Showing items filed under “March 2018”

From Palm to Refusal

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There is something strange about the Palm Sunday liturgy, but it’s not a problem in the liturgy, it’s a problem in us.

We start with palm branches, placing ourselves with the joyous, adoring crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem. That crowd spread branches of palm along his way. Instead of rolling out the red carpet for him, they improvised a green one. Call it, the people’s welcome. It’s beautiful and exciting, and we sing All glory, laud, and honor to thee, redeemer King, to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.

And then, about half an hour later, we are reading the Passion Gospel, the long story of Jesus’ arrest, his condemnation, and his crucifixion. Often this Gospel is read with different people taking different parts. The whole congregation usually takes the part of the crowd, which means we say Away with him; crucify him.

Thus, within less than an hour, we go from joyfully welcoming Jesus to calling for his death.

I repeat, this is not a problem with the liturgy; it is in fact its design. Going through Palm Sunday makes us aware of the very short distance within us between loving Jesus and refusing him. This is our problem. Why are we like this? Why do we move so quickly from love to hate?

It’s, of course, because we are sinners that we hate. But it is because we are human that we move back and forth. Only human beings are capable of changing our minds. Angels, by contrast, are eternally fixed by their decisions. Their intelligence is higher than ours, but ours has an openness to change that they lack.

Which means—and here’s, as it were, the silver lining to the Palm Sunday cloud—not only can we move from love to hate, but we can also move from hate to love.

We will never perfectly love God, but we can ever turn back to him and love him some more.

One of the ways Jesus saves us is by shocking us into the self-realization that the capacity to condemn him is within every human heart. The shock of that self-realization can then make us desire to be different. We can then cry out to God to save us. “I don’t want to condemn you!” one might say. And when our heart is broken, God is able to come into our heart and fix us from the inside out.

Out & About. I am to preach at the Palm Sunday and Easter Day services at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, 5100 Ross Ave., Dallas. On both Sundays the services are at 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

A Laugh

Are limericks suited to Lent?
    Yes indeed, in both form and intent:
        They’re a well-designed ploy
        To bring insight and joy
    With a final, uplifting event.

    That’s not bad, methinks; it comes from a book by Christopher Brunelle (The Church Year in Limericks), via a column by Peter Marty in the Christian Century, passed on to me by an old friend over brunch.
    A perfect limerick has 39 syllables, so it’s nearly the length of Lent. And the twist at the end—the witty revelation in the final line—brings a smile that is a smallish anticipation of the greatest plot twist of all.
    It seems right to say that God enjoys creation. Of course, we have no way of understanding what it means to be God (we can really understand only what God is not). Still it is clear that he did not have to create anything. Robert Farrar Capon, in his theological essay disguised as a cookbook, The Supper of the Lamb, says that the universe is like an orange peeling hanging on a chandelier in God’s kitchen. It doesn’t do anything for the kitchen; God just likes it.
    Did Jesus enjoy being human? Here we are on solid ground, and can unambiguously say yes. The Father willed for the Son to be incarnate; the Son in perfect obedience became human in the fullest sense. Being free of sin, there would be the complete awareness of integral being. He also suffered, to be sure, not only in his own flesh, but also in his love for others who endured possession, disease, and the consequences of human wickedness.
    But the greater reality is, I think, the joy. Chesterton asks why Jesus had to go off alone to pray. He thinks it was in happiness: that he needed to share with his Father the sheer laughter of life. (And he went off alone because we, in our sinful state, are not ready to see the joy of God or the joy of perfect humanity.)
    So in the meantime we have hints. We have, for instance, limericks.
    Out & about. Sunday, March 18, I am to preach at 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, 5100 Ross Ave., Dallas. At 9:30 I will teach on the deadly sin of pride. If you’ve been wondering what pride is, I hope you’ll come join me.
    On Wednesday, March 21, I will speak on “The Resurrected Friend” at St. Matthew’s at 7 p.m. You may come then, or earlier (6:30) for soup and salad (no reservation needed), or earlier still (6 p.m.) for Stations of the Cross.
    On Friday, March 23, I am to give the “FaceTime” meditation at 6 p.m. at Church of the Incarnation, 3966 McKinney Ave., Dallas. The topic I’ve been asked to speak on is “Entering into the Sabbath Rest of God and the Rest of Christ”—appropriate for a Friday evening, the beginning of the weekly Sabbath.


The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."