On Palm Sunday a Dual Theme…, Palm Sunday (A) – 1996
March 31, 1996
On Palm Sunday a dual theme runs through the readings, the themes of servanthood and glory. One might wonder what one has to do with the other! Yet if these dual themes of servanthood and glory are separated or pitted against one another, the entire mystery of the passion, and in turn the mystery of our life in Christ, will be thrown hopelessly off kilter.
In the liturgy we move from the exaltations of “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”, to the image of the obedient servant of God who saved others but would not save himself. The passion of Jesus carries within it this dual reality, which is often split apart by various segments of the Church. We often hear ourselves speak of a “theology of the cross” versus a “theology of glory,” as if one is forced to proclaim either Christ’s cross or God’s glory. Either side of the mystery of the Passion, if separated form the other, will result in misinterpretation or abuse.
One side proclaims that Christ’s passion, and therefore our life in Christ, is about humble servanthood. The cross of Christ is a servant’s burden. We are Christ’s servants as Christ is the servant of God. There are many people in the church who believe servanthood and suffering are the same thing. For these people discipleship is measured primarily in terms of blood, sweat and tears. The call to faith is a call to struggle, the call to ministry is a martyr’s song. All this is true; however, our servanthood needs to be balanced by a healthy dose of glory, a joyous realization that Christ has won the ultimate victory over sin, death and the devil, thus freeing us for service in his name. Without this, servanthood can denigrate into self-flagellation and false modesty. A skewed notion of servanthood will lead us to believe that God loves us because we suffer.
The other side of the passion is that of glory. The cross of Christ is the throne of victory; therefore, life in Christ is to know that we are the heirs of salvation and heralds of that salvation to the world.
In some quarters of the church, basking in the glory of God is the only thing to do. Glory and praise are in vogue, because God’s victory over sin and death is “positive” and “inspirational.” We even have “praise services” with only “praise music” that is “vibrant” and “relevant” and “upbeat” sermons with no mention of sin, no call to discipleship or to the narrow road that leads to life. To focus solely on the glory of Christ’s passion and the revel in the victory of the cross without a healthy dose of servanthood, we can denigrate into self congratulation and false pride.
The two sides of the passion and therefore the two sides of life in Christ are to be held in balance. When we have a balanced understanding of the meaning of the passion, there will be no need to choose between servanthood and glory, between social ministry and evangelism, between action and adoration. Holding to the dual mystery is the key to maintaining a balanced and faithful life in Christ.
The dual mystery of the passion is proclaimed boldly in the second reading from Philippians. In this text, Jesus, being in the form of God, took on the form of a servant. Let us view this hymn not only as a description of the dual reality of the passion, but as a description of the dual reality of our calling as Christ’s disciples and the mystery of our faith. This dual reality is one of humanity and yet divinity, it is of servanthood and yet glory, it is a loaf which is body broken and yet the bread of heaven, it is of blood that is spilled that is yet the cup of salvation.
On Palm Sunday, let us have this mind among ourselves, that though we are in the image of God, we will not count equality with God a thing that we should grasp. Instead let us empty ourselves and take the form of Christ’s servants. Let us humble ourselves and be obedient bearers of the cross. We can do these things because God has highly exalted us in our baptism and has bestowed upon us the name that is above all names, the name of Christ, that calls all our knees to bow, and all our tongues to confess always and forever that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God our Father.
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