Archive for April, 2004

The Last Breakfast

Sunday, April 25th, 2004
Acts 9:1-6 (7-20)

Psalm 30

Revelation 5:11-14

John 21:1-19

We are accustomed to giving much attention to the Last Supper, the meal Jesus had with his disciples the night in which he was betrayed and on which we base the Eucharist. The Gospel of John, however, in its account of the Last Supper does not include the Eucharistic words of institution, Jesus’ admonition to take the bread and wine as his body and blood. John cites Jesus saying these words much earlier in his ministry with the very strong claim that those who do not eat his body and drink his blood have no share in eternal life (John 6). In John’s version of the Last Supper the ritual activity is footwashing.

In contrast to the other gospels, John’s ends with a long and intricate epilogue in which the resurrected Jesus appears to a select and mostly named group of disciples in Galilee and cooks them breakfast. Some scholars believe that the last chapter of John is a late addition, mainly because it differs so much from the other gospel accounts. If it is a late addition, which I doubt, it still expresses the most important distinctive themes of John’s Gospel and is a kind of balancing text to the famous prologue, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

One of John’s distinctive approaches throughout his gospel is the use of symbolic allegory. So, for instance, Jesus feeds the disciples breakfast and then tells Simon Peter, their leader, to feed his sheep, meaning all the others whom Jesus loves. Jesus’ breakfast is an allegorical act defining the work of the Church. We take the sheep to refer to us, although I don’t know how you like being thought of as sheep.

Another of John’s distinctive approaches is seemingly the opposite of high allegory, namely an attention to details. For instance, in the breakfast scene he names the disciples: Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee, and two others, one of whom is likely the Beloved Disciple whose testimony is the basis for the Gospel of John. John puts in the detail about Peter getting so excited and confused when he realizes that Jesus is on the shore that he puts on his clothes and then jumps overboard to swim back to Jesus. I love the detail that they caught 153 fish. Which one of the disciples do you supposed counted them?

Perhaps the most important detail is that Jesus is personally concerned about the disciples. The first thing Jesus says to them is, “Lads, you have no fish, have you?” When they report that he is right, he tells them where to cast the net and they haul in 153. Struggling to shore with the laden boat, they find that Jesus has already brought bread, laid a charcoal fire, caught some fish himself, and is cooking the fish for them. He asks them to come eat the breakfast. Yet apparently they hang back. John says “none of them dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’” Somehow they knew it was Jesus, yet it must not have looked like him. This problem of recognition is like the first resurrection appearance that John records, when Mary Magdalene first thinks Jesus is the gardener. In the two other resurrection appearances in John’s gospel (there are four in all) Jesus looks like himself with the wounds of his crucifixion. However we are to understand the resurrection appearances, as I said two weeks ago, following the theologian Robert Jensen, the real body of the resurrected Jesus is wherever the person of Jesus is present to us. The person of Jesus was calling them to breakfast, and when they did not come, “Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.” He served them to allay their fear and wonder. He cared for them with a touching intimacy, tender with their confusions.

Remember that at the Last Supper he had washed the disciples’ feet, another intimate touch, and then had talked with them after dinner about love. That discussion is the founding statement of the Christian community as a community of love. Now after they finish breakfast, Jesus talks with them about love again, but in an even more intimate way. He asks Peter whether he loves him. At the Last Supper Peter had sworn his undying love and loyalty, saying that he would lay down his life for Jesus. Jesus had answered with irony, nay, with resignation and pity, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.” That is exactly what happened. Luke records that at the moment the cock crowed, Jesus who was being interrogated a short distance away turned and looked at Peter, and Peter wept bitterly.

Now imagine you were Peter. Jesus had treated you as leader of the disciples and you had thought your love for him was so great that you would follow him to death. You had been brave enough to defend Jesus with a sword when he was arrested but when the venue changed to the courthouse you had denied that you even knew him. You were not under immediate threat, you were not being tortured, no one of importance was questioning you. But you denied three times all association with the one you had professed to love to death. And he had seen it. How would you feel when Jesus was killed before you could beg forgiveness? How would you feel in front of the other disciples who had heard Jesus’ prediction of denial and had seen you do it?—the disciple whom Jesus loved was with Peter when he denied Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I would be numb with grief. I would hate myself and doubt my capacity to love at all, or do anything worthwhile. When I’m numb with grief, I go grade papers, the basic grunt business of a college professor. Peter went home to Galilee and said, “I am going fishing.” Certain other disciples went along, also distraught and with nothing better to do. They spent a desolate black night on the boat, catching nothing. They were useless. Then in the morning Jesus came to them and told them how to haul in a bounty catch. And he fixed them breakfast. He would not accept Peter’s denial nor the others’ unhelpfulness and abandonment. He came back to them with food for life. And he repaired Peter’s torn soul.

Do you love me, Jesus asked? Yes, Lord, you know I love you, murmured Peter. Then take care of my people, said Jesus. So much for the first denial.

Do you love me, Jesus asked again. Yes, Lord, you know I love you, wept Peter. Then take care of my people, said Jesus. So much for the second denial.

Do you love me, Jesus asked for a third time. “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you,” affirmed Peter, catching on to Jesus’ gift of letting him reverse his denials three times. Now you will take care of my people, ordered Jesus, with the bands of love rewoven.

Although we rarely have dramatic circumstances like Peter’s, how easy it is for us to deny Jesus. Most of us have opportunities to speak up for Jesus and his Way, and we keep quiet, or play down our own participation in that Way. Far more frequent and insidious, however, are the denials of his Way in our behavior. In our moments of religious wakefulness we know about those denials and resent them. Like Peter and his friends, we might be a little ambivalent about meeting the risen Christ.

Yet the point of the Last Breakfast is that Jesus seeks out us deniers, feeds us for the journey, repairs our broken souls, and gives us the commission to take care of those whom Jesus loved, namely, everybody. The Last Breakfast is a culminating symbol of Jesus’ Easter resurrection.

Contrast the Last Breakfast with the endings of the other gospels. Mark’s Gospel records no resurrection appearances at all. Luke’s Gospel ends in Jerusalem with a final lect
ure to the disciples about the scriptures and a commission to proclaim repentance and forgiveness to all nations. Jesus then leads them out to Bethany whence he ascends into heaven. Matthew’s Gospel ends with the disciples on a mountain in Galilee prostrating themselves before Jesus who tells them to make disciples of all nations and to teach them to obey. Instead of ascending to heaven he says that he will be with them until the end of the age. The reference to “all nations” in Matthew and Luke is a change from Jesus’ previous limitation of his mission to only the children of Israel. There is, I sense, something a bit official and almost bureaucratic about these leave-takings in Matthew and Luke, obviously intended by the evangelists to lay out a mission for the Church. The Last Breakfast, by contrast, is intimate in tone, with Jesus again serving his friends, enabling them to work again after their grief and confusion, repairing his particular friendship with Peter (and by analogy with us), and commissioning the disciples to carry on his Way. All three endings represent something authentic in the Christian tradition. Luke’s emphasizes the preaching of repentance and forgiveness. Matthew’s turns on the manufacturing model of making disciples. Both represent Jesus as something like a CEO addressing his employees. But John’s commission is to feed the people with the bread of life. “Feed my sheep” is what a lover would say who has just fed breakfast to his friends.

The lesson to draw from this is that when we deny Jesus in our personal lives with laziness and narcissism, Jesus comes to us with spiritual nourishment and lets us tell him that we love him despite our denial. Then he gives us the job of taking breakfast to those others whose personal lives are in grief and confusion. When we deny Jesus in our social lives with cruelty and exclusion, Jesus comes to us with nourishing kindness and lets us tell him we love him despite our denial. Then he gives us the job of taking breakfast to others who are grief-stricken at their own cruelty or the victims of exclusion. When we deny Jesus by complicity in unjust social and economic structures, Jesus comes to us with food for restraint and social change, and lets us tell him we love him despite our denial. Then he gives us the job of taking breakfast to others whose lives are threatened by injustice. When we deny Jesus with a politics that makes optional war on those who do not accept our economic, religious, and political values, arrogantly assuming that our military might is stronger than people’s will for self-determination, cynically supposing that we can attack a people of God without them responding with a religious devotion to martyrdom, Jesus comes to us with a breakfast of humility, and lets us tell him we love him despite what we’ve done to those people he’s asked us to feed. Then he gives us the job of sacrificing our economy to the generation of our children’s children to pay for peace and reconstruction.

Our future at this moment seems as confusing and unexpected as the future must have seemed to Jesus’ small band of disciples gathered for the Last Breakfast. But they knew that nothing they could do by way of denial or flight could stop Jesus from offering them a breakfast of new life and a chance to restore their love. We know that too, for it has been the job of disciples through the ages to feed those whom Jesus loves down to our own time. The Church at its best is the Last Breakfast of Christ. It is the meal at the beginning of the day. Now our job is to feed those who are in grief or confusion, who suffer cruelty or exclusion, are victims of injustice and war, including those who hate us and deny our good intentions. In our humility, may we be worthy of the Christ who appears among us feeding his flock. Amen.

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Cummings Neville

Life from Death

Sunday, April 11th, 2004
John 20:1-18

Luke 24:1-12

Allelujah, Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! This is the central affirmation of Christianity. Its metaphoric sweep is broader and deeper than any specifics about Jesus. Concerning what they believe happened to Jesus, Christians contradict one another in many ways. Many Christians simply don’t care much about the specifics of Jesus. And yet all agree that the meaning of Easter is that new life comes from the bleakest of circumstances, even death, and that this new life is available to us, our hope. If Easter were only about Jesus and not about our own hope, it would not be so central to Christianity.

The metaphoric sweep of life from death encompasses far more even than Christianity, and is symbolized in other ways than Jesus’ resurrection. All the great and small religions in climatic zones with distinct changes of seasons celebrate the new life of spring emerging from the death of winter. Some religions focus on the celebration of the season itself. Others celebrate founding events in the springtime, such as Passover. Ancient paganism celebrated the dying and rising of gods. Our late-modern urbanized societies are less close to the land, less immediately conscious of the spring thaw making our livelihood possible. Yet even in Boston, prayers for the coming of spring after a hard winter are second only to prayers for the Red Sox. More than that, in Boston, hope for the Red Sox’s new season is our central sacrament in the pan-religions celebration of new life from death.

Because we have hope that new life can come from death, we have hope even when people we love have died, we have hope in the face of illness, we have hope for careers despite failures, we have hope to improve spiritually, we have hope to gain health, to build strength, to lose weight, to slow ageing, we have hope for our families, for our friends, for our enemies, we have hope to improve our neighborhoods, our schools, our local governments, we have hope to conquer racism, we have hope to lessen poverty, we have hope to respect our environment, we have hope for courage to engage our time, we have hope to overturn prejudice against ethnic and gender minorities, we have hope to ban unfair discrimination from our laws, we have hope to understand cultures that are threatened by our own, we have hope for peace in central Africa, Palestine, and Northern Ireland, we have hope that the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq will soon govern themselves, we have hope to remove the grounds for terrorism and to stop the terrorists, we have hope to stop making war, we have hope for the justice of our economy, we have hope for the honesty of our government, we have hope that the Red Sox will win the World Series this year! It is a metaphysical condition of the cosmos at our scale of things that new life is possible in the worst of conditions, even death, or the Yankees.

I heartily welcome all of you who are here or listening on the radio, not because you are may be dedicated to the community of Jesus, but because you are celebrating spring, the resurrection of life from death, and the ever-recurrent hope that our intractable griefs and obstacles can be overcome. When Martin Luther King, Jr., said “I have a dream that someday . . .,” he was expressing his bigger-than-Easter faith. Christianity is but one way of symbolizing that hope which defines the human spirit under pressure.

Let me turn now, however, to the specifically Christian way of having that faith and hope. Christianity is based on the cosmic drama of creation and redemption. I have been preaching through Lent on the vastness of creation and how to understand that in terms of our own knowledge now. Whatever else might happen in the rest of the cosmos, on Earth human beings have become faulty creatures, symbolized by the Fall. Human faults are of many kinds, and I listed some of them a moment ago in respect of which we have hope for repair. The chief fault, however, is that people are estranged from God the Creator who gives them a world filled with joys and troubles. The proper relation to God was symbolized by the Covenant between God and Israel, according to which those who are pure and holy in terms of the Covenant can approach God. That was symbolized as approaching the Holy of Holies where God is. Alas, people constantly break the covenant, and as a result cannot approach God. As a restorative remedy, the Torah, particularly the book of Leviticus, specifies sacrifices that people can have made by the priests on their behalf to repair specific breaches of the covenant, thereby restoring their readiness to approach God.

In Jesus’ time, however, the system of Temple sacrifices to enable a proper relation to God was widely perceived as not working. For one thing, out of political necessity to keep the Temple functioning those who managed the Temple had to be collaborators with the Roman Empire. The Sadducees, mentioned in the gospels, were the “party” associated with the Temple and their collaboration with Pontius Pilate in the trial of Jesus illustrates what was probably a widespread political reality. Many people felt that under these circumstances the practice of the religion of Israel had become lax and corrupt. Some extreme groups, such as the Essenes, attempted to live apart from the larger society altogether. Preachers such as John the Baptist and Jesus began reform movements within the larger society, preaching repentance and a purer practice of the relation to God. The Pharisees were a group or movement that supplemented worship in the Temple with a quasi-independent religious life centered in local synagogues, advocating an earnestness about keeping the law and a personal piety centered in the family. When the Temple was destroyed a generation after Jesus, the Pharisaic movement, loosely defined, became the default center of Judaism because it could flourish without the Temple, though always remembering it. What we know as Judaism today is descended from the Pharisees and associated reform movements within Second Temple Judaism. Jesus’ own teaching was within the general orbit of the Pharisaical reform movement, contrary to the impression you might get from the gospels that depict the Pharisees as debate partners with Jesus; it was something of an in-house debate.

Jesus preached not only a critical message, as seems to have been the case with John the Baptist, but also a very hopeful message. His followers had great expectations on Palm Sunday, and were devastated by his death on Friday. When the tomb was reported empty on Sunday, the disciples suddenly paid attention to some of the strange things Jesus had taught, hard lessons they had refused to understand, such as that the first shall be last and the last first, that it’s easier to relate to God if you are a loser than if you are a winner, and that he himself would be killed and rise again. Then the disciples began seeing Jesus here and there. Many of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus are strange. Often his close disciples don’t recognize him at first, as Mary Magdalene in our gospel mistook Jesus for a gardener, or the people on the road to Emmaus walked with a man most of the day before recognizing him as Jesus when he broke the bread at dinner. I don’t know whether you think that Jesus’ resurrection means his corpse was resuscitated, a point that has been debated for centuries. Some people would say that Mary mistook a real gardener for Jesus. I myself do not believe the issue is important because the disciples found the person of Jesus in whomever they saw and believed to be Jesus. The theologian Robert Jensen says that Jesus’ resurrected body is wherever his person is to be found, which is why we can say that the communion elements are the body of Christ, or the Church is the body of Christ. The point is, Jesus lived again for the disciples,
and later for Paul, and they were profoundly transformed by that. How so?

Remember in our gospel text Jesus tells Mary Magdalene not to touch him because he had not yet ascended to God, but was about to do so. The early Church’s profound transformation came with its understanding of the ascension. Think what it means. First, the ascension means the possibility of approaching God without the Temple. Second, Jesus himself was able to approach God that way. The book of Hebrews calls Jesus our High Priest who goes into the heavenly Holy of Holies for us. Third, Jesus goes to prepare a place for the disciples so that they too can approach God. Fourth, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit so that the disciples can live in right relation to God in the midst of their struggles in ordinary life. This in effect is a total restoration of the Covenant, and Jesus’ death symbolically is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Its importance is not to appease an angry God but to perfect and transform the covenant relation of Israel to God. Within twenty years of the beginning of the Christian movement, the apostle Paul generalized this point to say that Jesus made it possible for Gentiles, not only Jews, to inherit the covenant promises made to Israel. Jesus makes God cosmically accessible to everyone, and the Holy Spirit helps us live in right relation to all that.

Understanding this, the first disciples were transformed from what Paul called “old beings” living under the broken covenant to “new beings” who were rightly related to God. Jesus had taught that the right relation was to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Participation in the new covenant, extending the old, is to be a lover of God and neighbor. The idea of becoming a lover is easily generalizable, like new life from death; in fact, becoming a lover is new life from death.

So the early Christians cultivated loving communities as well as devotion to the love of God. What does it mean to love your neighbor? It means to be kind in all ways. But more important, it means to help you neighbor become a better lover, a new being. Thus began the particular history of the development of Christian communities around the globe and down through history to us. Its glory is that the resurrected Christ is seen in the persons of the saints, in our sacraments, teachings, good works, and in the Church itself as the body of Christ. Its shame is that our Christian communities have so often failed to embody Christ. For both cases, the risen and ascended Christ is judge over the Church, accessible through the Holy Spirit in our imaginations, and discriminated by our minds in careful discernment of spirits. For nearly two thousand years, Jesus has lived in the Church’s imagination and grown as Lord of the Church, creating lovers and reconciling people to God, addressing issues the young Galilean could never have imagined before the resurrection.

The good news is that there is a power abroad in the Churches that makes new beings of us, that makes us God-lovers and lovers of one another. Loving God and one another we can face death as the price of life. We can engage the vital and sometimes intractable issues of our watch with genuine hope. That power is the person of Jesus raised from the dead into countless bodies around us, lovers all, ascended into heaven as our eternal host in God, king of the universe who makes possible our life before God, historical pioneer and perfector of the Christian movement, the dear friend who can live in our hearts, the savior who embraces the worst of us, and when we fall again, embraces us again, the Way to come to God, the Truth of God’s justice and mercy, the Life whose substance is love. These symbols of Jesus are the Christian’s ways to engage God in gratitude for the creation, in humility before the creator, and in love that embraces all the Creator’s creation. If only in part, we have felt this gratitude, we have knelt in humility, we have loved this love. I tell you, like the disciples waking up at Emmaus, in this we have seen the Risen Christ! Allelujah! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Cummings Neville

The Cup of the Lord

Sunday, April 4th, 2004
Luke 22:14-38

Palm Sunday has an irony that can hardly be borne. Jesus entered Jerusalem like a king, riding a young donkey, which was supposed to symbolize a triumphant king in peacetime. His disciples formed a large courtly retinue. The people spread palm branches before him and shouted praise. By the following Friday he was dead, rejected by the people of Jerusalem who chose the life of Barabbas, a murderer and insurrectionist, over his and abandoned at least temporarily by even his own closest disciples. If ever there were a failed coup, this was it.

Let us not mistake the seriousness of this point. The people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem did indeed treat him like a legitimate king, a descendent of David, who would free Israel from the Romans and establish it as a sovereign kingdom under his own leadership. What Jesus himself really thought about that, we do not know, but he surely did let the people believe that. After finishing the ride into Jerusalem he went straight to the Temple, according to Luke’s account, and drove out the people who made a profit on selling animals to be sacrificed, a kind of cleansing that asserted his own royal authority over the Temple. Whether this Temple incident really happened during his last week or at the beginning of his ministry, as the Gospel of John says, its effect was to convince the Roman governor and the Chief Priests, who had a delicate collaboration, that Jesus was challenging their authority. They expressed no fear of some vague spiritual authority in Jesus. If that were their worry, they would have arrested his major disciples too so as to squelch his religious movement. The civil and priestly leaders were worried only about his rival political authority, which might be given him by the mob of people already upset by the Roman occupation.

The disciples too were expecting a royal victory for Jesus, according to Luke. Remember how they argued about which of them would have the highest status in Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus told them that they would be something like viceroys in his government, each judging one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Pitiful as it seems in contrast to the power of Rome, the disciples on the last night carried swords like a royal bodyguard and attempted to defend Jesus by force when he was arrested. Jesus had asked them to arm themselves before leaving the Passover supper, knowing that the authorities were looking for him.

All of this royal revolution business came to nothing. The Roman authorities stamped out the little threat Jesus posed by arresting and summarily executing him. His disciples abandoned resistance and went underground. Lest we think that the resurrection reversed Jesus’ political fortunes, remember it did not. The resurrection-appearances of Jesus to his disciples constituted brief stops on the way of his ascension into heaven, however you interpret that. Jesus left the field of earthly political combat, and the movement he started remained small and politically weak until it became the established religion of the empire under Constantine three centuries later.

Now perhaps Jesus himself did not intend a political kingdom. Perhaps his popularity as a teacher and healer was exploited by others who did want such a kingdom. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world, and that if it were his disciples would still be fighting. In Luke’s account, Jesus coyly refused to admit to being the king of the Jews, saying only that “you have said so.” When Jesus was baited about paying taxes to Caesar, he took a coin, pointed out Caesar’s image, and said to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s, effectively separating political from religious authority and ducking the issue. When his enemies tried to get him to say something seditious to the authority of either the Temple leaders or the Romans, he wiggled out. Of course the gospel accounts we have of all this were written a full generation after the events, and the writers were trying to deal with the fact of the devastating end to any political aspirations Jesus’ early movement might have had. We simply do not know what was in Jesus’ own mind.

Nevertheless, the early Christians drew a clear moral from the events: the authority with which we should be most concerned is God’s authority, not that of political power based on force of arms. When Christians do become engaged in political affairs and exercise political authority, as we should, the power to be sought should not be force of arms but the power of peacemaking. Within the New Testament itself, there is no clear ground for an absolutist pacifist position. I read the New Testament position to be that those with power have the responsibility to protect those without power from harm. This was an elementary meaning of the notion of the messiah from the Hebrew Bible. Having said this, we need to acknowledge Jesus’ consistent preachments to overturn the ordinary worldly power relations. The first shall be last and the last first. The greatest, our text says, meaning the elders, should be like the youngest. The leader is the one who serves, and the Gospel of John illustrated this with the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

For us Christians today, reflecting on the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the utter collapse of that project, several conclusions follow.

First, political dominance by force of arms is not a Christian project, however much that might seem tempting to those who have enough arms to overthrow their oppressors. Should they have enough arms to do that and more, we can be practically certain that they would quickly assume the role of oppressors themselves.

Second, Christian engagement in political affairs should be directed by an aggressive campaign of strategic pacifism. By “strategic pacifism” I mean the use of non-violent techniques of the sort employed by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., to raise consciousness, to embarrass oppressors, and to force the primary issue of hypocrisy, namely, oppression disguised as benevolence. The grace in the world is so rich, and the depths of conscience are so powerful, that strategic pacifism often works. If only the Jewish and Muslim traditions contained strong elements of aggressive non-violence aimed at change for justice, the situation between Israel and Palestine in the Middle East would have been resolved long ago. They do not contain such traditions, however, and we recently have seen Israelis in a helicopter gunship assassinate an old, paraplegic in a wheelchair while leaving his prayers, not an innocent grandfather but the leader of Hamas who had sent children to their deaths as murderous suicide bombers, who in turn justify their actions with something like Nathan Hale’s sentiment, “I regret that I have only one life to give to my country,” outraged by the Israeli occupation of their land, which is deemed necessary to prevent the Palestinians from attacking Israel itself, which was planted by colonial forces that did not respect the 1300 years of Muslim culture in the land, and so forth. Violence breeds violence and the cycle escalates even in the face overwhelming military force on one side. That the United States has adopted the policy of enforcing an occupying power’s political agenda by force in Afghanistan and Iraq after seeing the power of patriotic political insurgence in Palestine, not to speak of remembering the founding years of the United States, boggles the mind.

Third, despite our best Christian efforts at peacemaking, when our own quest for power has become a mirror image of our opponents and the evil consists in the situation of violence itself, we still might have to engage in Christian battle to protect the weak. Reinhold Niebuhr was right that everyone loses in this situation, and the best alternative is the one that loses least in the m
oral scale. Public responsibility to the weak trumps personal virtue in a religion like Christianity that says the self is to be subordinated to the good of others. Glory be to God that Christianity is a religion designed for sinners.

Fourth, even the best strategy of peacemaking and reluctant war-making has no divine guarantee of success. The lesson of Palm Sunday is that even the best political legitimacy, the loftiest ideals, the craftiest peacemaking, and the most strategic mix of persuasion and force can end up on the cross. Christianity does not count on success in the terms of this world’s kingdoms. And we cannot abandon our responsibilities to this world, or draw back from making ultimate sacrifices like Jesus. Despite our best efforts, we might fail to protect the weak and secure justice.

Fifth, the Christians’ real success story has to do with binding our historical lives to God rather than winning on history’s terms. Moreover, the meaning of Palm Sunday is that we cannot relate ourselves to God without full engagement with the world. For Jesus, commitment to the world was a bitter cup. He did not want to drink the cup that God and history had given him. But had he snuck into Jerusalem rather than entering triumphantly, or snuck out of Gethsemane in the dark of night, it would have taught his disciples that the world does not matter. Jesus must have cried when he rode in triumph, knowing he would lose the world’s game. But he bound himself to God in love and turned the losing of the world’s game into truly winning the world. For, to become God’s lover in the midst of history’s confusions and alarms, its blind inertial forces and unbreakable cycles of violence and hatred, is to complete God’s creation in our local place. To be God’s lover means not giving up on the world, for God does not abandon the world. Jesus drank that cup, and so may we. When we are crucified, we each should still be able to say, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Amen.

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Cummings Neville