March 29, 2015 – The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday
© 2015 Evan D. Garner
Audio of this sermon can be heard here.
Alfred Hitchcock earned the nickname “The Master of Suspense.” He was a pioneer of modern cinematography, and his skill behind the camera remains unparalleled. He also knew what was required in front of the lens in order to keep his audiences on the edge of their seats. For example, in his most well-known film, Psycho, Hitchcock shot the infamous shower scene dozens and dozens of times, using different actors as the knife-wielding perpetrator. He wanted to be sure that the audience couldn’t guess the identity of the killer from the actor’s height or build, so Janet Leigh stood in the shower for hours as a host of different killers pretended to plunge a knife into her chest. In fact, Hitchcock’s insistence that the scene be repeated so many times left its mark on Leigh, who, for the rest of her life, never again took a shower, always insisting when she travelled that her hotel room have a bathtub.
We want to know how the story ends. Whether it’s watching a mystery or cheering for a team or electing a candidate or calling a rector or choosing a spouse, we all want to pick the right one. We want to know ahead of time how things will turn out. When all is said and done, we want to be able to look back and say, “Yep, I could tell what was going to happen; all along I knew that I made the right choice.” But sometimes you don’t know. Sometimes there is no way to know. Sometimes the director fools us. Sometimes the coach or the politician lets everyone down. Sometimes the minister doesn’t fit as well as you thought he would be. Sometimes the man or woman you loved with all your heart turns out to be someone you never really knew at all. And maybe, just maybe, the man who rode into Jerusalem on a colt isn’t the sort of savior you thought he would be.
When it comes to picking the right side, today is the day when our shortsightedness smacks us most sharply in the face. As the service begins, we acclaim Jesus as the king who has come in the name of the Lord—the one who will reclaim the throne of our ancestor David. Our shouts of “Hosanna!” are signs that we recognize Jesus to be the one who has come to establish God’s kingdom here on earth—the one who will overthrow tyranny and lead us to victory. But only minutes later, when confronted with his disruptive and seditious ways, our shouts change to “Crucify him!” as we call upon Pilate to put this rebellious pretender to death.
Which side are we on? Surely we must choose one or the other, but, as history repeats itself yet again, we are reminded that our answer is always “both.” We want the Son of God to come and win our victory for us. We want to share in his triumph. We want to bask in his glory. But, as soon as things get hard, we give up. We lose heart. We run away. We even turn against the one we thought would save us. Even Jesus’ disciples—his closest and strongest supporters—denounced him in his moment of need. Only the women were left to take care of his body, and their work was done not with hope in their hearts but only clinging to the certainty of defeat, which Jesus’ lifeless body made clear. Is that the Jesus we claim to be our king?
In a children’s sermon, when the preacher asks a question, the right answer is usually “Jesus.” And, when I ask you whose side you are on, the answer should be just as obvious. We all want to be on the winning side. We all want to stand shoulder to shoulder with Jesus. But, if we are going to call ourselves Christians, if we are going to be true followers of Jesus, we must learn to embrace the way of the cross as more than just the road that leads to Easter. It is no accident that the Son of God was nailed to a cross. The passion and death of Jesus are integral to our understanding of who God is and what God wants for the world.