Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday

April 9, 2017

Matthew 26.14-27.66

+ Here we are this morning at the beginning of Holy Week. Every year, without fail, I begin this week with a big mix of emotions. Certainly, this week is the apex of the entire Church Year. Everything seems to lead either to this week or away from it.  But, on a much more personal level, I gotta say:

I actually dread Holy Week.

Now, I know probably your first reaction to my saying that is that you think I am dreading all the extra liturgies and services of this coming week. Actually, no. I don’t dread that at all. After all, I’m a church nerd. I like doing church liturgies and, frankly, doing the work I was hired to do. So much so, that I often forget about other people.

Our Senior Warden Cathy McMullen this past week very gently reminded me that maybe having all the services we had scheduled for this week might be a “bit much.” I was oblivious to that fact. But, yes, I realized: maybe it was. Certainly for our poor organist James.  And for our altar guild, and for many of you.  Which is why we are not doing Wednesday night Mass this week.

But I don’t dread Holy Week for any of those reasons.  I dread this coming week for one big reason: I dread the emotional aspects of this coming week. I think the biggest toll of this coming week on me is the emotional toll.

How can it not, after all? We, as followers of Jesus, as people who love Jesus and balance our lives on his life and teachings and guidance, are emotionally tied to this man. This Jesus is not just some mythical character to us.  He is a friend, a mentor, a very vital and essential part—no, he the very center of our lives as Christians. He is our God. So, to have to go through the emotional rollercoaster of this coming week is hard on us.   

 And today, we get the whole emotional rollercoaster in our liturgy and in our two Gospel readings.  Here we find a microcosm of the roller coaster ride of what is to come this week.  What begins this morning as joyful ends with jeers and bleakness. The Jesus who enters Jerusalem is the Jesus who has done some incredible things in the past few weeks, at least in the very long Gospel readings we’ve been hearing over the last few weeks.

Three weeks ago, he turned the Samaritan woman’s life around.  Two weeks ago, he gave sight to a man born blind.  Last week, he raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. This day even begin with us, his followers, singing our praises to Jesus, waving palm branches in victory.  He is, at the beginning of this week, popular and accepted.  For this moment, everyone seems to love him.

But this procession of his is different than the normal procession of a monarch.  The great theologian Marcus Borg (who, I just found out this week, lived as a teenager in that trailer park on Main Avenue in Moorhead back in the 1950s): wrote this:

“[Pontius] Pilate’s procession embodied the powers, the glory, and violence of an empire that ruled the world. Jesus’ procession embodied an alternative version procession and alternative journey…an anti-imperial and non-violent procession.”

Such a procession, as wonderful as it seems, is, however, dangerous.  Such an anti-imperial, non-violent procession is a threat.  And as a result…within moments, a darkness falls. It all turns and goes horribly wrong.   What begin with rays of sunshine, ends in gathering dark storm clouds.  Those joyful, exuberant shouts turn into cries of anger and accusation.  Those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem have fled.  They have simply disappeared from sight.  And in their place an angry crowd shouts and demands the death of Jesus. Even his followers, those who almost arrogantly proclaimed themselves followers of Jesus, have disappeared.  Their arrogance has turned to embarrassment and shame.  Even the Samaritan woman, whose life he turned around, the man born blind, and his friend Lazarus have disappeared and are nowhere in sight.

Jesus, whom we encounter at the beginning of this liturgy this morning surrounded by crowds of cheering, joyful people, is by the end of it, alone, abandoned, deserted—shunned.  Everyone he considered a friend—everyone he would have trusted—has left him.  And in his aloneness, he knows how they feel about him.  He knows that he is an embarrassment to them.  He knows that, in their eyes, he is a failure.

Throughout this coming Holy Week, the emotional roller coaster ride will get more intense.  On Maundy Thursday the celebratory meal of Passover will turn into a dark and lonely night of betrayal.  Jesus will descend to his lowest emotional point after he washes the feet of his disciples and heads out into the garden of Gethsemane.  

Friday will be a day of more betrayal, of torture and of an agonizing violent death in the burning hot sun.  

Saturday morning, while his body lies in the tomb, he descends to the depths of hell and from there will be lead those who went before into the depths. Not even the depths of hell are more powerful than he.  Saturday will be a day of keeping watch at the grave that would, under normal circumstances, be quickly forgotten.

Through our liturgies, we are able to walk with Jesus on this painful journey and to experience the emotional ups and downs of all that will happen.

And next Saturday evening and Sunday morning , the roller coaster will again be at its most intense, its greatest moment.  Next Sunday at this time, we will be rejoicing.  Next Sunday, we will be rejoicing with all the choirs of angels and archangels who sing their unending hymns of praise to him.  We will be rejoicing in the fact that all the humiliation experienced this week has turned to joy, all desertion has turned to rewarding and wonderful friendship, all sadness to gladness, and death—horrible, ugly death—will be turned to full, complete and unending joy.

Marcus Borg finished that quote we heard earlier in this way:

“Which journey are we on? Which procession are we in?”

Are we on Pilate’s journey? Are we the crowd, are we the religious leaders who call for Jesus’ death because he doesn’t meet our personal needs?

Let us join Jesus’ procession, as uncomfortable and frightening as it might be at times.  As we journey through the dark half of our liturgy today, as we trek alongside Jesus during this Holy Week of betrayal, torture and death, let us keep our eyes focused on the Light that is about to dawn in the darkness of our lives.  Let us move forward toward that Light.  Even though there might be sadness on our faces now, let the joy in our hearts prompt us forward along the path we dread to take.  And, next week at this time, when we gather here again, we will do so basking in the Christ’s incredible Light—a Light that triumphs over the darkness of not only his death, but ours as well.

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