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The Rev. Dr. Laura Mendenhall The Rev. Dr. Laura Mendenhall

The Rev. Dr. Laura S. Mendenhall is the former president of Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA, and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

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Presbyterian Church (USA)

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Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA


The Vulnerability of Love

Mark 14:1--15:47

April 16, 2000

This is Palm Sunday. This Sunday is also called Passion Sunday. But I want to tell you about the parade on Palm Sunday. I want to tell you about the people shouting and singing, about how they broke branches off palm trees, about how they waved the branches in order to show the intensity of their joy and expectation, about people taking off their jackets and spreading them on the ground before Jesus just as their ancestors had done for Jehu upon his return from battle. I want to tell you about how they sang from Psalm 118 of one coming in the name of their beloved King David, in the name of the ancient king to whom God promised an eternal Kingdom. I want to tell you about the parade.

I want to tell you of the little children caught up in the excitement and empowered to become part of the parade because of Jesus' blessing of them. I want to tell you of the man with the withered hand who was now cutting down the branches and passing them out to others. I want to tell you of the one who is deaf and mute who is now leading the singing. I want to tell you of the lame who were dancing in the streets. I want to tell you of the outcast who was now part of the parade. I want to tell you of the woman who had been bleeding for years and had once touched the hem of Jesus' garment and who now ran alongside the donkey singing. I want to tell you of the blind man, who once saw people as trees, walking and who now clearly saw Jesus entering the city on a donkey. I want to tell you of a little girl whom Jesus raised from her deathbed and who now brought her parents to the parade. I want to tell you of those Jesus fed on the hillside who this time brought food to share with others along the parade route. I want to tell you of Jesus' mother and brothers who gazed up and down the street realizing that all these people were now part of Jesus' family. I want to tell you of the father who had brought his son to Jesus, laid the boy at Jesus' feet, saying, "I believe. Help my unbelief." This man now stood on the sidelines with his son, both of them healed--the son healed of his seizures, the father healed of his doubt. I want to tell you about the parade.

I want to tell you how Jesus, who had earlier asked those to whom he had revealed himself to keep his secret, finally threw caution to the wind, did not quiet the crowd or even subdue their enthusiasm. I want to tell you how at the parade Jesus not only tolerated but even encouraged unabashed worship from those who had witnessed his mighty works. I want to tell you about the parade and give you a memory of this great day because the days which followed the parade were so frightening.

You see, there was a contingent at the parade that day who had witnessed Jesus' mighty works and were now eager to welcome a triumphant warrior. They expected the Messiah to be the Son of the great King David and lead the people to victory. They expected Jesus to enhance their position in the community. But they were not eager to worship Jesus; they were not pleased with others' worship of Jesus as the Son of God. They wanted Jesus to be their King and support their causes, but they did not want a parade where people recognized Jesus' rule as sovereign over all. They did not want Jesus to question their motives and were offended when Jesus cursed the fig tree. They did not want Jesus to question their positions of privilege and so they questioned Jesus about his authority. For it was their intent to continue to compromise with justice, to accept the necessity of violence, to ignore suffering, to evade responsibility. And they did. And the rest of the story is one of tragedy.

I want to tell you about the parade and ...

spare you the pain of watching Judas betray him for money,
spare you the disappointment when Peter denied ever having known him,
spare you the sight of the disciples fleeing when Jesus was arrested,
spare you hearing the crowds jeering him, calling for him to be crucified,
spare you wincing as Jesus was stripped and nailed to the cross,
spare you having your soul pierced by the anguish of his cry to God,
spare you the grief of the women who continued to stay with him at the cemetery.

I want to tell you about the parade but the truth is Jesus dies before the palm branches are cleared from the roadway. I want to tell you about the parade and protect you from the shame of what Jesus did for us. I want to cry out, "Jesus, you do not have to do this for us! We know you love us." However, such a response exposes my utter lack of understanding of God's love, expresses my arrogance at wanting to protect even God from the vulnerability of love. I want to tell you the story of the parade and protect you from Jesus' vulnerability. Yet, I imagine that the deepest yearning of your soul is to witness Jesus' vulnerability, to hear those at the foot of the cross whisper, "Truly this was the Son of God." How else can you understand God's love for you?

Love involves a willingness to put one's self at risk, and God, who is love, was willing to risk great suffering, willing to risk betrayal and denial and desertion, willing to risk mocking and misunderstanding. There has been no pain greater than what God's love can bear. God does not regret the price of love. Such vulnerability is perfect love.

So while I want to tell you the story of the parade because I want you to know of God's love for you, I also want to ask Jesus to stop the parade, to turn around and go safely, quietly back to Nazareth, to get out of the middle of the street and quit causing a commotion. I want to protect Jesus from the vulnerable stance of love, for I hear Jesus praying with the psalmist, "I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances. Those who see me in the street flee from me. I have passed out of mind like one who is dead. I have become like a broken vessel for I hear the whispering of many, terror all around as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life. But I trust in you, O Lord. I say, 'You are my God. My times are in your hand. Deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. Let your face shine upon your servant. Save me in your steadfast love.'"

In prayerful obedience, Jesus continued his journey. Jesus chose to be vulnerable, exemplifying the words of the prophet Isaiah,

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher
that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens,
wakens my ear to listen
as those who are taught.
The Lord has opened my ear and I was not rebellious.
I did not turn backward.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard.
I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.
The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
He who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
It is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?

Jesus chose to be vulnerable and during the events of the week following the parade, those who witnessed God's love in Jesus Christ found themselves to be in a position of vulnerability as well. The days after the parade were frightening and sad for the community of faith. As C. S. Lewis wrote, "To love is to become vulnerable, to risk suffering. If you want to make sure your heart is not broken, you must give your heart to no one, to nothing. Then, it will not be broken. Indeed it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable." Those who followed Jesus in the parade became part of the vulnerability of love. They could have taken their loved ones home from the parade and shut themselves off from the events of the rest of the week in an effort to protect themselves from the vulnerability of love. Yet to do so would have meant being cheated from the reality of God's love for them, being cheated from what it means to love one another.

We could seek to be content this week with only the story of the parade; yet, if we are to have a story in which we can live and die, we need the whole story. Therefore, while I want to tell you the story of the parade, of children shouting, "Hosanna!" of people singing and dancing and waving branches in unabashed praise of the one who came to be their Savior, I also want to tell you that God's love for you puts God in a place of vulnerability. Yet God is faithful, willing to risk suffering in order to bring life out of death. Jesus goes before you into places you do not yet know and prepares a place for you, the Beloved. On Palm Sunday, Passion Sunday, I want to tell you the story of the parade and how Jesus has not yet finished telling you how much God loves you.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being born in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen. Phil. 2:5-11

Let us pray.

Christ, our Teacher, for us you were obedient, even to death. Teach us to obey God's will in all things. Christ, our Life, by dying on the cross you destroyed the power of evil and death. Enable us to die with you and to rise with you in glory. Christ our Strength, you were despised and humiliated as a condemned criminal. Teach us the humility by which you saved the world. Christ our Salvation, you gave your life out of love for us. Help us to love one another. Christ our Savior, on the cross you embraced all time with your outstretched arms. Gather all the scattered children of God into your realm. Jesus, Lamb of God, have mercy on us. Jesus, Bearer of our Sins, have mercy on us. Jesus, Redeemer of the World, grant us peace. Merciful God, as we enter Holy Week and gather at your houses of prayer, turn our hearts again to Jerusalem to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that united with Christ and all the faithful, we may one day enter in triumph the city not made by human hands, the new Jerusalem, eternal in the heavens, where with you and the Holy Spirit, Christ lives in glory forever. Amen.


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