Sermon: Palm Sunday 2020.
Our readings are Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 and Matthew 21:1-11. They can be found online here: https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=29
One of the things I love about Palm Sunday is the way that it threads together the Old and New Testaments. The readings – the same stories each year – always show us that we are being ‘grafted’ (as Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans) into the people of God through the one true tree of life: Jesus Christ. Why do I love that Palm Sunday does this? Well, I love the symbolic connections:
So this is why I love palm Sunday. It is filled with symbols, words, creatures, persons and events that weave together the Old and New testaments not just in these two passages, but across the Scriptures.
But this is an intellectual delight, an intellectual beauty that speaks to something more fundamental. And if it were not for this, that interweaving would be like that you find in any other well written story. No, the key here, at least for me is this. The reason it is so important that these passages have such interwoven fulfillment is because it proves to me that the God who claims to have made me, given me a purpose, a place, and a life – that he cannot and will not abandon me when things go horrifically wrong. We could have just read the Gospel lesson today and know that this man named Jesus is going to take a humble donkey ride while some folks lay down palm branches.
Nice story. Reminds me of many other legends and myths. And maybe this would give me some moments of refreshment or allow me to reset how I think about things. But I’ll tell you what, it would leave me with a sense of profound sadness about life. Why? Because it wouldn’t allow me to see who God is: that the one who made me from nothing – that rescued me from this profoundly messed up world where there is disease, suffering, brokenness, war, brutal violence, pandemics – is also the one who refuses to accept these things as dictating that I should succumb to brokenness, corruption, and evil in my life now. Although I may suffer and struggle – as all of us do and very much are to varying degrees through this pandemic – God has always been, always will be and so in the middle of this frightening, confusing, destructive, and uncertain time of pandemic, always is with us.
You see our story today, of Jesus taking the wise donkey of burden, carrying the God-man who has taken on my own and your burdens, allows me to see the world through a different light as the psalm puts it, or lens, as we might say today. If we look back through time in Scripture what we see is not just the events recorded in those scriptures. Instead we can see all of history and even our present right there in different parts of Scripture: we see wars, disease, corruption, violence, degradation and humiliation, aging, suffering, sickness, disease and death. And we see God present with us, his people. We see him not idly standing by, or standing above us shaking his head at us and our foolishness and our suffering. We see that he came into the world for us and walked a path that would lead to our redemption, our reconciliation and to life. A life offered to each of us not to live on our own, or in our own ways, but in relationship, following that path that God laid out for us in the life of Jesus. And we know that the gate came down with Jesus’s Cross and resurrection, so that we could walk the righteous path with him, we in him and him in us.
That my friends, is what allows me to truly live and give of myself when I am tired, scared, worried, stressed out, frustrated, confused, and profoundly uncertain. I am not alone even when no mere human knows my fear and anxiety, knows the deeds I must do and the things I must refrain from telling, or the ways in which relationships can scratch away the scabs or even old skin of scars from old fears abided, but never forgotten.
Today we begin holy week. In times past it has been a week of anticipation and of so much activity in the Church, times of gathering, preparing and worshipping. This week there will be no opportunity to gather together in person. This week is Holy Saturday. It is a time of collective exhaustion, of profound shock, sadness, worry, and maybe even for some of you (as I know it has been for many of my colleagues), of tears. My friends I say to you, let them flow. There is no shame in weeping, of wailing with lament and anguish. This is a world whose entire population is living a truth of human finitude: our Holy Saturday. It is okay to acknowledge this and allow yourself to remain there.
For we know something else. We know that The Son of God who goes down into the depths of Hell, that he rises. That he comes amongst us and that he remains with us, that he gives us His Spirit so that in these times, we can know that we are not alone. We are not standing outside the gates but we have the Holy of Holies inside us, deeper inside us that we are in ourselves (see Augustine). So as we are confined to our homes, uncertain of our futures, let us not forget that we are bound together, as were the Israelites, in and with Christ. From here, just where we are, we can reach out as we’ve been doing – in the hope and by the way of Christ – to talk on the phone, to write a letter or an email, to check in with one another, knowing that we have been given life, even through struggle and uncertainty, for the sake of one another as witnesses to this one in whom we find life. AMEN.