Calvary Episcopal Church, Rockdale
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SERMON
Palm Sunday
April 1, 2007
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The Rev. Robert C. Granfeldt
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On numerous occasions over the years I have spoken of the liturgy’s nature as a drama. Some have
objected to the term, but that is precisely what it is: a sacred drama! And of all our liturgical practices,
this morning’s service is the most overtly dramatic liturgy we have. In observing our Lord’s triumphal
entry into Jerusalem, with the people laying branches on the road, before him and crying “Hosanna,
Lord, Hosanna!”, as he and his followers process from the countryside into the city, as we, ourselves
take “branches” of palm and process with psalms of glory and triumph:
                  
Open for me the gates of righteousness,
                  I will enter them;
                  I will offer thanks to the Lord.

Thus begins, as well, the most dramatic week of our liturgical year – as we observe the most dramatic
week in the history of the world!

But before we go any farther into the drama of the coming week, I want to pause – and to ask you to
pause with me – and put aside, for the moment, the palm procession with it’s Gospel reading, and the
heart-rending Passion Gospel, to look at the least dramatic of our readings, this morning, and the
least impressive.

I want you to look with me, once more, at this rather quiet, unprepossessing part of the letter of St.
Paul to the Church at Philippi that we have looked at before. This paragraph that possesses none of
the dramatic power either of the entry into Jerusalem, or of the Passion and crucifixion of our Lord,
yet, a paragraph which is one of the most important writings in all of Scripture – indeed, in all the
world, and a paragraph so important and so difficult that we read it, every year, on this day so we can
continue to struggle with it. And it is especially difficult, on this day, as it confronts us with one of the
great problems of our faith.

We are, here, all Christians. That’s why we gather to worship. And as worshippers we are all agreed, in
our belief that Jesus Christ is, indeed, the Son of God. That much should be clear.

Precisely what that means, however, is not so clear, and not so easily agreed on. And it raises
questions that are particularly difficult at this time of year.

Most Christians, it seems, assume that, because Jesus is divine – the Son of God – he is, like God,
both omniscient and omnipotent; that is,  that he knows all things, and can do all things. This is what
most of us were taught in Sunday School, and what most of us believe, today. That, after all, is what we
mean by “God”? God is the almighty, the all-knowing creator and sustainer of the world.

Indeed, yes. But it’s NOT what we mean when we say “God incarnate.”

When we say that, we mean, in the words of the creed, that the second person of the Trinity, “came
down from heaven ,…became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” AND WAS MADE
MAN!

It is that phrase in the Creed that makes us – makes Christianity – different from all the other religions
the world has ever known. The belief that God was born a human being, and dwelt among us – lived,
grew and died among us; lived, grew and died as one of us!

Our faith affirms the belief that Jesus was fully God, indeed – and fully MAN, as well. THAT is what
makes Christianity unique! And Jesus’ uniqueness can be seen by comparing him with some of the
gods of other faiths.

In Greek religion, Zeus was the chief of the Olympian gods. For recreation, Zeus used to put on the
appearance of a human being, and come down and walk upon the earth among people. Why did he do
that? Well, it seems Zeus had a weakness for young ladies – mortal ladies – and he liked to hang out
with them, so to speak!

So, did Zeus become incarnate, like Jesus? No, he didn’t. Zeus was, in Greek mythology, a god – only
a god and always a god – and as a god he was fully capable of doing all the things a god can do. In
other words, he was faking! Zeus just made himself LOOK like a man; made himself look like
something he wasn’t. Zeus put on a disguise.

And then there was another god in one of the Roman mystery religions – a god named Mithra. Every
year, in Roman belief, Mithra died. And every year, Mithra came to life again – a “dieing and rising
God!”

When the Christians began preaching Jesus Christ in the Roman world, a lot of people – Romans –
thought Jesus was really just Mithra. So they had to be taught differently: that Jesus was not simply a
god, like Mithra, with all of the foreknowledge and power of a Mithra. Mithra was involved in an
endless cycle of dieing and rising – and he knew exactly what it was all about: he was a god. Which
means that, in the end, the death of Mithra and his rising again, were meaningless! Just a “cycle,”
never-ending, and ultimately empty and pointless!

But the Christians came to proclaim something different; came to preach someONE different!

They came to preach and to proclaim a God who, for a time, right here on earth, right here in history,
BECAME a man! LIVED LIFE, a man. DIED a man.

To be omniscient – to know all things – is for God; not for man. To be omnipotent – to be able to do
anything – is for God, not for man! These are things that DEFINE God – NOT Man!

But if this Jesus of Nazareth, knew everything, could do anything – WAS God in the usual meaning of
that word – then knowingly going to his death, as we believe Jesus did, was ultimately meaningless;
his death was no different than Mithra’s; his disguise no different than Zeus’.

DID Jesus know what was going to happen to him on that day that we celebrate, today, as
Passion/Palm Sunday? He SEEMS to have known – warns his followers about it, prays about it. But did
he know what was going to happen BECAUSE he was God – and God knows everything? No. Not at all.

He knew it the same way the PROPHETS knew what THEY predicted. He knew because he was an
intelligent man; a student of human nature; a consummate teacher and politician.

He knew that if he were to continue on his present course; if he were to continue proclaiming God as
he had come to understand God; if he were to continue to proclaim that the day of the Temple was
past, and that the priests and their sacrifices were irrelevant; if he continued to claim to be not only
the Messiah, but the very Son of Man and Son of God – that there could be only one fate ahead for
him! HE WOULD DIE! If one beards the lion in his den long enough, sooner or later, the lion strikes!

But how could this be? How could Jesus Christ be God incarnate, and not be – like God – omnipotent
and omniscient?

That’s where St. Paul comes in, in this quiet little passage, so easy to overlook.

“Have this mind among you,” he tells us – have the mind of CHRIST; not of God, but of Christ, “who,”
he continues, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be
grasped, but EMPTIED himself, taking the form of a SERVANT, being born in the likeness of men.”

God, in becoming incarnate in Christ Jesus, “EMPTIED HIMSELF” of his Godhead; EMPTIED HIMSELF
of all the “ATTRIBUTES” of God!, and dwelt on earth as a MAN – LIVED A MAN – LIVED LIFE AS A MAN!!

If Jesus was omnipotent and omniscient, then he was no different than Zeus, masquerading as a man;
if he was an eternal being, endlessly repeating the cycle of the dieing and living god, then he was no
different than Mithra; and if he was like either, he has nothing to do with us; has no meaning for us.
No more meaning than has Zeus or Mithra!

And the events of the week we begin to celebrate this day ultimately have no meaning – and are just a
divine charade!

But they do have meaning.

They have meaning because, “being found in human form he HUMBLED himself and became obedient
unto death, even death on the cross.”

They have meaning because Jesus of Nazareth, recognizing that to continue on the path that lay
before him, the path he believed God called him to walk, would mean he would surely die – cruelly
and in agony! And, out of love for God his Father, and out of love for us, his brothers and sisters, HE
DID IT, ANYWAY. He prayed that God would save him from that fate, but he embraced it, willingly,
anyway – out of love.

And because he – the incarnate one – did that for us, our sin, our sufferings, our deaths, our lives,
are taken up into the Godhead, IN HIM, and hallowed!

And because he did that for us, we will find, IN HIM, our own resurrection, and our own eternal life.

As we begin this most Holy of times – the week of the Passion – I hope you will hold on to the drama of
the week. And hold on to the truth, throughout, that the man whose last days we trace, this week, is
no false God, no Zeus or Mithra – but a man! A man who could – and would – feel pain, suffer deeply,
and die in agony. A man, like you and me, but one who freely gives himself for us in love, so that in
HIM, WE may be taken into the risen life of God! So that IN Him, we might become LIKE him – the
children – the SONS and DAUGHTERS of God!

In his Name, who lived for us, and died for us. Amen.