The Passion narrative is aptly named. Stretching back to Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and then from his arrest to his execution, this part of the gospel is drenched with emotive power. The crowds in Jerusalem don’t welcome Jesus with a polite golf clap, they literally shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David!” In the garden Jesus doesn’t daintily get on his knees for prayer, he bodily throws himself on the ground. Judas betrays Jesus, not with the distant pointing of a finger, but with the intimacy of a kiss. Peter, upon realization of his own betrayal, doesn’t shed a tear, he weeps bitterly. And finally, to cap the whole passionate story, Jesus screams “Why have you forsaken me?” The passion story is one aptly named; filled with emotion, drama, and raw humanity.
These cries and shouts, the hosannas and the screaming out in abandonment, still continue to echo their way through creation. The summer after my first year in seminary, I worked as a chaplain at Children’s Hospital in Dallas. Children’s Hospital is also a passionate place. Parents and family loudly shout praises to God in the hospital’s corridors when they heard good news; when their baby daughter made it through surgery; when a toddler son was released back into his father’s care. Along with the crowd on that first Palm Sunday they shouted “Praise Jesus! Praise the Lord of Lords!”
But for every cry of victory, there were shouts of agony. One evening I saw grown men – fathers, uncles, grandfathers – release their raw humanity in sobs of anger and pain when a young girl died on her hospital bed. They actually cried out to God, asking why they had been deserted, when they saw their granddaughter, their niece, their daughter, lying there cold and lifeless and dead. And there was one Spanish speaking woman, whose infant daughter died after just a few days of life. Along with Christ on cross, she let fly with all her agony and grief and pain – and could only manage to say “porque?!” “Why?!”
Right now, I cannot answer that woman’s haunting question – the very same question that Jesus asks on the cross. You’ll just have to come back next Sunday to hear the answer. But when I think back to those shouts of joy, or when I remember grown men collapsing in grief, when I recall those experiences and when I read through Jesus’ Passion – I see the same story because in everyday life there is triumph and joy. Think back to those moments in your experience. A wedding day. The birth of a child. Your first kiss. A job well done. And then think of how joyful you were – how on days like that you just wanted to shout out to the whole world how great you felt! Hosanna to the Son of David! Praise the Lord of Lords!
And in the very same life, something can snap, and we cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Why did you let my husband get cancer? Why have I been laid off? Why did my child die? Why have you forsaken me?
Palm Sunday encompasses the whole range of human life. It allows us to shout our praises as well as our curses to God. In the safety of this day, and of this liturgy, the story exposes us to the raw humanity of Jesus’ passion.
And it’s that precise word that must be remembered. Passion. Though the Passion story and Palm Sunday only come once a year, that doesn’t mean that we can only let our emotions move our faith once a year. As Christians, we shout with joy and we are crucified on a daily basis. Instead of just storing up these emotions in some back corner of our soul, they need to come out, to change how we pray and how we live by faith.
Have you heard that crack about Episcopalians, how we are the “frozen chosen.” How we like to just sit in our pews and let the priest pray for us, let the choir sing for us, let others do the work of ministry. As Christians, and most especially as Episcopalians, we need to prove that joke wrong. Our faith should not and cannot be a frozen one. Our faith in God, our prayer life, our worhsip, have to be Passionate.
There is no room for timidity in the Church of God.
Don’t let me and Jeff just pray for you, pray with us. And don’t let our beautiful choir sing for you, sing with us. Don’t let other people carry the load of ministry, serve with us.
This is what it means to have a passionate faith. That when you see a triumphant procession or a crucifixion, you channel your emotions into faith. You may cry out Hosanna to the Son of David – look at what’s happening in the St. Alban’s Outreach Center! But don’t just look – carry your palm frond of joy over there and become a GED tutor or an English mentor. Or, you may see some other people that need the church’s ministry. Don’t just say “My God, why have you forsaken them!” Pick up your cross and walk to their Golgotha. This may mean starting a new group, another ministry, a different way to spread the passionate faith of Christ. You may not think that what you offer is much. But all Jesus got was a bit of sour wine on a
stick, and that was enough. We are not frozen, we are a people being called by God to carry both palm fronds of joy, and crosses of sorrow.
However you express your Christian faith, be passionate about it. Those people at Children’s Hospital understood this. Disciples know this. So pray passionately. Sing passionately. Serve passionately.
For Christ’s sake, be passionate.