Sunday of the Passion / Palm Sunday in Year B (Saler15)

God’s Graceful Work – Robert Saler reflects on some theses on preaching creation care on Passion Sunday.

Care for Creation Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary

Readings for Sunday of the Passion, Year B (2018, 2021, 2024, 2027)
Mark 11:1-11 (Procession)
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Mark 14:1 – 15:47

1) It is of course tempting for those preaching creation care during Lent to use the Sunday that traditionally combines a procession with palms and the passion narratives to enact facile comparisons between nature’s death/resurrection cycle and that of Christ. This should be avoided; despite the historic linking of Holy Week liturgies with the seasonal cycle of winter/spring rebirth,[1] to conflate the two in too easy a fashion does justice to neither.

2) That said, the connection between the congregation’s experience with bringing a piece of nature in its midst (e.g. the palms) and the subsequent experience of meditation on the passion does present the preacher with the opportunity to engage the congregation around questions of theology, aesthetics, and ethics.

3) The question surrounding Jesus’ ministry is how social, political, and religious forces combine to lift up this wandering prophet first as a hero only to scapegoat him at the intersection of colonized religion and imperial politics once his movement becomes a threat. What begins as beauty (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount) becomes threat when it begins to disrupt the uneasy synthesis of Judean and Roman collaboration in the colonization of land, culture, and religion characteristic of Jesus’ setting.

4) In the same way, it is not enough to praise nature’s beauty. The beauty of nature is generally taken for granted to the point where it is almost cliché; however, the fact that we generally find nature beautiful clearly is not sufficient motivation for us to preserve it from degradation. In contrast to Plato and others, aesthetics cannot in and of themselves be the primary basis for ethics. “Beauty cannot save us,” either theologically or ecologically.

5) The beauty of Jesus’ message was not enough to save him from our wrath when the politics of empire colonize our minds. The beauty of nature is not enough to save it from us when our minds colonized by the empire of commodification and commercialization cause us to sin against the Creator by destroying creation. No less than those who crucified Jesus, we will sacrifice the good out of fear and an unwillingness to disrupt our status quo towards the life to which Christ challenges us.

6) What is at stake in the crucifixion is the force of life—indeed, life abundant—against our willingness to deal death when the matrix of structural sin has us at its mercy.[2] Similarly, we are willing to become death-dealing agents even against ourselves (via creation) when the structures of sin that colonize our minds render us powerless (even at the very moments—as in human industry and commerce—when we might be tempted to feel most powerful). The story of the passion of Christ is the story of human agency playing its role in its own destruction. To which we might ask ourselves: how will our role in the narrative of earth care be read by our progeny two thousand years from now? Can we truly say that we are any wiser?

7) Here, then, the parallels between the resurrecting mercy at work already even in the passion narrative and the redemptive work of God’s Spirit in creation can be celebrated by the preacher. We are as powerless against our colonized minds as were God’s people in Jesus’ time; however, thanks be to God, God is not captive to these forces. The subversive, redemptive work of God’s Spirit goes on in the very places of death that we create for ourselves.

8) Nature’s Golgotha is all around us. But in and among creation we see the “green shoots” that are themselves harbingers of empty tombs. This is not seasonal, it is not inevitable; it is not something within nature itself. Rather, it is the revolutionary and ongoing irruption of God’s grace where God has chosen to be—that is, squarely in solidarity with creation.

9) When we realize that beauty cannot save us, that our minds cannot resist evil, but that God in Christ continues to be about the work of redeeming our self-made places of death amidst creation, then the agency for the earth’s redemption can be placed homiletically right where it needs to be as the congregation heads into Holy Week: on God and God’s graceful work amidst all that God has made.

Originally written by Robert Saler in 2015.

[1] Cf. Benjamin Stewart, A Watered Garden: Christian Worship and Earth’s Ecology (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2011).

[2] For a sobering but powerful discussion of this phenomenon, cf. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013).