Sunday, April 5, 2020

Palm Sunday

April 5, 2020

Matthew 26.14-27.66

+ Here we are this morning at the beginning of Holy Week. And let me tell you, this is the weirdest Holy Week I’ve ever experienced.

Usually, without fail, I begin this week with a big mix of emotions. But this year…I don’t even know what I’m feeling.

This strange year.

This bizarre and unprecedented Lent.

Certainly, this week is the apex of the entire Church Year. Everything seems to lead either to this week or away from it.

But, I don’t even know what to say about this Holy Week. The fact that we are not all gathered together here this morning and that we won’t be gathering this week, just makes it all so…different…so unreal.  

Of course, we will do the best we can this week.  We will celebrate our liturgies as we always do, though they will be pared down considerably. We will observe the last events of Jesus’ last earthly moments before his crucifixion, as we always do, though we will be doing through social media together.

That’s all the surface “things.”

This coming week will be a hard one because the virus will possibly intensify this week. This coming week will be hard because more people will get sick, and more people will die.  This coming week will be hard because the quarantine is taking a toll on all of us. We can only socially isolate ourselves for so long before we start feeling its deep effects.

And to top it all that off, for us who are Christians, we must also walk with Jesus on a journey none of really want to walk with him on, especially not now. Not right now.

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, after all.

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 Savior. He is our tie to God, our connection with the God who loves us.   So, to have to go through the emotional rollercoaster of this coming week in which we have to see him betrayed and murdered 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 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 this procession of his is different than the normal procession of a monarch.

The great theologian Marcus Borg 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 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 online 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 Sunday morning , the roller coaster will again be at its most intense, its greatest moment.  Next Sunday at this time, we will be rejoicing, though, yes, that rejoicing too will be subdued. Next Sunday, we will be rejoicing with all the choirs of angels and archangels who sing their unending hymns of praise to him from our homes.   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 that is the message we take with us during this temporarily bizarre time.

All of this will be turned around.

And we will, sooner than later, rejoice together with real joy.

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

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

Are we in Pilate’s arrogant procession?

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

Or are we in Jesus’ procession?

Are we following Jesus even in these dark, strange times?

We know the answer to that question.

Let us join Jesus’ procession, as uncomfortable and frightening we might be right now.   As we trek alongside Jesus during this Holy Week of betrayal, torture and death, as we journey through another week of uncertainty and anxiety, 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 Christ’s incredible Light—a Light that triumphs over the darkness of not only his death, but our as well.

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