Sunday, March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday

Photo of a palm I took in Miami Beach, FL, February 2017 
March 25, 2018

Mark 15.1-39

+  I have to admit—and I don’t like admitting this:This coming Holy Week is going to be a hard one for me. And I’m not talking about the work that’s involved in this week. I don’t dread that at all. I’m a church nerd, after all. I like doing church services and visitations and all the things involved with Holy Week.

I dread this coming week for one big reason: This coming week is going to be hard for me because of the emotional toll it will take.

As most of you know, I’ve been through a difficult Lent, to say the least, with my mother’s death in January. And now to have to emotionally face all that Holy Week commemorates is not something I can say I am looking forward to.

I think it is emotionally difficult for all of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus. How can it not, after all? We, as followers of Jesus, as people who balance our lives on his life and teachings and guidance, are emotionally tied to this man. This Jesus is not just mythical character to us.  He is a friend, a mentor, a very vital and essential part of our lives as Christians. He is truly “the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One,” that we heard in our Gospel reading for today.

So, to have to go through the emotional rollercoaster of this coming week in which he goes through his own death throes is hard on us, especially those of us walking through our own grief.   And today, we get the whole 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. This day begins 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 then…within moments, a darkness falls.  Something terrible and horrible goes 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.

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. See, now, why I am not looking forward to this week?

But, we have to remind ourselves that what we encounter in the life of Jesus is not just about Jesus. It is about us too. We, in our own lives, have been to these dark places—these places wherein we have felt betrayed and abandoned and deserted, where we too have reached out and touched the feather-tip of the angel of death, so to speak.  

It is a hard place to be. And it is one that, if we had a choice, we would not willingly journey toward.

But this week is more than dealing with darkness and despair. It is a clear reminder to us that, yes, we like Jesus must journey roads we might not want to journey, but the darkness, the despair, death itself is not the end of the story.

Palm Sunday is not the end of the story.

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are not the end of the story.

What this week shows us is that God prevails over all the dark and terrible things of this life.  And that God turns those things around again and again.  That is what we see in Jesus’ betrayal and death. What seems like failure, is the actually victory.

What seems like loss, is actually gain.

What seems like death, is actually life unending.

Now, in this moment, we might be downcast. Now, in this moment, we might be mourning and sad.

But, 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 and life.  That is how God works.  And that is what we will be rejoicing in next week.

So, 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, we will be basking in that  incredible Easter Light—a Light that triumphs over the darkness of not only Jesus’ death, but ours as well.

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