Sunday, April 17, 2011

He Draws the Whole World to Himself (A Reflection on Palm Sunday)

Palm Sunday has always been among my very favorite Sundays in the liturgical calendar. The Church bleeds red cloth and banners, the congregation holds soft and fleshy green palm branches aloft as voices, in the shocking harmony of voices, sing Hosannas to the King of kings. And I, small in my paisley blue dress that I wore for high school graduation, shiver slightly from the reality of it all. That this, this, marks the beginning of the mighty acts in history that change the world forever.

This week I've been trying to wrap and warp my mind around the reality that Jesus Christ is crucified. I skim over this part of the story so that I can get to the glorious Resurrection and Ascension. I want to (in my usual Hilary way) skip the journey to get to the destination.

But I remember on this blog that during Advent I talked about how God loves to shatter paradox with truth. He makes the weakest the wisest. He makes an event empty of power the source of all life. He marries homesickness to joy. He makes a symbol of shame the symbol of victory.

And so I must not avoid paradoxes this week as the strong arms of Jesus pick me up and set my face with His toward Golgatha. That place is the place of paradox: where all my beautiful words and their neat definitions, all their merit, they fall down at the Word crucified.

The journey to the Cross in Lent this year means letting my skinned knees and aching soul lead me, instead of my mind, my logic, my rhetoric. It's weakness that will guide my feet, and heartache that will show me my place at the foot of the Cross.

And what is the meaning of all of this? I wonder as I listen to the priest pray fervently over the bread and the wine, pray for a transformation of those elements like the transformation of the whole world.

The priest prays, "Through Jesus Christ our Lord. For our sins he was lifted high upon the cross, that he might draw the whole world to himself, and, by his suffering and death, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who put their trust in him."

He draws the world to himself. There, in the place of abandonment. There, on the outskirts of the city. There, when with a great cry he gives up his spirit - there is the World, drawn to Him by the mystery of power made perfect in weakness.

He draws the world to himself. In the outstretched arms is the tightest embrace. In the heaving chest is the heartbeat of the world. In Him is the only life.

He draws the world to himself. This past Thursday I recited John 1.1-34 in French. The part that always catches in my throat reads like this: Elle était dans le monde, et le monde a été fait par elle, et le monde ne l'a point connue.

The French have two words for "know" - savoir and connaître. Much has been made in my language education about these two. You use "savoir" when you talk about facts, things that you know about something, idea. "Je le sais bien" (I know it well). But you "connaître" a person. Je ne le connais pas (I do not know them) is a phrase for not know the person themselves, the soul, the heart, the mind...

Le monde ne l'a point connue. The world did not know the Word. The world did not know Jesus. Not something about Jesus. Not facts. Not even concepts or ideas about who he was or what he was going to do. But they did not know him. He who draws the world to himself comes into the world and is not recognized. He is not known. Je ne le connais pas. He draws the world, who does not know him, into himself, the world who rejects him into the embrace of that Cross.

Today let us fix our eyes on the Cross, where Jesus draws the world to himself.

Let us pray (from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer for Palm Sunday):
Almighty and everliving God, who, of thy tender love
towards mankind, hast sent thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the
cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his
great humility: Mercifully grant that we may both follow the
example of his patience, and also be make partakers of his
resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who
liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever. Amen.


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