Apr. 5, 2020 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Apr 5, 2020 in Feast Days, Holy Week, Lent, Sermons

The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

April 5, 2020

It is said that for one’s soul to come to God we must either travel the path of love or the path of suffering. And really, if we love deeply, we know we risk suffering for that love. Jesus’ procession into his last days dynamically reminds us of this I think we try to shield children from pain and loss as much as we can, including from the pain and messiness of Jesus’ last days. When we’re young it’s understandable to learn such things at a child’s level, and  sometimes children themselves seem to filter out the scary or bad parts; perhaps this is how God protects them. As we grow up we learn this protection no longer serves us, and that yes, bad things can happen to good people. Hiding in our shell to pretend otherwise will not make them go away, but we can learn to walk through them with God’s love for us guiding our path. Love demands our openness to pain and loss and it will come – we know that. Jesus knows this as he enters Jerusalem. In spite of the fanfare of waving palms and garments laid to soften his path, he knows his love for humanity will mean his own pain and suffering, even to death.

Describing Jesus entry into Jerusalem, Matthew’s gospel quotes the prophet Zechariah saying “Look, your King is coming to you, humble, and riding on a donkey.” Matthew cuts out a line in between phrases though, Look, your King comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he; humble and riding on a donkey…” He cuts the ‘triumphant and victorious’ part out because, in spite of the excited palm-waving crowds, that is not how Jesus comes to Jerusalem. Jesus knows there will be pain and death ahead, and rather than avoid or control it, he humbles and surrenders himself to what love demands of him. Those around him want this to be joyous – it’s like a parade! Perhaps even the disciples, who tried to talk him out of this path, let themselves be briefly drawn into that child-like expectation of simple happiness, where pain and suffering are kept at a distance. They will soon see they are not in control of what will happen, and running away won’t make it go away.

We have a proximate conundrum ourselves, not wanting to believe the virus will take ever greater toll, nor that much as we struggle to change our lives right now, there will be additional difficult changes coming and in the aftermath. Is this the first time we have felt such an utter lack of control over our own lives, our futures, that of those we love? Do we have an illusion of control in taking safety measures ourselves, and hoping others do the same? Yes, our actions and staying home definitely slows the rate of progress, but eliminating it is out of our hands. This ‘beyond our control’ experience can feel like a dark hole in our well-chosen lives, a heavy loss, and frankly such vulnerability is pretty humbling. Frustrating as it is for many of us, it’s where hope begins, where we can let this time be spiritually enriching and deepening. We look harder at what is real and true and right because we certainly can’t control the virus, or ignore preventive mandates or the economic havoc. Picture Jesus walking those fifteen or so miles from Bethphage, then once near Jerusalem riding in on a crowd-lined road, hailed with palms and garments being spread. (In my imagination no one is keeping 6 feet of distance!) I wonder if he felt the discord between the “Hosannah!” atmosphere around him and the grim reality he knows is coming. Did he feel alone even in the crowd? Perhaps it is partly this which humbles him, knowing he will not control either one.

On my Camino Anglaise pilgrimage last summer and while backpacking, I had a number of fifteen mile days, and they were tough, not taken lightly. My pilgrimage pre-reading spoke of tasks and spiritual lessons which I think relate to the strange forced journey we are all on right now and to our gospel. First of course, is acceptance. Whether we chose it or not, we are where we are and complaining and blaming won’t change that fact. Our emotions run the whole spectrum as we accept where we are, and knowing we are no longer controlling it all is a big part of that. Anyone felt exhausted, cranky, anxious, depressed, frustrated? We have to let those feeling come instead of – here it is again – controlling them or judging ourselves for them. Imagine them like river water which comes and splashes the rocks and then moves on. They won’t last forever and we are where we are. Worried or not, Jesus knew the crowd would ensure the authorities know of his arrival, and he knows his final days are here. Not forced or driven in, he leads the way.

After acceptance, we focus on critical needs like shelter, food, protection, and the difference between what we want and what we need has come into sharp focus as we cease those daily forays to pick up what we forgot or miss the physical closeness we enjoy. This is indisputably a life or death time. The delightful bustle and fresh produce of the farmer’s market may have seemed like an essential need, until we compare it to masks and gloves for nurses and doctors, or ventilators for the sick and dying. You cannot hoard manna, it rots. So we make do, we get our palms in the mail, we worship as an online community, and get creative. Taking pleasure in the gifts from God around us helps us more than ever, and God’s grace shines through. Read a few verses on and you’ll hear of Jesus finding a place to shelter for the night, and note how in the morning how his hunger is frustrated by a barren fig tree.

Caring for those around us and shouldering our part of community responsibility is next, and we’ve seen it as you hold virtual birthday parties and wave at windows, schedule family Zoom gatherings and pick up groceries for those at too much risk to even leave the home. We also do this by asking for help, and by accepting the offers. In doing so, you make it possible for them to fulfill their call in this time too, and together you see Christ in each other. Jesus stopped at the Temple and cleared out the money changers who made the people’s “house of prayer a den of robbers” He stayed and healed people around him, listening to the children, and angering the chief priests and scribes.

I’m not sure why this task of spiritual focus comes last, perhaps it’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs at work. In any case, to me it is to me it is the greatest one, what makes the others possible; trust that no matter what happens God is with you. Even unto death. This is a time to keep an ongoing conversation with God in your head, tell the truth of your fears and your joys, hopes and hurts, even your rage and anguish, and be assured that God can take it all! Each time you pour yourself out, stop for some slow deep breaths and listen. Let God’s presence become more vibrant for you and remember that you are deeply loved, just as you are. We are God’s beloved and this out-of-control journey allows us to forge a spiritual depth, a God-connection, wrought from our trust and vulnerability with the Holy One, beyond anything we’ve ever known. It is that love which sends this itinerant preacher and healer on the journey with his disciples from Bethphage and into Jerusalem. It’s that love which will sustain him and which he will pour out for us, lavishly, overflowing. As his last days unfold, he gives himself for all of us, and our journey with him continues on. Amen.

© 2020 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

View lectionary readings:

The Liturgy of the Palms
The Liturgy of the Word