
But that’s what happens when you’re stuck in-between. That’s what I’m noticing this year as we visit this story again. Everyone seems to be stuck. Well, almost everyone.
Jesus seems to be the only one who isn’t stuck—which is remarkable given he’s in the toughest spot of all. He is the only one who seems so full of God that he is able to empty himself, make himself a servant to the larger factors in play, and most of all to the truth of absolute love that always seems to find its way, even in the most complicated circumstances.
I think that’s what we’re hoping for too, isn’t it? Don’t we want to find our way? Don’t we want good not just for ourselves, but for our neighbors too?—even our neighbors across the street and across the aisle and across the world? We want justice for the men, women, and children who suffered horrible deaths from deadly sarin gas in Syria. But if we thought we could get it, we’d also want a turn toward kindness and goodness on the part of those who unleashed the attack.
We want good for the coal miners in Pennsylvania, but we also want goodness for the earth and for the future generations of plant and animal who live on it. We want stability and quality of life for ourselves. But we also want good for the millions in increasingly fierce landscapes, who struggle for survival because of the climate change brought about by our past mistakes and our continued consumption.
Jesus may be the only one who dies in this story, but we know dying. We know the loss that comes when we compromise, when we settle, when we give way. We know how life flows from us when we sacrifice our ideals for comfort. And we know the energy required even when we give our all, when we sacrifice ourselves for someone else.
Ignatius Loyola, the 16th century hermit priest who founded the Jesuit order and spent much of his life in the wilderness prayed “On each of my dyings shed your light and your love.”[i]
This is our prayer too, on this day. On each of my dyings shed your light and your love. For whatever reason dying is the way to living. It is a strange thing, but one I suspect we know is true.
As we die to ourselves, we encounter a new life that has been waiting for us all along. This gospel story reminds us wholeness comes by way of these little dyings. The pain we have experienced is very often the path by which we understand who we really are; in the letting go is the receiving. In the losing is the finding.
And in the midst of this fierce landscape of Palm-Passion Sunday, in the midst of these impossible choices, this swing from one thing to another, there is something that remains steadfast. It is the winding path of this one who enters on a donkey to shouts of “save us,” who chooses the way of love in false accusation, suffering, shame and death as the very same people shout “crucify.” It is the steady way of this rising one who shows that death is no match for his life and his way, but in fact, the path to it.
You see, God’s mission of salvation does not change, despite the extremes. Psalm 118 says it this way: God’s never-failing love can be trusted. Make no mistake, there is much that is uncertain. But this is certain: Jesus carries out God’s mission to save with an unwavering commitment that speaks to God’s own presence in our own lives and in our world today. This Spirit, God’s Spirit is alive in you, calling, pushing, pulling, pleading. So do not be afraid to enter into this journey, into this fierce landscape. God is waiting for you there.
To say it another way, there is no other way. Dive in. Look into the dark and into the face of your brother and sister there for the Holy One. Trust the one who has gone this way and now leads us through.
[i] The Anima Christi prayer at the opening of the Spiritual Exercises. See The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatious, ed. David L. Fleming (Saint Louis, MO: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1978), 3. Quoted in Belden C. Lane’s The Solace of Fierce Landscapes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 154.