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Homily preached by the Reverend Patrick T. Gray at The Church of the Advent,
Sunday, April 5, 2009 - Palm Sunday

What does it mean to be the ruler of all the world? I think it’s hard for us to imagine a world ruler in this day and age, but it wasn’t so hard during Jesus’ day. Alexander the Great, who lived in the 4th century B.C. was the ancient world’s example of a world conqueror, which is in fact the task he set out to do once he ascended the throne in Macedonia. And for this, he was regarded as divine, as a deity worthy of worship and veneration. The Emperor Augustus was also regarded as divine for putting an end to the Roman civil war and bringing peace to the known world. Military might not only made right, it was the power of military might that made divinity the natural conclusion. How else could they have been so successful, so powerful, if Alexander and Augustus weren’t divine, if they weren’t gods? Here was the example of God-like behavior, and many rulers did their best to copy it.(1)

But what we have just heard this morning is what true kingship looks like. What we have heard this morning is what it truly means to be God, to be divine, to be worthy of worship and praise. Alexander and Augustus are merely caricatures compared to the reality of true global sovereignty, and it starts with a “triumphal entry” on, of all things, a donkey, and ends with a cruel and painful death on a cross outside the city walls of Jerusalem. Alexander and Augustus would know doubt look upon this with disdain, for how could such a thing be divine? Where’s the heroic leadership? Where’s the conquering power? This is how you rule the world? This is what it means to be divine? Surely, you must be joking?!

And yet we hear from St. Paul that this is indeed the divine plan of salvation - for God to become human and take on frail flesh, to travel the hard road of obedience all the way to the cross, becoming Israel’s anointed representative, and dying under the weight of the world’s evil – this is what it means to be divine. As we look upon the incarnate Son of God dying on the cross, the eyes of our faith should see our victory, the eyes of our faith should see the true conqueror, the eyes of our faith should see the true meaning of divinity. That to be God is to be the God of self-giving love.(2)

And the rulers of the world look on in consternation and fear. For the one true God is known at last in the person of a crucified Jew. Can this be? That the ruler of the world gives his life for the life of the world, rather than by taking it with force? What could this mean for us, what could this mean for us who are exhorted by St. Paul to have “the mind of Christ,” the pattern of thinking and acting that belongs to you because you belong to Christ?(3) If it means anything, it means we should keep our eyes on Jesus this Holy Week, to learn once again what it means to be a servant of God, to learn what it means to be a true conqueror, to learn that in knowing Jesus, we know what it truly means to be God-like. And that in knowing Jesus, we know God himself. So let us give thanks for this self-giving love that we find in him, and let us show forth to all the world the great love that conquers all.

Amen.


(1) Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters ( London: SPCK, 2002), 101.

(2) Wright, 102-103.

(3) Wright, 104.