by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Today is Palm/Passion Sunday. The Passion Reading is from the Gospel of Luke.
Homily thoughts on Palm/Passion Sunday, March 20, 2016
The German philosopher and political theorist, Hannah Arendt, arrived at a phrase that attempted to face the fact that certain evils – evil policies, evil deeds, evil plans and stratagems, and evil outcomes – are unforgiveable. This phrase was the “banality of evil.” By the use of this phrase she meant to address the specific reality of the all-pervasiveness of evil. In this she was lending her voice to the post World War II question without an answer, which is, “How does a nation of shopkeepers, intellectuals, artists, giants of industry and commerce, and yes, even of churchgoers become complicit, culpable, and guilty in the slaughter of 6 million people – each murdered person a neighbor and a fellow citizen?”
Arendt’s point was that this question cannot be satisfactorily answered because evil runs over, under, around, and through each of us and all of us. This is the ubiquity of the banality of evil.
Evil that occurs at such a ready disposal requires vigilance not forgiveness.
Look now, how we are oppressed with yet another showing of this truth – this sad, depressing truth – in the violence of the Trump rallies. With memories of George Wallace disturbingly reawakened in so many of us we have a full-blown reminder, now almost 50 years later, of just how thin the layer of civility, with prodding, can be as it is torn off society’s skin only to expose the intolerance and the violence that festers too close to the surface.
I went to a George Wallace rally in 1968. I was there with a college classmate out of journalistic interest. We were writing a semi-monthly column in our college’s student newspaper on the political campaigns of ’68. The rally was at Freedom Hall (I know, crazily ironic, right?) in Louisville, Kentucky. A protest against Wallace started in the middle of the rally. The protesters had their say and were ejected. Two Kentucky State Troopers were standing at the doorway that the protesters had to walk through to get down to the main concourse and then out of Freedom Hall. As one protester walked by one of the Troopers, that uniformed bulwark between order and chaos quickly jabbed his elbow into the ribs of the protester and just as quickly returned to his stance. In a millisecond the deed was done – a performance of evil – the banality of evil showing itself. For whatever reason that practically instantaneous scene resides in my memory all these years on. It was then, and continues to be, a seminal lesson for me that freedom is a struggle particularly for those who are in the minority and on the margins of society, for those on the outside of those who are on the inside.
On this Passion Sunday we are not surprised, we are not shocked. Today, with this reading of the Passion according to Luke’s Gospel, we revisit evil’s plan to besmirch and blot out innocence, evil’s plan to overcome freedom, evil’s plan to kill love.
By now you would think we would see it coming. It takes only so long for hate speech to become a permission – a permission to harm, to maim, to kill.
You would think that you would see it coming. Couldn’t Jesus’ followers see it coming? How about we spend Holy Week warning ourselves and others. Perhaps we will marvel at the composure of the Lamb of God.
At its most basic level, the cross is an instrument of capital punishment. It is not a throne of triumph, not a conquering vanquishment of a vengeful God, and certainly not a means for denigrating oneself as some sort of worthless creature. No, the cross is about power. It is about the belief that the one who is killed upon it will be forever snuffed out. This Lamb of God, this Jesus, this Teacher stands to show that love is insufferable – yes, insufferable – to the powers that be.
You see, evil’s antidote is not justice, as promising as that outcome would seem to be. Arendt went looking for justice and discovered the unforgivable among the ruins of evil’s wake. What we discover instead in this Holy Week is that evil’s antidote is love.
Which makes me think that maybe, just maybe, Easter’s gift is a blessed assurance.
A Prayer on Passion Sunday
All Holy Word of God, your love is revealed among the cheering crowd, among the traitor’s coins, by friends who watch from afar and by hands washed clean of your blood.
As we follow you on this path of passion, death, and resurrection we pray for the courage to bring our hearts to the foot of the cross and to the stone of the guarded tomb. May we find there your love that opens us in faith, astonishes us in hope, and heals us in love.
We pray to you, Jesus – Messiah, who carries the weight of the world yet who offers New Life. Amen. (JR)