Palm/Passion and paradox
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Luke describes Jesus riding heroically into Jerusalem on Palm/Passion Sunday. According to archetypal imagery, is Jesus riding to heroic victory or tragic defeat?
Luke offers hints along the way that the trajectory between Palm Sunday and Good Friday is something other than utter failure, but theyâ€™re subtle hints: Jesus claims the authority to pardon even as he himself is hanging on the executionerâ€™s cross; as he dies, he continues to discuss his kingdom and paradise.
The signs of Jesusâ€™ failure are stronger (especially compared with Johnâ€™s account). In Luke, Jesusâ€™ only words during his interrogation are a weak-sounding, â€śYou say so.â€ť The crowds at his death return home beating their breasts, as the entire cosmos seems to grieveâ€”with darkness covering the whole earth and the great star-spangled curtain of the temple being torn in two.
Jesusâ€™ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and its violent culmination are animated by contradictory images. Sylvia Dunstanâ€™s hymn â€śChristus Paradoxâ€ť allows poetry to hold these together. To Christ who enters the holy city on this day, the hymn has us sing, â€śWorthy your defeat and victory.â€ť Christ is hymned as â€śboth Lamb and Shepherd. . . prince and slave. . . peacemaker and swordbringer.â€ť
Like classic icons that visually allude to the crucifixion within images of Christâ€™s earlier life and ministry, each stanza of this hymn paints iconography that is stereoscopic: Christ is â€śclothed in light upon the mountain / stripped of might upon the cross.â€ť The final stanza turns completely to praise for both the â€śearthly Jesusâ€ť and the â€ścosmic Christ,â€ť the one who is â€śour death and life.â€ť
Gordon Lathrop writes that these Christological tensions can be found in the very name â€śJesus Christ.â€ť Scriptural texts see Christ, the messiah, as the one anointed by God to carry the hopes of all humanity, even the whole creation. And yet the name speaks specifically of Jesus, a marginal and itinerant religious teacher, tortured and executed as a young man under imperial power.
The name â€śJesus Christâ€ť itself stands for the theologically rich ambiguity that marks this day.