Year A: Passion (Palm) Sunday

Isaiah, Paul and Matthew show us that the only way that Jesus can reflect the extent, depth and measure of God’s love is by accepting death.

Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26: 14-27:66

The mystery surrounding those who participate in the dialogue between God and humanity is brought into sharp focus by Isaiah. Those who claim to be Divinely inspired in any religious tradition can expect resistance and persecution as we read here. It is accepted with humility and a reliance on God’s care by Isaiah: ‘The Lord has given me a disciple’s tongue… he comes to my help, so that I am untouched by the insults.’  This disciple pre-figures Christ.  His is the final and ultimate rejection by humanity of his message. The prophet who is ignored, not heeded, culminates in the person of Jesus.  In humanity’s rejection of the word from God, the dialogue reaches its final and fulfilling climax. Life comes through the death of the One believed not just to be a ‘disciple’ but to be the very Word of God in his humanity. God becomes death so that humanity can share the life of the God who dies and rises again. The dialogue shifts gear and moves to a new and unbelievable dimension and asks the whole world to join in its triumph.  All this is pre-figured in the reading from Isaiah.

St Paul’s famous hymn in Philippians offers an inspired insight into what he believes has happened in the death of Jesus. The world has been shifted on its axis – just look at the words – let them strike you with the immediacy as if first heard: ‘Oh human, have you heard them before and you are looking for truth, joy, fulfilment, your destiny, your immersion in total love and acceptance’. ‘His state was divine.’  Really!  So simply put but it has taken millennia, via Isaiah and his suffering disciple figure, and many other images, to arrive at this simple knowledge which besets and besots Paul. This man was and is, Divine! We may have come across someone who so pours him or herself into speech that we may say they become what they say! Here Paul says that Jesus (whose state was Divine) poured himself into our humanity, not just as the willing disciple of Isaiah’s vision, or even slave, but exactly as all men are, and then he so poured himself out that he accepted death and death on a cross. ‘Kenosis’ is the Greek word for this process of ‘emptying’.  God cannot find the words, to tell us how much he loves us. So, he becomes his own Word, he becomes human. The only way that Jesus can speak God’s love is by accepting death – to show us the extent, the depth, the measure of God’s love. The dialogue between God and humanity reaches its mystical,  logical climax in the death of Jesus. That achieves resurrection, the Life of God, for Jesus but then also for us all. It is logical and unbelievable all at once.  God must die of love to tell us truly that he loves us to death. It makes utter sense and is utter non-sense at one and the same time! 

Paul is under no illusion about the universality and inclusive nature of what he believes has been accomplished in the life, death and resurrection of the man Jesus. Christians are the ones who claim that what happened in Christ is for everyone: ‘God raised him high and gave him the name which is above all other names so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld (Paul can think of nowhere else), should bend the knee at the name of Jesus and every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ This is not meant to threaten but to gently whisper: “Here is the emptying of God, to show he loves without boundaries.”  Likewise, Christians must serve through self-emptying and without boundaries if they are to live up to the means through which God saved humanity. Tongues will not confess Christ as Lord unless they speak of it with ‘self-emptying’.

Matthew gives us the passion narrative – the last chapter in the Divine-human dialogue. Dialogue ends in suffering, silence and the grave. But silence and the grave cannot confine the life or Word of God, poured forth in all creation and exemplified in Jesus.  The resurrection of all creation begins with Jesus, the Christ.