Palm Sunday Paradox


A sermon, based on Mark 15.1-39, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on Palm Sunday: The Sunday of the Passion, March 25, 2018

Jesus came to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God. In his words, teaching and preaching with a divine authority, ages-old and ever-new; reviving ancient commandments with present vibrancy and urgency. In his deeds, healing the sick, raising the dead, revealing the presence and power of God who gives life, God who is life.

Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph. The crowds shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord…the coming of our ancestor David!” Their cry giving voice to their desire, need, expectation that Jesus will liberate them from the oppressive Roman regime.

Jesus enters Jerusalem and the crowds welcome him (1320), Pietro Lorenzetti (1280-1348)

But soon, shockingly Jesus is arrested and tried, falsely accused, wrongly convicted, and condemned to death. Bound and blindfolded, mocked and scorned, spit upon and struck with fists and whips, he is led away to be crucified.

What paradox! On its face, making no sense, being nonsense, yet, at its heart, embracing, embodying truth. Jesus, God’s Messiah, God’s presence and power, God’s being and life in flesh is able to free himself, save himself. Yet he remains true to this essential teaching that he spake over and over again, thus, not a word he declared, as some would, for others to do and for him not, but rather for him to fulfill: “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life will save it.”(1) Those who seek first their benefit, their glory, their interests, their preservation, having made life self-contained and small, lose. Those who give their lives for a cause greater than themselves, for the benefit of others, produce much good fruit.

May we, this day, standing at the foot of the cross of the crucifixion of Jesus, pledge anew to live our lives, give our lives, lose our lives for his sake and the sake of his gospel.

Another paradox. The centurion, receiving the order, no matter how wrong and cruel, to crucify Jesus was obedient. And, as a company commander in charge of a cohort of one hundred soldiers, he gave the orders to bind and blindfold Jesus, to strike, spit upon, and strip Jesus, to lay the cross-beam on his shoulders, to lead him to Golgotha, to drive the nails into his hands and feet, and to lift him up on the cross. And he stayed on site to oversee the execution. Yet when Jesus breathes his last and dies, that centurion, in bearing stunning witness to Jesus’ identity, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”, recognizes and confesses his own wrongdoing.

The Crucifixion (1520-1521), Giovanni Antonio de_ Sacchis (Il Pordenone) (1484-1539), Cremona Cathedral, Lombardy

The innocent Jesus dies a godforsaken criminal’s death, thus demonstrating with his final mortal breath to that centurion and to us the presence and power of God. Never found in conformity to brutality. Never found in obedience to the forces of injustice. Never found in force of any kind! Always found in the seemingly weak, from the world’s perspective, but truly mighty, from the standpoint of the eternal cosmos, submission of love.

May we, this day, standing at the foot of the cross of the crucifixion of Jesus, pledge anew to live our lives, give our lives, lose our lives for his sake and for the sake of his gospel, which is another way of saying, for the sake of love.


(1) Mark 8.35. See also Matthew 10.39, Luke 9.24, 17.33, and John 12.25

Jesus enters Jerusalem and the crowds welcome him (1320), Pietro Lorenzetti (1280-1348)

The Crucifixion (1520-1521), Giovanni Antonio de’ Sacchis (Il Pordenone) (1484-1539), Cremona Cathedral, Lombardy. Note: De Sacchis depicts the Roman centurion (center forefront) looking directly at us, a downturned sword in his right hand (symbolic of a denunciation of violence) and, with his left hand, pointing to the crucified Jesus, saying, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”


4 thoughts on “Palm Sunday Paradox

  1. Awesome Paul!! How much would each of us give for the sake of love!!!! I’d give my life up for it!! I believe of putting myself last and others first I guess because I believe it is a way of following Jesus! When we look back at how many innocent people (mostly African-Americans) have spent decades in prison or were executed for crimes people knew they hadn’t committed we realize that no one stepped in then either. So much injustice in this world even today! I want to err on the side of love….but oftentimes we don’t know how to do that.

    I remember clearly (and thought about it throughout today’s Passion) that when they told me that Tim wasn’t going to live, I wanted to switch places with him. I felt that our grandchild would get the short end of the stick being stuck with me because Tim was the grandparent with all of the skills!! We all want our family to have the best of everything and Tim was by far the best… but it was not to be so I do my best to teach her the ways of Jesus and how to follow him.

    Thanks for the Paradox! It resonated with me deeply.

    Much love!


  2. So much of what you write, Loretta, stirs a response from/within me. Foremost are your ruminations about wanted to trade places with Tim in his dying for he was/is the grandparent “will all of the skills!” And, yes, of course, you are spot on in your awareness “it was not to be.” In this recognition, you remind me…us all that life and death play out on their own accord. That is, not that life and death are conscious forces operating with wills of their own, but rather that we have little, aye, no control over what happens and when it happens. That said, I believe that you do and are doing more than your “best to teach (Kendal) the ways of Jesus and how to follow him.” For, it seems to me, the sorts of questions you raise and decisions you make about your walk with Jesus in following him demonstrate the loving care of his disciple, which, therefore, makes you, to coin a proverbial phrase, a grand role-model.

    On another note, I’ve been musing on a comment to this sermon by Barbara Willsher who wrote words to the effect that the renewal of the pledge, as I advocate in this sermon, to live our lives, give our lives, lose our lives for Jesus’ sake…for the sake of love necessarily would place us under the shadow of suffering in a world that continues to turn away from God. I agree. Still, I believe it – following Jesus all the way to his…our cross of crucifixion for the sake of love – is the unmistakable, unavoidable call of God in Christ. My awareness, my belief that that is so is both comforting in its clarity and chilling in its urgent destiny. And to think it’s only Monday in Holy Week, thus, with a week of this sort of sobering musing to go!


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you so much Paul for your thoughtful reply!!! I’m not really sure why I’ve been so focused on Tim’s death and the entire week preceding it. It’s constantly been on my mind but I’m working through it.

    I know you’ll have a Powerful and Thought-Provoking Holy Week!!

    Much love!!


  4. Loretta, your words bring to my mind something the great 20th century theologian, Paul Tillich, wrote: The first duty of love is to listen. Some years ago, reflecting on his counsel, which, I believe, expresses the heart of one’s surrender to another in relationship, I coined the phrase: The final duty of love is to live with loss.

    You and Tim lived with deep and abiding love for each other. I also believe that you two, as all grand couples discover and do, found your individual selves enhanced through the other. As this is so, and knowing that death is certain (we simply cannot know who and when and how; still, in your and Tim’s case, he preceded you across the threshold from this world to the next), you now and you always will reflect on Tim’s death and life without him until your dying day. Sometimes, as now (perhaps in league with the end of Lent and Holy Week), your reflections will be frequent and intense. Sometimes, not as frequent nor as intense. Either way, you will reflect. In this, I pray your peace, dearest sister, for you are faithful to your love’s duty of living with your greatest loss.



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