Sunday, April 01, 2012

Self-Emptying Love

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
April 1, 2012

Year B: The Sunday of the Passion – Palm Sunday
Mark 11:1-11
Philippians 2:5-11
Psalm 31:9-16
Matthew 14:1-15:47

Self-Emptying Love

For those of us who go to church on most Sundays it’s easy for what we see, hear and say here week after week to become routine or even rote. It’s easy for us to no longer really hear the words. It’s easy to forget the great and amazing truths we celebrate every time we gather in this place.

So, on very special occasions, the church mixes things up in an effort to get us to really pay attention.

That’s what we’ve been up to during Lent when physical appearance of the church has been changed and the structure of our service has been rearranged, as well.

Each week we’ve begun with the confession and in Rite II services we’ve said the contemporary Lord’s Prayer. And we definitely haven’t said the “A” word!

But those changes are very small compared to the Holy Week services that begin today. These unique, once a year liturgies are designed to disorient us – or reorient us – they’re meant to really grab our attention.

And today is maybe the most disorienting and reorienting day of all. It’s a day that has two names: The Sunday of the Passion – Palm Sunday.

We began, obviously, with the palms. We began with what looks like the triumphant arrival of the Messiah into his capital city.

But, we already know that the triumph the people expected – the triumph of a worldly king who will restore Israel to greatness not known since the days of King David - is not the triumph that God had in mind for Jesus.

And, we already know that very shortly the mood will abruptly change as we move into the still-heartbreaking story of the betrayal, abandonment, suffering and death of Jesus of Nazareth.

And, we already know that we’ll play our own part in this drama, crying out with the crowds in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, “Crucify him!” just as we continue to crucify him each time we turn our backs on Christ’s command to love God and to love one another.

So, there are two powerful scenes in today’s liturgy – the first looks like triumph and the second looks like tragic defeat.

But, placed between these two powerful scenes – in just a moment, right after this sermon – is a short, seemingly not very dramatic reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.

In his letter, Paul describes the “self-emptying” love of Christ Jesus – the self-emptying love that allowed Christ to live in our midst and the self-emptying love that he poured out in his death on the Cross.

The Greek term for that self-emptying is kenosis.

Kenosis is the self-emptying love that God shares just by beginning and sustaining all of creation.

Kenosis is the self-emptying love that we see most clearly in the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.

Kenosis is the self-emptying love that we’ll see most clearly on Easter Day when love defeats death once and for all.

And kenosis is the self-emptying love that Christ calls us to share with one another.

So, we begin Holy Week with this most disorienting and reorienting day – a day that begins with what looks like triumph and ends with what looks like tragic defeat.

Today we begin the week during which we see most profoundly the self-emptying love of God in Christ being poured out to save the whole world.