Palm Sunday Year A: The Cross of Agony

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Gospels / Lectionary / New Testament / Old Testament

The portrayal of the Passion and Crucifixion in the Synoptics differs from the Gospel of John. In the Synoptics the Crucifixion is a moment of agony. Jesus is screaming screams of abandonment while being tortured.

In the Gospel of John, however, the Passion is a moment of glory. It’s the raising up of the Son of God for all the world to see. Even hanging on the cross, Jesus is in charge, and making plans for his mother to be cared for by the Beloved Disciple. His life isn’t ripped from him, but he “gives up” his Spirit. And, the moment of death corresponds to the sacrifice of the Paschal lambs in the Temple.

Every year we begin each Holy Week in a Palm Sunday liturgy which always features a Synoptic account, and every year on Good Friday we read from the account in John.

Preaching both of these accounts from their various perspectives is important – and it’s important to not conflate the two into one bland catch-all Passion.

For when the first Christians spoke of, preached on, and wrote about the death of Our Lord, they did so in different ways. Sometimes they conveyed the event as horrendous and horrific. They used language that is painful to read aloud.

And other times the first Christians spoke of his death as a fulfillment, and an opportunity for the whole world to see and know the glory of God and the all-encompassing power of His love.

It’s not that one version of the story is more ‘right’ or ‘correct’ than the other. They are both True. They are both Right.

Corpus from The Cloister's Collection: photo by Rick Morley
They both need preached, and taught, and absorbed.

The Crucifixion was awful.

And it was the ultimate moment of Glory.

I think the heart of the Passion account of Matthew is the part that begins with “From noon on,” and ends with the faithful exclamation of the centurion.

Jesus cries out twice. The event is so wrenching that even the creation experiences the pain, as rocks are split, the earth shakes, and the sun darkens. It’s so terrible that the barrier in the Holy of Holies in the Temple is torn in two. It’s so wrenching to the sacred order of the world that tombs open up and the dead walk out.

And, it’s so bad that Jesus – the Son of God and God Incarnate – feels like he’s been abandoned by his Father.

There may be no worse experience than the experience of abandonment. To look around and see that you’re alone. To know that everyone and everything has left you, and turned away from you.

To be forsaken.

Like the words of Lamentations, your teeth grind on gravel and your soul is continually bowed down within you.

Palm Sunday is the day to sit at the base of the cross, in the ashes of something that was once great and is now broken and sing, “Were You There.”

I think we need to hear those cries. We need to feel the ground shake. We need to feel the loss of the Messiah who came in love, and lay his corpse in a cold tomb.

And seal the entrance with a stone.

And turn around. And walk away.

Broken. Forsaken.

And, a few days later, we need to hear the words of John and see the cross as a coronation and enthronement – the fulfillment of God’s acts of love that have unfolded since the morning stars sang together with all the heavenly host.

And…then when the sun rises on the morning of the third day…the first day of the week…we will know that we will never be forsaken.

But, he will be with us always.