Palm Sunday: The Passion of Our Lord A’23
2 April 2023
St. Luke’s Episcopal church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey stone

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the lord, hosanna in the highest…let him be crucified! In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

What a big story or actually stories that we try to tell on Palm Sunday with so many sights, sounds and characters. We try to cram the last week of Christ’s life into one worship service. Where on earth does a preacher try to focus their message and how do you the listeners try to wrap your head around it all? Perhaps one way through to a clearer understanding is to identify a single character that we all can relate to – a character that in the literary and dramatic sense could symbolize “everyman.”[1] For that character I have chosen Peter.

That’s right, that loveable and wonderfully flawed fisherman turned traveling evangelist who is known for having a good heart while at the same time possessing the uncanny ability to place his foot in his mouth at the most inopportune moments! But there is much to commend Peter as well. He was a hard working, loyal follower of Christ who tirelessly worked to bring in the kingdom of God in the midst of a pagan empire. What he lacked in eloquence he made up for with heartfelt zeal and in a phrase he was “fabulously flawed” just like all of us.[2]

Before we go directly to Peter’s lines in today’s story lets get a little more background about the context of today’s liturgy. Ian Markham, noted author and dean of Virginia Seminary wrote that, “The fickleness of humanity is suddenly exposed. We can worship one day and behave in wicked ways the next. We can soar with angels at the start of the Sanctus and become a mob braying for blood moments later.”[3] This is all so palpably realized today as we, echoing the crowd in the story, have said “Hosanna” and only a few minutes later “Let him be crucified.” What is the story trying to tell us about ourselves?

Let’s go now to Peter’s lines for some clues.

Peter’s part of the story starts with him going and readying the meeting place where the disciples would celebrate the Passover. Later that evening Jesus declares that one of the twelve would betray him. Who could it be? Well someone who was most assuredly not going to be the one was Peter. Peter, not one to hold back quickly inquires, “Surely not I, Lord!” Then Jesus makes it clear that all will eventually desert him but Peter was having none of it: “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you!” Jesus tells him that indeed he will deny him three times before the morning crowing of the rooster. Again Peter fires back: “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.”

After Jesus’ arrest Peter follows from a distance and while hanging out in the courtyard is approached not by a tribune or centurion but by a servant girl that was more than likely a teenager. She accused Peter of being a follower of Jesus and to that he snapped: “I do not know what you’re talking about.” He walked a few paces to the porch and was approached by another servant girl who said: “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Peter replied, “I do not know the man.” Finally, he was approached by some on-lookers in the crowd who said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” With that Peter unleashes a blue streak of curses and swears, “I do not know the man!” At precisely that moment the rooster crowed.

Peter was struck at that moment by a weight of guilt that must have felt like the weight of a ton of bricks. How could this have happened to such a courageous and loyal follower of Jesus? In the moment of temptation he wasn’t even able to stand up to a teenage slave girl.

Peter serves to remind us that all of us are broken. We each have what the Swiss Psychoanalyst, Carl Jung called “the shadow” that part of ourselves that we are mostly unconscious of. That which we find ourselves railing against the loudest is only because we know deep down somewhere we too are capable of the behaviors we despise in others. What Peter failed to realize as he was aghast with Judas’ betrayal was that there was buried deep within the shadows of his soul, a betrayer. Peter who made such a case for his own commitment to Christ had the same problem as Judas. What Peter chose to deny about himself showed up and bit him on the backside – and it will surely bite us too if we deny that it’s there for we have this same disturbing duplicity residing within us.

Even St. Paul had to admit that dark tendencies were within him as well. He described his struggle with his shadow when he wrote: “I do not understand my own actions… For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do… Who will rescue me from this
body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”[4] With Peter, Thanks be to God, the dark side didn’t win and his story didn’t end in denial. After Christ’s resurrection he would own the darkness of his shadow, repent and find forgiveness and from then on, walk with a disarming humility.

And now we who are each fabulously flawed just like Peter are called together to embrace the light as well as the darkness within ourselves and to welcome other fellow strugglers as together we form a community of the flawed who aren’t afraid of their shadows.
In this we have confidence that God is never surprised by our weaknesses and brokenness and delights to forgive and restore us.

Former Archbishop of Cape Town, S. Africa Desmond Tutu said once, “We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low.”[5] Amen.

[1] In literature and drama, the term everyman has come to mean an ordinary individual with whom the audience or reader is supposed to be able to easily identify. (Wikipedia)
[2] Credit for the phrase “Fabulously Flawed” is owed to a blogger by the name of Lesley. Just Google “Fabulously Flawed” to see her writing.
[3] Markham, Ian, Liturgical Life Principles: How Episcopal Worship can Lead to Healthy and Authentic Living, (Morehouse Publishers: Harrisburg, PA, 2010) p.63
[4] From Romans chapter 7 NRSV