Rector, Casey Shobe Sermon by: The Rev. R. Casey Shobe
Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration | Dallas, Texas
April 9, 2017
The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

The Liturgy of the Palms

The Liturgy of the Word

“For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever.” and The Passion According to St. Matthew

After six weeks, we’ve finally gotten to the final line of the prayer we’ve known by heart for what seems like ever, the prayer that we pray every week and many of us every day, and the prayer that we all think we know so well: the Lord’s Prayer. But when we conclude this oh-so-familiar prayer with the line, “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours,” do we really know what we’re saying? Today, more than any other day all year, we get a sense of just what Jesus had in mind when he taught these words to his disciples. For today, on Palm Sunday, we are presented with a stark contrast between the kingdom, power and glory of the world, and that of God.

When I tell the story of Christ’s Passion to children, I often begin by telling them the story of King Backward. I ask the children to tell me where kings are born and where they live, and the answer is always the same: in a palace. I ask the children to tell me what kings wear, and the answer is obvious: fancy clothes and a crown. I ask the children to tell me who kings hang out with, and the answer is always queens and princes and knights. I ask the children where kings sit and what they do all day: “On a big throne, and duh! – they do whatever they want!”

And then I tell them about King Backward, who seems to not know what kings are supposed to do. Instead of living in a palace, he was born in a stable and didn’t really have a home of his own. Instead of wearing fancy clothes, he said it doesn’t matter what we wear, and he didn’t really have any possessions. Instead of hanging out with rich and powerful people, he picked the people who were forgotten or disliked to be his friends. And instead of spending his days in luxury, bossing people around from his throne, he traveled from place to place loving and serving others. I tell children the story of King Backward to draw a playful contrast between the sorts of people we think of being “kings,” and the sort of king that Jesus is, because he is our King Backward, our king who doesn’t look or act like any other king we know or imagine.

You know, the funny thing is that when I ask children to tell me what they think a king is supposed to be like, they actually describe someone from the story of the Passion – but it’s not Jesus, it’s Pontius Pilate.[1] Pilate is the one born in a fabulous home, who wore beautiful clothes, who commanded great armies, and who possessed tremendous wealth. Kids’ description of a king fits Pilate perfectly, because Pilate embodies everything we accept to be true about kings and power and glory in our world, all that we understand to be great, when we say we want to make our nation great again: namely, that greatness comes from wealth, that power depends on your military capability, and that glory comes from defeating and subjugating others.

The challenge of Palm Sunday is that it forces us to choose. Will we continue accepting Pilate and all of Pilate’s successors down through the centuries as our kings? Will we keep living as though Pilate’s way, truth, and life are all there is? Will we keep thinking it’s Pilate’s kingdom, and power, and glory forever? Or, will we wake up and realize that it’s not Pilate who teaches us to pray, it’s not Pilate who speaks for God, it’s not Pilate who was in the beginning with God and through whom all things came into being. It’s not Pilate who is our king, but the one he had executed. Today, on Palm Sunday, we wave our palms not for Pilate, or for Rome, or for any other empire or ruler or nation, but for King Backward, who pointed to a kingdom not founded on market shares or investment portfolios, a power not derived from Tomahawk missiles or aircraft carrier groups, a glory not rooted in shock and awe and domination. When we look to those things to guide us and orient us and protect us, we have chosen our king, and it’s not Jesus.

We are Christians, and that means that, though it seems Jesus had it backward, we know that what he showed us wasn’t backward at all. Because Jesus’ way, his truth, his life, reveal that it’s us who have things backward. We are the ones who have been confused about what God is really like, and what life is really meant to be about. We’ve been the ones who’ve gotten totally backward the nature of power and glory. We are the ones who accepted a backward lie for truth and went along thinking it is the way the world works. Jesus, our King Backward, actually shows us the way to live right-side up.

They say be careful what you wish for, and the same is definitely true with prayer. Because when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for Jesus’ kingdom, power, and glory, and not our own. We pray for a kingdom that is less about domination and accumulation and more about service and giving ourselves away. We pray for a power not founded on weapons and might, but upon compassion and faith. And we pray for a glory that is manifest not when we defeat others, but when we sacrifice for others. Yes, when we pray this prayer, we have to be ready to have our lives flipped upside down by our King Backward.

I very much hope you will journey with King Backward through Holy Week, because this week is like a deep pool into which we peer and see an opposite world reflected back up at us – only, the reflection we see in it is God’s good reality. Come on Thursday and share in the foot-washing, just like King Backward did for his disciples to show that power is not revealed in force but in loving service. Come on Friday and follow King Backward to the cross, where he reveals his glory. And don’t forget to come Saturday night or Sunday morning, because nowhere else does King Backward do the opposite of what he’s supposed to than when he doesn’t stay dead. Yes, come for the whole of Holy Week, and join us on our King’s upside down, inside out, backward path to eternal life.

[1] “Only three human individuals are mentioned in the Creed, Jesus, Mary and Pontius Pilate: that is, Jesus; the one who says ‘yes’ to him; and the one who says ‘no’ to him. You could say that those three names map out the territory in which we all live. Through our lives, we swing towards one pole or the other, towards a deeper ‘yes’ or towards a deeper ‘no’. And in the middle of it all stands the one who makes sense of it all. Jesus—the one into whose life we must all try to grow, who can work with our ‘yes’ and can even overcome our ‘no’.” Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust (Westminster John Knox, 2007), 76.