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Palms and Cheers of Hosanna! Passion, Oppression and Forgiveness

The Sunday of the Palm and Passion

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,

    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
  he humbled himself

    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess

    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 NRSV

This is Palm Sunday, of course. This morning I saw proof of that. Proof that today is Palm Sunday was all around my church this morning—the bright flower arrangement with palm branches as its foundation; the children who processed down the aisles joyfully waving palm branches; the live artist painting beautiful palm branches on her painting; the jubilant singing so filled with ”Hosannas.”

But there is more. In many churches, today is called ”The Sunday of the Palm and Passion.” When we hear the story of Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem, greeted by a jubilant crowd shouting ”Hosanna!” and waving palm branches, we cannot help but rejoice. But notice also how quickly the cheers of the crowd turned into jeers. Almost instantly, the palm waving stopped and the passion began.

After the green fronds moving gracefully in the breeze become still, we immediately sense passion—the passion that moved Jesus toward death on the cross, the passion we will see and feel in the week ahead.

In this stained glass window entitled ”Christ Crucified,” one can most definitely see an aura of passion. We see color, shape, movement and light that tells all of the story—Palm and Passion and everything in between. The window portrays a Black Jesus with arms outstretched, his right hand symbolizing oppression, his left forgiveness. We see pathos in the stained glass artist’s symbolism of oppression and forgiveness, and perhaps we interpret it as a message for us: that embracing both oppression and forgiveness creates our fullness of life.

The window was a gift to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, from the people of Wales, U.K. in 1964. You might remember that on September 15, 1963, the congregation of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama were greeting one another before the start of their Sunday service. In the basement of the church, five young girls, two of them sisters, gathered in the ladies room in their best dresses. It was Youth Day and they were excited about taking part in the Sunday worship service.

Just before 11 o’clock, instead of rising to begin prayers, the congregation was knocked to the ground. As a bomb exploded under the steps of the church, they sought safety under the pews and shielded each other from falling debris. In the basement, four little girls, 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and 11-year-old Cynthia Wesley, were killed. Addie’s sister Sarah survived, but lost her right eye.

There it is. The oppression and forgiveness—The Passion—the passion of Christ, the passion that a church family in Birmingham faced in 1963, the passion being endured right now among the people of Ukraine . . . and the passion that at times leaves each of us brokenhearted and despairing.

Yet, I call your attention back to the stained glass window. Of course, it portrays the passion of Christ, but surrounding his image are signs of hope beyond passion. From across the ocean, another country felt the angst of a church in mourning, parents of little girls laid low. I imagine that this extravagant gift from Wales represents hope beyond passion to this very day for the congregation of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

The stained glass visually expresses oppression and forgiveness, yet in its vibrant color and light, shouts of hope beyond passion:

Above Christ’s head, the rainbow colors of his halo. 
Surrounding him, the large circle of blues that looks like eternity.
And Christ’s hands—
his right hand symbolizing oppression and his left, forgiveness.

Whenever we dare to reach down into the soul to find our faith at its very core, we will always find oppression and forgiveness. I think that’s what passion is really about, when all is said and done—oppression and forgiveness.

A Prayer in Remembrance of Christ’s Passion

God of Life and Death,
         As we lean into this holiest of weeks, we will see both,
                     Life and Death.

Life in the waving of palms. 
Life in the cheering of crowd celebrating a king riding a donkey. 
Life in the washing of feet. 
Life in the sharing of the supper we call “Last.” 
Even in the sound of the cock, loudly crowing. 

But we sense this feeling of dread,
because we know also that this will be a week of death,
Even death on a cross. 

Comfort us as we relive the death of Jesus,
The Passion of Christ.
And help us to remember that in life and in death, there is more;
There is more oppression and there is more forgiveness,
and it brings us hope.

There is so much more . . .
After life
After death

There is Resurrection!
Amen.

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