25 March, 2018
“Take my lips, oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Today is significant on many levels. Personally, today begins my last week of active service as a priest. That feels huge, but in the greater scope of things it really isn’t.
Much more important is that this Sunday invites us into Holy Week. I hope you will plan to engage this journey through Jesus’ passion. It’s not an easy thing to walk with Jesus through the last days of his life. And yet, it is a rich and fruitful time for growing in faith and understanding. I want to give you a heads-up though. This year, beginning in Holy Week, you will notice a change in this worship space. With the vestry’s support, we will be using the free standing Eucharistic table during Holy Week and Easter. That may be difficult for some of you. The hope is that, by bringing our Eucharistic feast out into the midst of the gathered community, the gift of God with us in Jesus Christ will become clearer and more immediate, as we gather to be fed before being sent out. But there’s more. The liturgy for today captures so much about our human condition, our human fears and needs, our expectations and our hopes. Much as our rejection of Jesus stands out today, this is a liturgy of hope. Can you imagine how it was in Jerusalem then? Can you see Jesus coming into the city for the high holy days, the festival of Passover.
You know, the festival recalls how God brought God’s people out of slavery in Egypt, through years of wandering in the desert, and finally into the promised land. Now there is Jesus. Did he seem a new Moses? Did people see in him someone worthy of kingship in their great Kind, David’s name? He so possessed power. This man of God with his ability to heal, with his powerful voice speaking up for the rights of the underdog, seemed an answer to prayer. Could he end the hated subjugation to Rome? It’s just that political kingship is not how Jesus understood his own mission. That much became clear all too soon. And so first the cheering stopped, and disappointment grew. Then, as anger spread its destructive poison, the cheering turned to jeering. What began as a palm covered path to a royal throne so quickly became a desolate walk to a shameful death. It wasn’t a long trip in terms of distance. It’s an easy walk from the Temple mount to Golgotha. But every step on the way from palm procession to crucifixion widens that gap between acceptance and rejection. With every passing day Jesus finds he has fewer supporters and the voices of the opposition grow louder and more insistent. How the tension must have built all through the city as those opposed to Jesus made their plans and ever-present, and always insistent, gossip fueled the fires of unrest. It didn’t take long for the leaders, both political and religious, to get rid of Jesus. He was a threat to their own power after all. What must it have been like for Jesus’ followers then? Can you imagine the deep fear of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person and ending up labeled as a radical, on the wrong side of Rome? But surely, if we, the faithful, had been there it would have been different. Wouldn’t it? Surely if a group of dedicated modern-day Christians could somehow time travel back to that week in Jerusalem we would see the truth and stop that death. We would have continued to stand with Jesus, encouraging others to be brave. We, knowing Jesus so well, would have spoken in his defense. Such suffering seems all wrong to us but now we operate with 20-20 hindsight. Back then, well, Paul’s letters had yet to be written, the Gospels were not even an idea to be developed. The resurrection had yet to be experienced. In truth there is no easy path through this inner journey from hosanna to crucify him. And, of course, journeys are always difficult on some level. What do you think? Do we really need to walk this dark journey to the cross where death and burial await us? Happy endings are so much more fun. “I am with you always” is so much easier on the ear than “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. Why not just skip the pain of Holy Week and get on with the joy of Easter? We know the end of the story anyway. Here’s the thing. If Palm-Passion Sunday begins a journey through Holy Week it is a journey set within a journey. We journey all our lives through this world searching as we go, for hope, and for the holy. Patrick Henry, in his book An Ironic Christian’s Companion, says that “We must not race to quickly past the darkened sun of Good Friday to the dawn of Easter.” The point? It’s important that we know that Jesus was just like us, fully and truly human. It’s right here, at this moment of despair and, yes, even death, that we most clearly see Jesus as we named him back at Christmas, Emmanuel “God with us”. To quote again from Henry, “The doctrine of the incarnation is a relentless assault on everything that makes sense.” At least, I would add, everything that makes sense to us. The question is unavoidable. Can this very human Jesus really be God? And, what does that say about God? When we move to quickly past this dark week, shutting our eyes and turning our backs, we miss the most important point. It’s in this time of re-experiencing the stark confusion and deep despair of Jesus’ passion that we see most clearly that God loves us, not out of sentimental pity for creation gone bad, but simply because God, having been one of us, knows us so intimately. And this is ultimately the source of our hope. In Jesus’ living and dying, we see that God has walked this path already and continues to walk it with us. In Jesus’ resurrection we know for sure that God is the one we can trust with all our living and dying. God is the one we can trust to the end and beyond the end into eternity. And that is really and truly the most holy hope we can hold. May we always keep that hope at the very center of our lives. Amen