Saturday, March 27, 2010

More than Words: Palm Sunday

There’s a famous scene in Shakespeare where Polonius asks Hamlet what he is reading. Hamlet replies “Words, words, words.”

What have we read this morning? Certainly there were words and words in the long account of our Lord’s passion. But was there more than words? How is our reading of the passion—or of any Gospel—different from reading a history book, or a newspaper?

To answer this question, we need to start with the prologue of St. John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Obviously, for Christians, “word” has more than one meaning. But these meanings are not unrelated.

Jesus is the Word of God; the Word of God is God. The Bible is the Word of God. And the written Word of God is made up of, obviously, words.

To discuss any one of these uses of the word “word” would take us longer than this morning’s Gospel. I only want to point out that the solemn reading of the Passion is not only about the words on the page; it is not only about the Word of God, the Scriptures. It is an encounter with the Word of God, God himself.

As we listened to the words of St. Luke, we were invited to enter into what we heard—not through the time travel of modern movies, but by the timeless travel of the heart and spirit.

Contemplating the Word himself as we hear the account of his passion, we can answer the question posed by the old spiritual “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

In an ancient sermon, St. Gregory Nazianzen invites us to “take our part in the Passover...not in a literal way, but according to the teaching of the Gospel; not in an imperfect way, but perfectly; not only for a time, but eternally.”

He calls us to “sacrifice ourselves to God, each day and in everything we do, accepting all that happens to us for the sake of the Word, imitating his passion by our sufferings, and honouring his blood by shedding our own. We must be ready to be crucified.”

He says that each of us has a role in this timeless Passion Play. “If you are a Simon of Cyrene,” St. Gregory says, “take up your cross and follow Christ. If you are crucified beside him like one of the thieves, now, like the good thief, acknowledge your God.”

“If you are a Joseph of Arimathea, go to the one who ordered his crucifixion, and ask for Christ’s body. ... If you are a Nicodemus, like the man who worshipped God by night, bring spices and prepare Christ’s body for burial.”

“If you are one of the Marys, or Salome, or Joanna, weep in the early morning. Be the first to see the stone rolled back, and even the angels perhaps, and Jesus himself.”

So, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

We answer yes. We were there, and we are there. The passion is not “then,” it is now.

We walk the way of the Cross with the Lord, and we share even now in his suffering and death. And we shall therefore share too in his Resurrection.

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