Sunday, March 20, 2016

Palm Sunday

March 20, 2016


+ I don’t always like to rehash my sermons. But I’m going to this morning. I’m going to rehash my sermon from last Sunday.  Last week, in my sermon, I said this to you:  save your palms. Keep them. Fold them up , display them in your homes. Keep them throughout this year. Let them dry out.

Because next February, I will ask you to bring them back to church. Because these palms that are so young, and green and fresh this morning, in February will be burned and made into the ashes for Ash Wednesday.

It’s interesting to ponder them in such a way. There is a strange kind of cycle here.  These palms represent us, in many ways. Yes, they are green and fresh now. But they will, one day, be ashes. As we all will. We have them in joy at the beginning of this liturgy, but they also come to represent all that this coming week will entail.

In fact, everything that is about to happen this coming week, speaks to us, like these palms, on a very personal level. As we approach this Holy Week, we need to keep in mind a very important reality.  What is about to happen in Holy Week is about us, as much as it about Jesus.  Now, I’m not talking about this all in some abstract way. I mean it, when I say, this is our story too.

Let’s face it: we’ve been here. Our liturgy today—this service we have this morning—begins on a high note. Jesus enters in a hail of praises. The crowds acclaim him. It is a wonderful and glorious moment as Jesus enters Jerusalem, praised by everyone.

But everything turns quickly. What begins on a high note, ends on a lowest note possible. The crowds quickly turn against him. He is betrayed, whipped, condemned. And although we hopefully have not physically experienced these things, most of us, have been here emotionally.

We have known these highs and lows in our own lives. We have known the high notes—those glorious, happy moments that we prayed would never end. And we have known the low notes—when we thought nothing could be worse.  And sometimes these highs and lows have happened to us as quickly as they did for Jesus. Unless we make personal what is happening to Jesus in our Gospel reading this morning, it remains a story completely removed from our own lives.

As we hear this reading, we do relate to Jesus in his suffering and death. How can we not?  When we hear this Gospel—this very disturbing reading—how can we not feel what he felt?  How can we sit here passively and not react in some way to this violence done to him? How can we sit here and not feel, in some small way, the betrayal, the pain, the suffering?

After all, none of us in this church this morning, has been able to get to this point in our lives unscathed in some way. We all carry our own passions—our own crucifixions—with us. We have all known betrayal in our lives as times. We have all known what it feels like to be alone—to feel as though there is no one to comfort us.

Whenever we feel these things, we are sharing in the story of Jesus. We are bearing, in our very selves, the wounds of Jesus—the bruises, the whip marks, the nails.   

And when we suffer in any way in this life, and we all have, we have cried out, “where are you, God?” That is what this story of Jesus shows us very clearly.

Where is God when we suffer?

Where is God when it seems as though everyone has turned from us, and abandoned us? Where is God in our agony? Where is God?

The death of Jesus shows us where God is in those moments.  Where is God? God is right here, suffering with us in those moments. How do we know this? Because we see it clearly and acutely in his story of Jesus.

The Gospel story we heard this morning is our story in a sense.  For those of us who carry wounds with us, we are the ones carrying the wounds of Jesus in our bodies and in our souls as well. Every time we hear the story of Jesus’ torture and death and can relate to it, every time we can hear that story and feel what Jesus felt because we too have been maligned, betrayed, insulted, spat upon, then we too are sharing in the story. Every time we are turned away and betrayed, every time we are deceived, and every time we feel real, deep, spiritual pain, we are sharing in Jesus’ passion.  When we can feel the wounds we carry around with us begin to bleed again when we hear the story of Jesus’ death, this story becomes our story too.

But…and this is very important…BUT, there’s something wonderful and incredible about all of this as well.  The greatest part about sharing in this story of Jesus is that we get to share in the whole story.  Look what awaits us next Sunday. These sufferings we read about today and in our own lives, are ultimately temporary.

But what we celebrate next Sunday is forever—it is unending.  Easter morning awaits us all—that day in which we will rise from the ashes of this life—the ashes of Ash Wednesday, the ashes of these palms we wave this morning, and live anew in that unending dawn.

Next Sunday reminds us is that, no matter how painful our sufferings have been, no matter how deep our wounds are, God, who has suffered with us, will always raise us from this pain of ours, just as God raised Jesus from his tomb.  God will dry all our tears. All our pains will be healed in the glorious light of Easter morning. This is our hope.  This is what we are striving toward in case we might forget that fact. Our own Easter morning awaits us, as well.

So, as difficult as it might be to hear this morning’s Gospel, as hard as it is to relive our pains and sufferings as we experience the pains and sufferings of Jesus, just remember that in the darkness of Good Friday, the dawn of Easter morning is about to break. With it, the wounds disappear. The pains and the sufferings are forgotten. The tears are dried for good. The grave will lie empty behind us.  

And before us lies life. Unending, pain-free life.  Before us lies a life triumphant and glorious in ways we can only—here and now—just barely begin to comprehend.

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