I've had various bits of unfinished thoughts floating around my head all day, none of them ready for a post. Since it's been a couple of days, though, I'll share the Palm Sunday sermon I preached in class Friday, which is of course already written. I didn't preach it absolutely precisely according to the script, but this is pretty close. (I should probably note that the audience for this sermon was a classroom full of seminary people, not a parish congregation.)
Palm Sunday makes me batty. We start out with a beautiful liturgy of palms, which fits well into the Lenten progression of time through the Gospel, and then bam! before the service is over, Jesus is dead – except, not really, because we’ve still got Maundy Thursday and Good Friday ahead of us, and he can’t really die until we hear it from John’s Gospel on Friday. We’re expected to fit all of Holy Week into Palm Sunday - not giving anything away for those who will actually be around for the Triduum, but also making sure that the people who won't be back until Easter don't walk in and say "Jesus died?" I just don’t understand Palm Sunday.
Add it to the list of things I don’t understand about Holy Week. Palm Sunday, I can scoot by on. Last year, I had a much more terrifying realization during Holy Week: when Good Friday came, I discovered that I didn’t know who Jesus was. And in fact, a year later, after courses in systematic theology, in New Testament, in biblical theology, I can report that I still don’t know who Jesus is.
Don’t get me wrong here - I both loved and passed those courses, and wrote more than one of my papers on who Christ is and what the cross means. In fact, my final paper for theology talked about that Good Friday experience and how Dr. Wondra’s Magic Chart describing the main theologies of the work of Christ had helped me find some clarity about the matter. And it was all true. Theologically - or, more accurately, intellectually - I can manage. I can do the mental gymnastics. But it’s like taking an online quiz: “What’s your soteriology?” So I can confidently tell you that on that quiz, I scored as a mix of Christus Victor and union/communion with God - God is the agent of our salvation, we experience sin as having power over us, reconciliation plays out in union with God, etc. That’s my preferred theological understanding of Christ and salvation.
I just don’t know who Jesus is. I don’t get it, deep in my gut, even after a year of letting it marinate, just as I know in my gut that it doesn’t make sense to skip straight from the procession into Jerusalem to the crucifixion. This year, though, I think I'm ok with that.
I’d still prefer to know. I’m used to knowing things. I like knowing things. That’s where I’m comfortable, is learning and knowing and understanding things inside and out. And I still think it’s important to keep pushing at that understanding. But it’s ok, for now, that I don’t entirely understand this.
Thinking about the Palm Sunday propers this week, I started humming a song that I hadn’t thought about in several years, at least since college. It says:
Listen to the Lord as he speaks softly
Listen to the words of a perfect man
Listen to the miracle of God incarnate
Listen even when you don’t understand
We used to sing it as a round, so that the last line would echo - “listen even when you don’t understand, understand, understand.” That’s how it sounded in my head this week, too. And as powerful as that line can be in the middle of July, I think it speaks especially directly to us as we prepare to enter Holy Week. Listen even when you don’t understand. Not “listen to hear x, y, or z” – as I learned last year, we don’t get to qualify what we’re willing to hear. Just listen.
So that will be my discipline for the rest of Lent this year, as we head through Holy Week. I’m asking for God’s help in trying to unclench my intellect’s iron grip, and in listening even when I don’t understand. I expect to understand very little, this week - and perhaps that’s the way it’s supposed to work. But I’ll be listening, and I invite you to listen with me, as we move through the marvelous, terrible, mysterious events of Holy Week, watching and hoping for Easter.