The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
The Sacrament of Holy Communion
Palm Sunday – 1 April 2012
Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 118:25-29, Philippians 2:5-11, Mark 11:1-11
From the Book of the Prophet Isaiah:
I hid not my face from shame or spitting. For the LORD God helps me; therefore, I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.
From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians:
Regarding Jesus Christ, the apostle wrote, And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him….
And From the Gospel According to St. Mark:
Welcoming Jesus into the holy city of Jerusalem, the crowds shouted, Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of he Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!
Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hears be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation,
This is a magic wand – a real magic wand. In fact, this wand is an exact replica of the wand used by one of the fantasy world’s most important and powerful wizards, Harry Potter himself. He bought it Ollivander’s Wand Shop on Diagon Alley in London. So you know that this is the real thing!
Now, I will prove it. By waving this wand and uttering the proper incantation, I will turn this entire congregation into frogs. The incantation is, of course, in Latin, Congregation frogmentum – so here goes – in just one second, all of you will be frogs. Congregation frogmentum!! There – Hmmmmm – I don’t see any frogs. Let’s try again – Congregation frogmentum! Ooops! You didn’t change. It didn’t work. Did I hear a ribbet from the choir??? It’s good to be green!!!
Now as all of you well know, there’s no such thing as a real magic wand. This wand holds no magic – there’s no Ollivander’s Wand Shop and there’s no Diagon Alley. And there’s no wizard named Harry. It’s all a part of the magical world of fairy tale.
Magic, the instrument of which is often a wand, is itself not real; it’s the art of illusion. When David Copperfield, currently one of he world’s most renowned magicians, made Diamond Head in Hawaii disappear – and then the statue of Liberty in New York City, neither the mountain nor the monument really disappeared. They just seemed to. For those who saw it, one moment they were there and the next – presto – they were gone; but not really. How he did it I don’t know. But what I do know that it was all an illusion, a trick, a deception – a great deception – a convincing deception – a thrilling deception – but a deception nonetheless. Magic.
We love magic. David Copperfield and other great magicians become multi-millionaires by performing their various illusions. And the more dramatic they are the more that we enjoy them.
Nothing wrong with that. We know it’s a magic show. We come to see the illusion. And we delight in the deception – so long as we know that we’re being deceived – that it’s not really real.
But there’s another kind of magic – a virulent kind that deceives claiming truth, makes promises that can only be illusions and rather than entertain and delight, it entraps and destroys. It’s so bad that the magicians will never identify themselves as deceivers – neither will they call their work evil.
It’s the kind of deception that characterizes the ongoing power struggle between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and falsehood. The good, the right and the true never deceive. The evil, the wrong and the liars always deceive. It’s how they operate in this world as they are empowered by the great deceiver, the Father of Lies, also known as the one who constantly accuses the good of the evil that he performs. And right there is one of the first points of identification of the deceiver. He always blames someone else for the destruction that comes from him.
Keep all of his in mind as we look at how our Lord used His power. In Him was there was no deception. From Him came no evil. And trough Him we find Truth.
When he entered the holy city of Jerusalem, He arrived to the cheers of the crowds who hailed Him shouting, Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes on the name of the Lord – hoping that He would be the One who would deliver them from the oppression of their Roman masters. They sought an earthly kingdom like that of their greatest King – King David – when the nation ruled that part of the ancient world. Living under the brutal Roman authority, they hungered for redemption.
When people feel desperate, when their lot seems hopeless, they will believe in any one who speaks the words they want to hear, who promises to give them what they want – and all of this will come at no cost to them. In other words, the people – and all of human history testify to this – will place their faith, hope and devotion in the one who embodies and proclaims the fulfillment of their illusion.
The people in that crowd had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover commemorating the passing over of the angel of death when they were enslaved in Egypt. But just how much the majority of the people who comprised that crowd actually knew about their religious heritage remains a mystery. We know that faithful Jews studied their scriptures and practiced their religion.
But many others – perhaps the majority of the people – had only a casual knowledge of their faith and the history of their spiritual heritage. Most did not even speak the language of the Holy Scriptures – Hebrew. Most spoke Greek and the local Aramaic.
Although not enslaved in their generation, as had been their ancestors in Egypt, they nonetheless felt the brutal burden of Rome. They wanted a Messiah who would lead the revelation and set the people free. They wanted a military hero forgetting that Rome’s overwhelming power could easily crush them.
Perhaps they had forgotten how costly had been their last revolution. Throwing off the tyranny of the Seleucids in the Maccabeen Revolution of just a hundred and fifty years before, they achieved a temporary victory. But sadly, their war heroes became corrupt in the next generation and the Romans viciously conquered them. Thousands upon thousands were crucified. Jewish blood situated the soil.
Now, years later, the people were once again desperate. Caught up in the possibility of deliverance, they sought a man who could wave a magic wand – or in this case, a powerful, if you will magic sword, and give them a victory that was truly impossible to achieve. Magical thinking.
Assuming that most of the people did not know their religion well – or if they did, did not take it seriously having compromised it under the cultural pressure of the Greeks and Romans – perhaps they were unfamiliar with the writings of the prophet, Isaiah who had predicted that the true Messiah would come as a suffering servant and not as a mighty warrior – a servant who would endure rejection, hatred, disgrace, torture, suffering and humiliation – but would ultimately come out victorious because the Lord God would give him the victory.
The suffering servant would win this worldly victory having defeated the powers of this world at their source – their source being from the power of the world beyond – or better expressed, from the world below. Heaven would defeat hell. Spiritual victory in – and over – the material world.
Jerusalem would be the battlefield – but not the whole of that city – but a small hill in the shape of a skull just outside the city gate. There the battle would be fought. There the suffering servant – the one who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but would humble himself and become obedient even unto death – death on a cross – that cross was the battlefield.
No bloodshed as in most warfare; only the shed blood of the suffering servant. And that would be the shed blood of God made man – of Jesus Christ, the true Messiah and not of just one more worldly power broker who would so willing shed everyone else’s blood and make of everyone else his suffering servants. And his method of operation would be false promises – deceptions in which the people would believe as they gave themselves to slavery in the faith that he would make them free. Magical thinking with disastrous consequences. Yet the way of this world – then as well as now.
So we come to this sacred table and share in the Sacrament of our deliverance. We come to feast at His victory banquet. We come for the ultimate liberation from the powers of sin and death. We come to taste of the eternal kingdom won on the suffering servant’s cross on which He shed His blood. And we say, Take and drink. The blood of Christ shed for you.
Nothing magical about this at all. No wooden wands – just a wooden cross. No magic – just a divine miracle. No magicians – just the True Messiah.
So come to this sacred table and receive the victory won for you. And feed on Him in thy hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, deliver us we pray from the sin if magical thinking that salvation can come from anyone other than from you. Open our hearts to your miracle. Enlighten our minds with your Truth. And deliver us from the powers of this world, that we may taste of your Kingdom now – and live there forever –
in and through your Son,
our only Savior,
Jesus Christ the Lord.