Palm Sunday – 10 April 2022
Luke 19: 28-40 | Philippians 2: 5-11 | Psalm 31.9-18 | Luke 23:1-49
Flannery O’Connor once said, “A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anyone asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell them to read the story.”
This morning we are telling a story. We began by telling it as we processed with palms, and we will continue telling it throughout the week to come- telling it with words, with prayer, with waiting and watching and in our hearts. We need to tell it and live it not in sound bites or tweets but in the fullness of our experience that leans in and listens to the fullness of the experience of one another and all the players in the narrative.
People sometimes try to answer the question, “What is the Gospel?” in a pithy one liner. They might say “the good news is Jesus died for you” Or “the good news is Jesus rose from the dead that we have eternal life.” While these are not wrong, neither are they the full story.
I have said to you before that if I drove past you all standing out on the street waving signs that read, “Jesus saves” I would likely pull over and ask what you were doing. This does not mean I don’t believe Jesus saves, but I don’t believe we can convey the meaning in those two words. What does “Jesus saves” mean to a mother with not enough to feed her children under the current regime in Afghanistan? Or to a Ukrainian family huddled, not knowing where the next missile might strike? Or anyone who is or has been bullied or abused, oppressed or colonised? If Jesus saves, it needs to be salvation that means something in all of this….not just when things are okay.
And here is where the power of the story can be found. A story that we live can find different expressions of liberation in each and every life and community. It is why Jesus, the middle eastern man, can be depicted powerfully in sacred art as being eastern or western, black or white, male or female and from every other group you could imagine. It is because the good news is not a formula we recite or impose but a story we enter.
Rachel Held Evans in her book “Inspired” describes the way the good news hits the ground differently for everyone, pointing out that for St John it is that God “became flesh and dwelt among us”. For Matthew and Mark the good news is about the kingdom of heaven arriving and God’s will being done on earth. For the woman at the well, the good news is that she doesn’t need to find the right temple after all. For Luke, the good news is especially for the poor and oppressed, the disinherited and the sick. For the bleeding woman and for the lepers and countless others who were excluded, the good news is that Jesus draws near and touches those declared unclean and makes them well, drawing them back into communion. For the apostle Paul, the good news is that the story of Israel has reached its climax and Gentiles have been grafted into the story and given full inclusion in God’s family.
And so we enter the story this week, knowing that “Jesus saves” is not a once off historical event but a theme tune in a great epic that is played out over and over in life after life, calling us to freedom and love and courage.
There is in this narrative we have walked and heard this morning, the eruption of something that cannot be contained. There is in Oscar Wilde’s play Salome a scene where King Herod receives reports of Jesus raising the dead and cries, “I do not wish him to do that. I forbid him to do that. I allow no man to raise the dead.” In this he sounds like every blustering tyrant, every petty abuser, every oppressor who seeks to rule by naked power. And yet here we are, 2000 years later, and this story, when we allow it to live in us and we in it, continues to liberate the captives and disrupt the controlling power of the oppressor. It is a story that when we try to silence it, even the stones themselves will cry out.
So may you live the story this week, in both its sorrows and its radical hope. May you know the eruption of the good news intimately in your own life and encounter afresh the truth that “Jesus saves” is your truth and that it can indeed set you free.
 Rachel Held Evans, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again (Nelson Books, USA; 2018) Chapter 6, “Gospel stories”