Thinking about Palm Sunday (2010)

Palm Sunday  2010 Sermon Notes     Gospel:   John 12:1-18

1)     We know from Christian history that very early on a fast before the celebration of Pascha developed.  The fasting period evolved into the time in which the catechumens were being prepared for their Baptisms.  Great Lent became a catechetical time in which the question being answered was, “Who is Jesus?”  The Saturday and Sunday epistle and Gospel lessons from Romans and Mark focus on answering that question.

By the end of Great Lent the catechumens come to Palm Sunday feeling confident about their decision to embrace Christ and to accepts God’s call to faithfulness.  But they had to learn the hard lesson of discipleship:  following Christ is not just heavenly glory and eternal life.  It also is the way of the cross, suffering, the tomb.  It is a challenge to our faith – did we choose to follow the real Messiah?  Why then might I suffer, or why do I have to practice self denial?   As we know from reading the Gospels, the original 12 disciples did not like Jesus’ message about suffering and the cross.  They ignore Jesus when he speaks about such things or they even try to silence Jesus.  The message of the Cross challenges those who are following Christ – how will we behave when put to the test?  What will become of our faith in the face of the challenges of life- for problems do not disappear when we become Christian.

We will behave like the first disciples did.  Some of us will flee – some will not come to the Holy Week services as they are long and inconvenient.  Some will rather pursue their usual pursuits – their jobs, loves, wants and wishes.  Some will only show up again at the resurrection, hiding from the cross and fleeing the crucified Lord.   Some want only triumph but not the battle that must be waged to achieve victory.   Some will only want to be secret disciples – as long as nothing is demanded of us, no change, no giving up anything, no suffering or self denial, we will “follow” Christ.  We will be challenged at remaining faithful in the face of prosperity AND in the face of suffering for the faith.

Christ the Humble Son of God

2)   On Palm Sunday We are not just remembering what happened 2000 years ago, the question is not who was Christ? But who is He to us?  We are to walk with Him even to the cross.   Why we should is dependent on who He is.

While it is historically important what the first disciples thought about Jesus and who he is, Palm Sunday is not mostly about what the disciples said about Jesus 2000 years ago.  The issue is who do we say that Christ is?  Who is Jesus today?  Who do we say He is?   That is the profession of faith we make at our baptisms, at every Liturgy, every time we recite the Creed.

We are claiming to be His followers and disciples.  Who is He that we should want to follow Him?  Palm  Sunday addresses our relationship to Christ and our own experience of Him.  Who do we claim He is?  What are we willing to tell others about Him?   What can others see in us that would make them want to be Christians as well? 

3)  John’s Gospel says people came to see not only Jesus, but also Lazarus (John 12:9) who Jesus raised from the dead (John 11:1-45).  Each of us Christians are Lazarus today – people come to see what Christ has done in our lives.  Yes people want to see Jesus and to know who He is.  But they can’t always find Him, but they can find those who claim that Jesus is their Master and Lord.   Those who don’t yet believe in Christ can see those of us who claim to follow Christ and who say that He has given us new life through baptism and the Eucharist.  They can find us and they can watch us.  Each of us is Lazarus, whom Christ has raised from the dead,  to the rest of the world today.  We are those who Christ has raised up from sin, from corruption, from evil and death, through repentance and baptism.  We hopefully live in such a way as Christian disciples that people want not only to see Christ, but also to see us – to see how we live and what we think and say.   When we assemble here in Church, we create a public image and we are always inviting others to come and see us in whom Christ has working His life giving power, overcoming in us sin and death.   Some want to know if Christ is real or not and the only way they can know is by coming  to see us.

Atheism: Ideal, Idyllic or Ideology? (2)

This is the 3rd blog in a series, the first blog is entitled Atheism: Luminous or Delusion?    The blog preceding this one is Atheism: Ideal, Idyllic or Ideology?  (1).  David Bentley Hart in his book ATHEIST DELUSIONS: THE CHRISTIAN REVOLUTION AND ITS FASHIONABLE ENEMIES offers a rebuttal to some of the common attacks on religion offered by “the new Atheists.”   Below are a few quotes from Hart regarding the philosophical assumptions which atheists make.  The atheists want others to believe that atheism is based in scientific fact, but Hart says their unproven assumptions are neither based in experience nor in logical deductions and so must be debunked as somehow representing a scientifically proven reality.

“There is, after all, nothing inherently reasonable in the conviction that all of reality is simply an accidental confluence of physical causes, without any transcendent source or end.  Materialism is not a fact of experience or a deduction of logic; it is a metaphysical prejudice, nothing more, and one that is arguably more irrational than almost any other. … The question of existence does not concern how it is that the present arrangement of the world came about, from causes already internal to the world, but how it is that anything (including any cause) can exist at all. ”    (p 103)

The Big Bang

Hart places the greater question of the existence of anything as at the heart of the debate between atheistic materialists and those who believe in God as the creator of all things.  What he contends that materialism cannot do is explain why anything exists.  That is a legitimate question which humans are capable of posing, but materialists cannot answer the question because they are limited in their answers to empirical reality – they must search for answers “from causes already internal to the world.”  Hart’s point is that this in itself is a belief not based in logic or experience but in a “metaphysical prejudice” – they say it is so, cannot prove it, but then act as if it is the unquestionable truth of the universe.

Hart’s insistence is that without some basis for beliefs in a transcendent truth, everything really is reduced to opinion, even if an educated one.  Every opinion can simply be refuted by anyone who disagrees with the opinion.  Thus a civic morality will not emerge from a completely atheistic society – they may imitate the moral precepts of the religious societies they reject, but they will not be able to sustain a morality because they cannot lay claim to any ethical truth above personal opinion, democratic rule by the majority, or the tyranny of those in power.

“A culture could remain quite contentedly Christian in all its convictions and still achieve space travel.  The mass manufacture of nerve toxins and nuclear weaponry, court-mandated sterilizations, lobotomies, the miscegenation of human and porcine  genetic materials, experimentation on prison populations, clinical studies of untreated syphilis in poor black men, and so on: all of this required the scientific mind to move outside or ‘beyond’ Christian superstitions regarding the soul and the image of God within it.” (p 232)

Crematorium at Dachau

Hart’s contention is that precisely as societies have freed themselves from religious constraint have we witnessed the growth of mass murders, ethnic cleansing, racial extermination, on a level that no religious society was ever capable of doing.  Watch the UTube video on the Japanese Unit 731 during WW II.  Their emperor, thought of as a god, was trained in biological science, and it is to science that he turns to conduct some of the worst cases of mass human torture and murder under the guise of science ever conceived.  Some claim more people have been killed in the name of religion than for any other reason, but it was science in the 20th Century that enabled the killing of more people than ever had been previously possible.   More Christians were known to have been killed under the Fascists and Communists than were killed in the first 300 years of Christian history – a time period in which the Church was outlawed by the Roman Empire and persecuted.  Rome lacked the scientific means to kill the Christians on a massive scale.

In the end, Hart waxes philosophical about what happens to human beings when scientific progress makes life easier and enables homo sapiens to have more leisure time and not to have to worry about the difficulties of life which used to cause people to turn to religion and gods for help:

 “… perhaps that is simply what happens when human beings are liberated from want and worry, and we should therefore gratefully embrace the triviality of a world that revolves around television, shopping, and the Internet as a kind of blessedness that our ancestors, oppressed by miseries we can scarcely now imagine, never even hoped to enjoy in this world. … When the aspiring ape ceases to think himself a fallen angel, perhaps he will inevitably resign himself to being an ape, and then become contented with his lot, and ultimately even rejoice that the universe demands little more from him than an ape’s contentment.” (p 230)

Some of us cannot imagine what difference it makes whether we can calculate let alone use in math the concept of “the square root of negative one” nor are we impressed that it helps solve certain algebraic formulae.    Some of us are hostile to let alone cannot believe in the existence of a God, nor can we see any purpose served by such an imaginary being.  The fact that our imaginations do not permit us to appreciate  certain concepts does not mean the concepts themselves are unreal or unimportant.  One of the greatest evolutionary gifts to humans is the ability to think and to know abstractly – this has made possible an understanding of the universe which goes beyond what we can normally perceive or experience.  Or as Hart contends perhaps we really will cease to aspire for things beyond our human limits and will settle for an ape’s contentment in life.

Next:  Atheism: Ideal, Idyllic or Ideology?  (3)

Palm Sunday and Holy Week (2010)


(From Sunday Vespers)

From palms and branches,

from one divine feast to another,

let us make haste, we who believe,

to reverence Christ’s passion,

that mystery of salvation.

Let us see him suffer

willingly for us.

In thanksgiving let us sing him

a song such as we should:

Lord, source of mercy

and harbor of salvation,

glory to you!


HOLY WEEK     “We call the week great, not because it has a greater number of hours – other weeks having many more hours, after all – not because it has more days, there being the same number of days in this and the other weeks, of course. So why do we call this week great? Because in it many ineffable good things come our way: in it protracted war is concluded, death is eliminated, curses are lifted, the devil’s tyranny is relaxed, his pomps are despoiled, the reconciliation of God and man is achieved, heaven is made accessible, human beings are brought to resemble angels, those things which were at odds are united, the wall is laid low, the bar is removed, the God of peace having brought peace to things on high and things on earth. This, then, is the reason we call the week great, because in it the Lord lavished on us such a plethora of gifts. This is the reason many people intensify their fasting as well as their sacred watching and vigils, and practice almsgiving, thus showing by their behavior the regard they have for the week. After all, since the Lord in this week has regaled us with such great goods, how are we too not obliged to demonstrate our reverence and regard as far as we can?”    (St. John Chrysostom,  Homilies on Genesis 18-45, pg 221)