Monday, April 18, 2011

Palm Sunday Sermon

Two sisters experienced the tragic loss of their brother. They had called for help but it didn’t arrive soon enough. Lazarus was not ill any longer, he was not sleeping; he was dead. Jesus had every intention of going to be with them, but he delayed his journey by two days and in that time Lazarus passed on and was laid to rest. When Jesus finally arrives on the scene, these two sisters with their two distinct personalities say the exact same thing to Jesus. Out of her hurt and sorrow Martha says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” Realizing exactly what she needed at the time to be comforted, Jesus talks theology with her. For Martha to have comfort and hope she needs to acknowledge what she knows, that Jesus is the Messiah- and he alone is the source of hope for the world. When this discussion ends, Jesus seeks out the other sister. Mary is at the tomb, weeping. Again the words ring out, “My Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” This time Jesus speaks no words, he simply joins Mary in crying. He weeps with her. No explanations, no excuses, no theological talk- only the simply act of coming along side Mary in her state of sorrow to mourn.
We started our Lenten journey with this story. We noted how powerful Jesus’ tears were for Mary. His compassion and sympathy, his genuine grief over his friend Lazarus- all this was exactly what Mary needed at the time. My challenge for us for this forty days was to try to see the world through the tears of Christ. I had no idea what that would mean for our community when I spoke that challenge. As we have grieved together over the last week and a half we have had ample opportunity to see the world through the tears of Christ.*

On my Lenten journey I’ve seen the world through the tears of Christ, but I’ve also seen the love of Christ expressed through teenagers. I have seen the power of one friend holding another friend as they cry. I have seen how appropriate to let the hug and the “I love you,” do the talking rather than opening your mouth to try to explain the unexplainable. Throughout our community- and even around the world as we watched the devastation of natural disaster in Japan, we have indeed been able to see the world through the tears of Christ.

This morning we take a short break from tears so we can celebrate a triumph. Everyone needs a break from grief and tragedy. One reason that the 40 days of Lent does not include Sundays is because Sundays are to be “Little Easter” celebrations. Each Sunday when we worship together, our worship should be a celebration of the risen Christ. So I do indeed want you to celebrate today. Do something special with your family today, take a break from mourning and do some laughing- play a game, watch a movie, get outside and dance in the rain if you have to. If you gave up something you enjoy for Lent like dessert, or sweet tea or whatever it is- have it today. I promise it isn’t cheating.

Today is a celebration of Palm Sunday. This day we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus’ last days would be lived out in Jerusalem, the religious center of the Jewish world. As he enters into the city for a final time, he finally begins to get the respect of which we know he is worthy. As he enters the city, a parade of respect and recognition begins. The disciples find a donkey and her colt for Jesus to ride, to fulfill what the prophet Zechariah said about the king of Zion riding on the foal of a lowly donkey. Jesus is the king, and to recognize this dignitary, people took branches from trees and laid them on the road in front of him. It was the procession of a king. Not a warrior king, riding in on a chariot, draped in gold, but spiritual king.

We know Jesus is our King. Each Sunday when we worship, Christ is lifted up, however during Lenten worship we drape our sanctuary in purple. Purple is the color of royalty and it can be found all over. The beautiful new worship banners are a stunning addition to our adoration of Jesus as King. Purple is a color of celebration. In the ancient world purple was an expensive color, only the wealthy could possess it because of the amount of color it took to dye a cloth purple. The purple in our sanctuary is an acknowledgement that Jesus, our King, deserves our very best.
The thing I like best about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is that finally a group of people recognize who Jesus is. Many people in the gospel stories have recognized Jesus as king, or savior, or messiah but usually it is after an individual encounter. Nicodemus questions Jesus and realizes he is the Christ. After an encounter at the well- the Samaritan woman proclaims Jesus as Messiah and rushes to tell. A blind beggar sees the Savior face to face, literally seeing for the first time. These individuals have recognized Jesus as King. The disciples, bless their hearts, they kind of get it, but most of the time they really don’t understand what Jesus is trying to teach them. They are faithful, they would do anything he told them to do, they are committed to serving him, and in so doing, serving God. There have been crowds on hillsides who heard his teachings, but today’s crowd is different. The crowd gathered for his entry into Jerusalem recognizes Jesus as their king.

“Hosanna!” The crowd proclaims. The word hosanna is both a word of praise and a cry for help. Hosanna literally means, “save us.” I believe the crowd knows Jesus is the one to call on if you are in need of saving. The crowd recognizes him as part of the line of King David. This is the branch of the family tree that the Messiah is supposed to come from. The crowd knows the Jesus comes in the name of the Lord- that he is the one sent from God. They are also able to share this recognition with other onlookers who come to see what the procession is all about.
On this day, Palm Sunday, many recognize the Messiah. Toward the end of the week there won’t be such a crowd following Jesus. They may acknowledge him, they know he is the Messiah, but none are strong enough to accompany him through the events of the last week of Jesus’ life.

I would like to revise my Ash Wednesday challenge for us this week. At the beginning of our Lenten journey I asked you to see the world through the tears of Christ. I want to slightly shift our gaze this week. I want to invite you to see the events of Holy Week through your own tears. Together, let’s make the shift from seeing the world through Christ’s tears to allow our eyes to fill with tears for Christ. Today we celebrate, but this week we will mourn.

And there is no immediate comfort for our grieving during what we call “Holy Week”. If you allow the events of this week to sit on your heart you will feel a grief that cannot be immediately lifted. I am asking you to sit with that grief, to allow it to be present and not try to rush it away or fix it. Carry it with you as you journey with Jesus. Feel his righteous anger as he casts out the corrupt in the temple in Jerusalem. Feel the tension rise between Jesus and the religious establishment- they are asking him hard questions and he is not giving the answers they want to hear. You can sense they are looking for a reason to arrest him. Stop for a moment and observe the woman who anoints Jesus with costly oil at the home of Simon the leper. Maybe you can sense the sorrow even in this act of love- she is preparing him for his impending burial.

Sit with the feeling of love between friends as Jesus’ disciples prepare the Passover meal for their celebration together. This tone in the room is weighty- not everyone present understands what will happen but Jesus begins to prepare them for his death. Then it is on to the garden. Go ahead and try to stay awake as Jesus challenges you too. You will probably betray him with sleep like James, John and Peter. Let’s hope you would not betray him with a kiss like Judas.

Feel the fury of the arrest of Jesus in the garden- things are happening so fast. He is tried and sentenced to death- feel the hope drain out of you. Feel the sadness and dreadful anticipation as Jesus climbs the hill to his own execution spot. Feel the miracle of forgiveness as he asks God to forgive not only the thief on the cross- but also those who are killing him. Then the grief of an agonizing three-hour death, Jesus breathes until he cannot breathe any longer because of the position of his body and the fluids that fill his lungs. It is finished. Feel the weight of his death.
This holy week is not a happy one, and yet it is fundamental to our faith that we sit with our grief at the events of this week. Aren’t we outraged that the man who we have just recently celebrated as King, as the Son of God, was put to death with a common criminals punishment? We should be outraged, hurt, angry and sad this week.

My experience as a grief counselor has had an unfortunate boost in the last week and half. I often feel completely helpless to comfort someone like I wish I could. I talked to someone this week who had reached the anger stage of grief. He told me, “I’m so angry.” He clinched his teeth- his eyes pleaded with me to do something about it. I can’t of course, so I tried to offer as few words as possible to think about his anger. If I have learned anything from Job’s friends in the book of Job, it is to keep your mouth shut as long as possible when someone is grieving. However, I did offer a few thoughts. I said, “It’s ok to be angry. Even at God. God is big enough to handle your anger.” “But what am I supposed to do with my anger?”- and he even offered a few unhealthy suggestions that I know he would never actually do. “Sit with it.” I told my friend to sit with his anger. Needless to say, I don’t think that’s the answer he wanted (that’s why I try to keep my mouth shut most of the time).

I truly believe that sometimes we have to sit with our anger. We have to sit with our grief. These are not fun emotions to sit with- but I think in this last week of Jesus’ life I think we need to sit with our hurt and anger. We will do that in different ways. Some of us may actually weep. Some of us will show up to the mid-day Holy Week services and listen to the words of the preachers. Some of us will open up our bibles and reread the scriptures that tell us of Jesus’ last week. Some of us will even sign up for a prayer vigil time for the wee hours of the morning- and we will try our best to stay awake.

No matter where this week takes us and how we experience it, we will get to the other side of this grief next week. Next week we will have a party! We will put on our finest (and we will look good) and we will celebrate. But this week, just for this week we will sit with the tragic events of the last week of Jesus’ life and be present to our Lord and Savior. May this time of waiting be sacred and holy. Amen.

*This wonderful observation about Mary and Martha and the death of Lazarus came from a painter named Makoto Fujimura. Check him out here:

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