On Palm Sunday
Sermon preached on Palm Sunday, April 17, 2022 by Fr. Antony Hughes
I wish the East and West would celebrate the Resurrection on the same date. Still, I confess, that I am blessed when they don’t because that means I can celebrate Easter with my brothers at the prison in Concord which I did last night. It was beautiful and very moving listening to them sing and pray together with Dn. Tom, my friend and Catholic Chaplain. And there was a baptism of a young man to top it all off. It was an evening filled with Paschal joy. I love this little quote from the Dalai Lama who said, “If you want to be unhappy, think about yourself. If you want to be happy, think about others.” That is what I experience whenever I go there and I have been going for well over a decade now.
Confession time. One day I felt depressed, so I went to the bookstore and bought some books and cds (remember those?). I thought wrongly that that would make me happy. Never does! As I left the bookstore still feeling depressed (even moreso because it didn’t help) I saw a young man begging by the side of the road. I pulled up to him, emptied my pockets and gave him everything I had. I think it was $45 dollars. As I saw a smile creep across his face all of sudden my depression lifted. Repentance (metanoia in Greek) means to change one’s mind. I believe what I experience that day was an example of real repentance. I literally changed my mind and discovered a path out of my self-absorption. That was all it took.
I recommend this to all of you. Find your unique way to focus on the welfare of others and watch as life becomes more and more beautiful.
In one sense Holy Week is the story of what happens when corrupt religious leaders and corrupt politicians join forces in the pursuit of power. We have seen this before in the tumultuous arc of history and we are seeing it again. The innocent suffer as the servants of this two-headed monster wreaks havoc on the weak and the vulnerable often targeting groups for extermination like the Nazis did to the Jews. This is happening in Ukraine. It must be stopped. As my brother priest in Maine asked (and I join him), “Kirill, how do you sleep at night?”
Jesus did not lust after power. Therefore, we must not. The evil one offered unlimited power to him on the Mount of Temptation. “I will give you all the kingdoms of the earth if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus refused. On Palm Sunday the crowds would have gladly fought to place him on the throne of David to bring down the Roman Empire’s rule over Palestine, but Jesus did not fall for it. Again he refused. The Lord was not interested in money or power. His kingdom is not of this earth and does not need them. There is a pattern here and we are meant to notice it.
This is why Metropolitan Anthony Bloom believed that the church should never speak from a position of strength. I have quoted this before because I believe it is true. Let’s do so again. Bloom continues, the Church “ought not to be one of the forces influencing this or that state. The Church ought to be…just as powerless as God himself, which does not coerce but which calls and unveils the beauty and the truth of things, As soon as the Church begins to exercise power, it loses its most profound characteristic which is divine love…” Perhaps our reticence to accept his words comes when he says “as powerless as God.”
We tend to think of God as All-Powerful, in control, watching carefully to punish us when we go astray. If we believe that God is like Jesus, then we simply must jettison this misunderstanding. God is humble, loving, kind, compassionate, forgiving and therein lies his power. He is so unlike this world that when he appears the difference is stark and jarring, very hard to accept. I think that many people become atheists because they cannot believe in the God they have been taught to believe in. Either he is too small or just doesn’t make sense. We must be willing to let go of our paltry definitions and concepts and allow God to reveal himself rather than attempting to define him. Jesus is the perfect image of the invisible God. If we want to know what God is like, then we must look at him.
It seems to me that Metropolitan Anthony’s statement is as true as true can be because it reflects the very life of Christ himself. We must not impose truth. He didn’t. The Lord did not attempt to push legislation through the imperial senate as we do. We must never manipulate or attempt to control others. Again, Jesus did not. We must always be in a position to be prophetic and to speak the truth to power. That is what he did. We must forgive our enemies, not fight them just as Jesus did. Turn the other cheek as often as we are struck, like Jesus. Give of ourselves until there is no self left. Is that not what selflessness means? Is that not what the Cross and the entire life of Christ was? If we become indebted to the powers that be we become like salt that has lost its flavor. Good for nothing except to be discarded. To be like Jesus is to be truly human.
Duplicity and hypocrisy are impossible to hide.
That the kingdom of God is not of this earth is liberating. Let’s not be so quick to give up our freedom and let’s, by all means, be quick to protect the freedom of others.