Sermon for Palm Sunday
March 20, 2016
Preacher: The Rev. Bret B. Hays
The new movie “Knight of Cups” is inspired by an old story. “Once there was a young prince whose father, the king of the East, sent him down into Egypt to find a pearl. But when the prince arrived, the people poured him a cup. Drinking it, he forgot he was the son of a king, forgot about the pearl and fell into a deep sleep.” Despite the exotic setting of the story, and the elite, privileged, hedonistic lifestyle the movie portrays, the problem feels achingly, disturbingly familiar.
One of the great mysteries of the human condition is why we so easily forget who we are. We all are made in the image of God, all of us capable of tremendous grace and mercy. When he celebrates the Eucharist, Rob O’Neil, Bishop of Colorado, invites the congregation to receive by saying, “Behold what you are. Become what you receive.” And indeed, the part of a Eucharistic prayer which recalls Jesus’s command to “do this in remembrance of me” is called the an-amnesis, a Greek word which literally means un-forgetting.
Like most technical liturgical terms, the word carries a more profound meaning than most English speakers would naturally assume. For the anamnesis of every Eucharist is far more than the simple recollection of an historical event. Rather, this moment is an event in itself, where the congregation “enters personally into that saving act of Christ in the here and now, as it is actualized and made present … in the liturgy.” Thus, our corporate worship is an opportunity actually to “enter into the paschal mystery, the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”*
But only an opportunity. Not long after the Last Supper, Peter forgot who he was. Fear got the better of him, and he denied that he even knew Jesus, though he had just received the bread and the wine from his hands, had Jesus’s words ringing in his short-term memory. And then there’s Judas, who fell under a darker influence. Judas forgot himself so completely that he betrayed Jesus, who had only ever shown him kindness, friendship, and love. But both of them eventually remembered Jesus, and themselves, and felt remorse. Perhaps even further gone were Herod and Pilate, who had been wallowing in hypocrisy, decadence, cruelty, and greed for so long that they appeared to have no remaining conception of anything else. Yet even Trump and Cruz, no, wait, I’m sorry, Herod and Pilate, experience the power of Jesus, despite their best efforts, despite their elite, privileged, hedonistic lifestyle They experience his grace merely by sharing him, and the unthinkable happened: the two men who had been enemies become friends.
So even in this dark chapter of salvation history we see that the love of God is active and transformational. Because of who he is, the Son of God, Jesus causes reconciliation and forgiveness to flow into our sinful and broken world. Even in the midst of his Passion, Jesus forgives his tormentors, the men whose business it was to kill him in the most painful and degrading way possible, who also took time out of their workday to mock him. Peter gave in to fear, Judas, perhaps, to greed, Herod and Pilate to the trappings of power, all this is understandable. But the nameless men who carried out the order to put Jesus to death chose, deliberately, to make it even worse for Jesus. And for them Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
Jesus never forgot who he was or what God had sent him to do. He forgave the very worst sinners, and therefore he forgives us, too, not because we have done something right, but because we have done things wrong, and most of all, because God’s love for us, God’s desire to bring us back to grace, are real and present. They are not preferences, they are phenomena, as much a part of the universe as the force of gravity. The power of God, the force of anamnesis, draws us along the footpath of the story, closes the vast distances of time and space that separate us from the events that won for us the victory of salvation, the triumph over the forces that would make us forget that God has come near to us, and changed us. And so God draws us to the cross, to the altar, to God’s presence in others, and in ourselves. God draws us to God and to ourselves, to the bread that sustains us, to the cup that refreshes our memory.
*Espin, Orlando (2007). An Introductory Dictionary of Theology and Religious Studies. Collegeville: Liturgical Press. p. 50.