Memory is a funny thing. I believe I used to have one, and by all accounts it was pretty good….but nowadays, I’m lucky if I can remember what day of the week it is, let alone the actual date.
You know those people who walk into rooms, open their mouths, and find they’ve forgotten what they came in to say. Are any of you here today?
I empathize, I really do, only I don’t even have to walk from one room to another for this to happen to me anymore. I can be in the middle of a conversation - the middle of my own point - and suddenly realize I’ve completely forgotten what I was about to say.
All of which disturbs me, deeply, but also fills me with compassion: for all those of you who just raised your hands (thank you), compassion for all those people who snap a lot while trying to recall names or gaze up toward the far right hand corner of the room as if the answer is hidden somewhere up toward the ceiling, and of course compassion for our gospel writers who had so much to remember - so much of such import to nail down for posterity- but who, for the life of them, couldn’t seem to agree on much of anything.
We’re here to talk about the events of Palm Sunday this morning and kick off the holiest of all holy weeks in the Christian tradition – which is why we call it “Holy Week,” and the gospel writers devote a great deal of space to these final days of Jesus’ life and ministry. They review it all, in great detail, from start to finish. The trouble is that they all have a slightly different tale to tell.
For instance, did you know that the palms we make such a big deal about on Palm Sunday are only mentioned in John’s gospel? Yeah.
And the donkey, if it was a donkey, is nowhere to be found in either Mark or Luke. No, in those two gospels Jesus sends his disciples to find a colt – which puts me in mind of a young horse.
In John, Jesus finds his own ride and chooses a donkey’s colt. And in Matthew he rides both a colt and a donkey. How? We don’t know. We just don’t. Mechanically, it’s a bit of nightmare to even imagine, but you know, sometimes you just have to go with it.
In Mark and John, it is the people who praise Jesus. Matthew adds the joyous cries of children. But Luke leaves them all out and says instead that it was Jesus’ disciples who proclaimed him King.
Mark follows up the parade with silence; Luke, with Jesus in tears.
Both Matthew and Luke use it as the lead in to Jesus’ cleansing of the temple.
Mark doesn’t have Jesus do that till the next day.
Whereas John, having already used that story way, way back in chapter 2, captures the disciple’s confusion and alludes instead to the last supper.
It’s all a bit of a mess really, which makes me absolutely certain, whether it happened this way or not, that this story is true.
You see, I think the events of that day and the coming week were so utterly confounding that it was very hard in hindsight, to remember exactly what he said, or she said, to remember who did what to whom, what happened when or even where – let alone why?
It was a traumatic week. Honestly, none of it made any sense - any sense at all - at least not at the outset. The gospel of John tells us that “his disciples did not understand these things at first;” and how could they?
Jesus’ behavior, from the moment he got on the back of that little donkey, or colt, or donkey standing very near a colt –whatever- was risky if not suicidal.
His every move, from the moment he left the Mount of Olives, was calculated to stir up the very worst, not just in his enemies, but in his closest and dearest friends.
I’ve talked about this many times before, so I won’t belabor the history; just know that when Jesus marched into Jerusalem that day, what he was really doing was calling out Caesar.
He was presenting himself and his vision of the kingdom of God as a viable alternative to the emperor and all of Rome. He was mocking them with his makeshift little procession, daring them to come out and crush him, challenging the authority of the greatest military super power on earth with absolutely no military might of his own to back him up.
Jesus’ triumphal entry was a dangerous stunt calculated to get him noticed, arrested, and in all likelihood imprisoned if not killed.
This is precisely why his actions so enraged the High Priest of Israel and his lackeys. They didn’t want trouble, but here was Jesus calling it down upon them all. He was going down, one way or another, but they’d be damned if they were going to go down with him. So they began to plot his destruction on their own terms in hopes of keeping the full wrath of the Romans at bay.
And that’s to say nothing of the people, all those folks waving their palm branches and hailing Jesus as their King; those who knew him well and those who barely knew him at all. “Save us,” they cried; hoping for a revolution, only to be blindsided by a messiah whose primary goal, contrary to everything they’d been taught to expect from a messiah, was nothing less than the cross.
No wonder they all either turned on him or turned away. He was asking for it.
Have you ever watched someone you love pursue a collision course with fate? It’s an awful feeling, but that is what his disciples would have felt - all through that long, long week - with every word Jesus spoke or refused to speak, with every move that made him more and more vulnerable:
mocking the Romans, exposing the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, cleansing the temple, disturbing the peace, eating with lepers, defending sex workers, getting himself arrested, remaining silent at his own trial.
The disciples would have looked upon all of this with a mounting sense of irreversible dread.
It is no wonder that it was all so hard to remember after the fact. How does one even begin to keep track of events moving so swiftly, so irrevocably, so tragically beyond one’s control?
And yet the disciples also knew, after all was said and done, that it was absolutely vital for them to at least try; try and remember…because Jesus had asked them to. It is such a significant moment in the gospels that many churches have it carved into their communion tables or written on the communion cup or woven into the liturgy: “Do this in remembrance of me.”
But I’ll come back to that in a moment.
First, I want to say a few more words about the last line in our reading for this morning, because understanding that line is key to understanding all of this.
Take a look back at your bulletin - as the disciples watched Jesus march into Jerusalem, the gospel tells us that they “did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered.” Then all his outlandish behavior started to make sense - a strange, counterintuitive sort of sense - but still, sense.
“…when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered…”
So here is my second question for you poor folks who can’t even remember what day it is: when precisely was Jesus glorified? Does anyone know? It’s okay if you don’t. I wouldn’t if it weren’t for Shane Claiborne.
It turns out that Jesus is glorified during the last supper. He has broken the bread. He has poured out the wine. He takes a piece off the plate, dips it in the cup and hands it to none other than…anyone?…Judas. Go, he then says, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” And as the door closes behind the one who will betray him, Jesus turns to the remaining 11 and says, “Now is the son of man glorified and in him God is glorified.”
According to John, Jesus is glorified when Judas leaves to betray him… and he lets Judas go… because it is in that moment when we begin to see “the full extent of his love” (“Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers” Claiborne and Hartgrove p.68).
In the words of Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove: “Jesus … is glorified when he keeps on loving (even) the one who is forsaking him. The full extent of Jesus’ love is washing (not just Peter’s feet, or John’s feet, but) the feet of Judas, serving (Judas) dinner, and then going to the cross (not just for you, or me, his mother or the disciple he loved but) for him (for Judas, for the one who betrayed him)” (p. 68).
It is in that moment that we begin to see just how far Jesus will go to show – not just Judas - but every last person on earth, what God’s love really looks like even and especially in the face of human evil.
And friends, if you can understand that, then suddenly it all becomes clear. Like a surgeon leeching poison, Jesus did all these counter-intuitive things to draw out the very worst from the people he loved - his friends and his enemies - that he might show us all that God’s love is stronger than even the vilest of sins. God’s love is more powerful than even the finality of death. That no matter how much damage we do here on this earth to ourselves and one another - and my God do we do damage - that there is a bond between the Creator and all of creation that cannot and will not be broken, thanks be to God.
When Jesus sat down at that table with the 12 disciples, he sat down with one who would betray him, one who would deny him, and 12 who would abandon him to all the trouble he had stirred up. He sat with them and he broke bread with them… anyway. He shared a cup with them… anyway.
He was, in the words of Barbara Brown Taylor, “forgiving them ahead of time,” in the hopes that they would remember this and come to understand that forgiveness, non-violent resistance, turning the other check, repaying evil with good, loving rather than harming your enemies, truly is the only way to save the world.
“Do this, as often as you do it, in remembrance of me.”
Do this, and when you do it:
Remember that I forgave them, I forgave you, I forgave it all.
Remember that I loved you and love you still, no matter what.
Remember me when you break this bread and share this cup.
Remember how I allowed myself to be broken open and poured out not just for the ones who loved me or remained loyal to me or understood me or stood by me, because in the end none of you, not a one of you really did – but that I did it for all of you anyway– the believers and the unbelievers, my friends and my enemies, my people and our oppressors.
Remember. Don’t just recall what I did, but go and do likewise.
Re-member my body.
Bring the members of it - the pieces of it - back together with your forgiveness the way I brought you all back together with mine.
Remember me. Because when you remember how I was glorified in forgiving and continuing to love even my worst enemies, then so will you.
Friends, every time we come to this table we are called to reconcile with one another, forgive one another, make peace with one another.
We are called not just to remember Jesus, his body and blood and sacrifice, but to re-member his body - re-member the body of Christ we call church - bring it back together, no matter how broken it has become, as a first step in re- membering, re-imagining, re-making, and re-pairing this great, big, broken world that God loves so very much.
And we are able to do this, when we are able to do this, when we remember how he did it first.
For if he can forgive Judas then you can forgive Jake.
If he can still love Peter, then surely you can still love Suzy.
If he could give his life to heal the world, restore and re-member all that has been broken, then so can you.
Re-member me. Remember. Amen.