Sermon Palm Sunday – Ashes to Ashes: Life Before Death

Sunday March 25, 2018

Rev. Kim P. Wells

We began the Lenten season with ashes on Ash Wednesday. We reminded ourselves that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Death is the great fact of life. Real. True. Undisputed. No fake news, here. Death is democratic and egalitarian and inclusive. If you’re alive, there is one thing you can be sure of. You will die. Everyone dies.

This week, we remember one particular death. One very specific, cruel death. And this, too, is real. Factual. No fake news. While there is not much that can be historically verified about the life of Jesus, about his death, there is agreement. He was put to death on a cross. This was the Roman punishment for traitors, insurrectionists, and people who were thought to be threats to the Empire. Apparently, Jesus’ influence had become so great, that the Roman authorities could be convinced that he was a threat to their power in the territory of Palestine, already known for being rebellious.

So this week, we remember the death of Jesus. His death on the cross. But his death only really matters, only really is remembered, only really has meaning for us today, because of his life. Jesus lived his life in the reality of God. He breathed in and out unconditional, universal love. When he looked at a person, any person, he could only see a beloved, sacred, Divine being. And he, himself, was the most fully human human being.

Jesus knew that he was a wanted man by the authorities in Jerusalem. He knew they wanted him dead. We know from books and movies and TV that when there is a death threat, the person heads the other way, hides out, steers clear of the source of the threat. Not Jesus. He knew the threat was in Jerusalem. The capital. Where there was a concentration of religious power and political power. In collusion. Which typically results in corruption. And that is where he goes. And he doesn’t sneak in. We’re told he makes an entrance. In a parade. Not military style on a strapping steed with armaments in tow but on a donkey, the way strewn cloaks and with branches from nearby trees. Jesus imbues a traditional image, the military procession, with new meaning. He is not coming from having killed others in defense of the Empire. He is coming to be killed, to face his own death, because he is perceived as a threat to the Empire.

When we think of facing fear or a threat with our natural human instincts our response is typically fight or flight. Jesus chooses another way. He chooses the way of sacrificial love. He proceeds to his death not with resignation, but with strength, courage, and defiance, infused with compassion, meekness, and humility. It a rare and beautiful combination. Because of the way Jesus lived, because of the way he faces his death, because in him we see love conquering fear, the death penalty, the crucifixion, will not silence his voice, as his killers hope, but will amplify it so that his message is still powerfully heard today.

According to the gospel of John, in his last evening with his friends, his last opportunity to get across the main point, the big picture, the core concept, Jesus washes the feet of his friends. A humble, servile act. And he gives a new commandment – to “love one another as I have loved you.” Love and serve. That’s what he did. He didn’t just talk about it. He did it.

And he did this up to the very last moment of his life. We are given the tradition of Jesus forgiving even those responsible for his execution. We remember his death because of the way he lived his life.

The way you live is the way you die. Jesus shows us Divine Love that is not intimidated by fear or violence or hatred. When we live in that love, we need have no fear. Not even of death. Amen.

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