April 8, 2017; Rev. Dr. Buz Wilcoxon
This day begins a week of contradictions. A week of deep irony and mystery where thing are not as they should be or not as we expect them to be. It’s a week that we call “Holy” but in truth it reveals, in raw transparency just how broken, twisted, and unholy we are a people. This week begins with waving of palms and ends with the hammering of nails to a cross. This week begins with children singing and ends in torture, mockery, and death. A week of contradiction: From light to darkness. A poor, wandering, homeless teacher is paraded into the city as if he was a conquering king, and then he is executed as a criminal, hated and derided by most people and abandoned by those who loved him. From that triumphal entry with palms and hosannas, he walks into the Temple, the holy place of worship, and finds that it has become a great contraction itself, it has become a center of greed and corruption, of economic oppression, hidden behind a mask of empty religion. From a “house of prayer for all people,” it has become a “din of robbers.” He cleanses the Temple. He casts our what does not belong so that this holy place can be purified for true worship, and what is his reward? The religious leaders, the ones who say they care so much about purity and holiness and doing what is right begin conspiring for a chance to arrest him.
A week of contradictions. In our story today, we see these contradictions on full display. It begins with Jesus, the Messiah, the anointed one of God, entering the house of a leper, one who is sick and unclean, and not allowed into good society. Thus, it is the outcast who welcomes him in. Then in the midst of a massively patriarchal society, Jesus allows himself to be touched by this woman. He praises her. Of all his followers, he says that she will not be forgotten. The woman without a name is to be remembered through all the ages.
What contradictions: Anointed for a burial, while he is still alive A great honor that is seen as just a waste of money. And it all leads Judas, one of the twelve, to abandon the one who called him to follow…thus the week of contradictions continues. Plans hatched in secret lead to an execution carried out in broad daylight. Sharing the intimacy of a final meal with the ones that were closest to him, and then betrayed by one of these very friends, betrayed with a kiss.
Arrested for disturbing the peace, then put to death in a violent act. Mocked as a fake king, and yet revealing the brokenness and corruption of all the kings and empires of our world. The messiah, God’s chosen one, the one who was supposed to lead God’s people to victory is put to death as a common criminal by the enslaving forces of the world. This is a week of contradictions. But in truth Jesus himself is the greatest contradiction of all. He is God, and yet he is human. Creator and creation. One of us and yet nothing like us. Fully God. Fully human. Eternal and everlasting, without beginning or ending, and yet able to be killed on a cross. This is the great mystery of the incarnation, the great contradiction that begins on Christmas and spills over into every one of his actions, the great paradox that leads him and us to the cross.
As strange as it is, as much as this Jesus does not, cannot fully make sense to us, this mystery is necessary. It is needed. He must be this paradox, fully God and fully human, if he is to save us, redeem us, reconcile us. His very being is, at its core a contradiction, and he must be so for our sake. For we too are people of contradictions. Are we not? We are people broken and divided, conflicted and confused. Created in God’s own image, and yet denying who we really are with nearly every breath we take. Created in love to love, created good and very good, yet fallen and broken, sinful and unable to love…not even ourselves.
We want peace in our world and use all the weapons of warfare to achieve it. Entrusted to care for God’s creation and yet ignoring, abusing, and destroying it at every turn. We are given the gift of freedom and we enslave ourselves to the powers of this world. Created in a beautifully diverse pallet of humanity, and yet fearful and unwilling to trust anyone who is different than ourselves. We work and work and work and work so that one day we might be free to be our true selves, only to learn that in all our doing we have forgotten who we really are. We are a conflicted and contradicted people. A broken and fallen creation. And that is precisely why we need this one, and him alone to save us. In his own contradictions he is the mystery that can redeem us and reconcile us. He alone can transform our brokenness into beauty, our fear into hope, our hate into love. Our sin into salvation. He alone is the light that can shine event in the deepest darkness. In him, in this mystery of redemption, this contradiction becomes the gift of grace. This is a week of contradictions, because the story does not end the way all other stories do. The way all stories are supposed to. From light to darkness to light again. From life to death to life again. This week changes all of history, a dead body leads to an empty tomb. A crucified criminal becomes our resurrected Lord! It is this unexpected ending, this mystery beyond all mysteries, this good news of resurrection that reconciles us, that saves us, that transforms us and transforms this week of contradictions into something we can truly call Holy.
To God alone be the glory.