In the past, I have been quite vocal about how I dislike the conflation of Palm Sunday with the Reading of the Passion. You can read those thoughts, here, here, and here. Whether I like it, or not, the Book of Common Prayer, to which I have pledged obedience before God and my Bishop twice, calls this Sunday, “The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday,” and, alas, the Passion must be read. So with teeth gritted, I make reference to Luke’s account of the Passion and write the following.
If I were preaching the Passion this Palm Sunday (something I never hope to do), I would, very intentionally, not spend my time dealing with the crucifixion or its theological ramifications. I’m not conversant enough in atonement theory to make a coherent blog post out of it, let alone a sermon. If I were so bold as to preach a sermon on it, I would most certainly end up in heresy or confusion, and quite possibly both.
Instead, I would focus on the complicated character of Herod Antipas (c. 20 BCE – c. 39 CE). More specifically I would pay close attention to the way in which Luke presents Herod on the scene. Jesus is turfed to Herod by a frightened and weak-willed Pilate because Jesus is a Galilean and <air quotes> technically </air quotes> falls under his jurisdiction. As Jesus and his accusers arrive at the temporary court of Herod, Luke writes, “When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign.”
I’m certain that “glad” is not what the Chief Priests had in mind when they imagined Jesus before Herod. I’m equally certain that a silent Jesus left Herod feeling less than “glad” when it was all said an done. Still, we have this insight into the mind of Herod. He wanted to meet Jesus. He had heard tell of this Rabbi from Nazareth who was doing amazing things. The stories about Jesus seem to have been light on the details of his teachings, but Herod knew that Jesus was a miracle worker, and Herod hoped to get a show.
I find this mindset to be indicative of so many who Jesus encountered in his time on earth, and, quite frankly, the mindset of many of encounter Jesus, through his disciples, even today. We want Jesus to be like Santa Claus. We need to him to heal our cat, raise our salary, sell our house, and fix our marriage. Yesterday. And when he doesn’t, when he instead stands silent before us, looking past our superficial wants and deeply into our most hidden needs, we balk. It just isn’t comfortable. It just isn’t clean. It just isn’t what we think we want. Yet it is exactly what we need.
Even in this most vulnerable hour of his life, Jesus is true to who he is and what he came to teach. He came to restore creation, Herod included, not by sign and wonder, but through love and compassion. If I was preaching the Passion this Palm Sunday (which, again, I hope to never do), that’s the Good News I’d share.