Palm Sunday - The Road of Solidarity

Holy Week 2020  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  15:49
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Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem to shouts of "Hosanna", but this King does not ride in for his own glory. He journeys deeper into being the suffering servant, the Lamb of God, coming more initmately acquainted with our suffering and entering into death itself as a protest to its power.

Matthew 21:1–11 NRSV
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”


Rather than continue on with the final two weeks of our Marks of Vitality, I am pausing this week and next to focus on the Passion of Christ and Resurrection Sunday. We will return to the Marks and, I hope, we’ll find a deeper way of understanding them as we come to encounter the Christ who walks alongside us through all that is vital and vibrant, as well as all that is painful and dark.
We find ourselves entering Holy Week in a very different way than we had expected. 3 months ago, weren’t we in the dead of winter, looking forward to the warmth of spring and to gathering together for these High Feast Days of the Church Calendar?
Weren’t we planning to be out on our first bike rides of the year? Or perhaps we had planned to be sitting poolside at a warm destination, kicking off the opening weekend of Spring Break right now.
We had hoped to be celebrating the glorious coming of Christ into the city of Jerusalem by waving palm branches together, seeing our church community gathered in full force, our children singing and processing up the aisle, joy on their faces.
We had hoped to hear the story of the Christ, entering Jerusalem to overturn tables and enter the drama of the Passion. And we had hoped we could skip through all the hard stuff and emerge on Easter Sunday with hymns of praise and shouts of Hallelujah once more!
What we have, instead, is the Greatest Lent any of us have experienced. A Lent of true withholding, refraining, sheltering and ridding ourselves of all that is extra.
And we are weary.
We are ready for resurrection. We want to rush to it, for this whole thing to be over. For Christ to come and overthrow all the powers.

Trajectory of Holy Week - A Gift

Strangely, it seems that we have been offered a gift in this pandemic. Not a gift we would choose but a gift we need. How often have you received a gift from someone who knows you well, perhaps a parent or grandparent, and have you wondered at “what in the world am I going to do with this?” Like…this isn’t what I asked for? I have a number of cherished items around my home that were hand-me-downs and small gifts from my family and, at the time, they seemed like nothing all that significant. A pocket knife. A chair. An old photograph.
But as the years went on those gifts took on a new meaning to me. Rather — I began to realize how rich those gifts were and how they had been given out of a place of deep understanding and love for what I would need, not for what I would want.
I say that this pandemic is perhaps a gift because it is not what we want, but it is perhaps stirring in us something we need. We are being invited into the deep grief of Holy Week this year in ways that I know many of us have never encountered or we’ve been afraid to truly embrace. The way to the cross has always had this silver-lining of the coming resurrection. Just wait until it’s over!

The God Who Knows Us

But this year…perhaps…we can slow down enough to recognize something else going on in this story. If we do, we find a God of solidarity, a God who knows us in our pain and fear, a God who enters deeply into the places of pandemic and hardship and job loss and cancer and miscarriages and Alzheimer's and despair with us. Not to move too quickly away from them with us, but to know us and lament with us and long with us and help us all to slowly heal as the world spins madly on.

Entering in Triumph, But It Doesn’t Go the Way You’d Expect

On this Palm Sunday, we find a King who enters into the city in Glory, but not the way we’d think.
The Palm branches are waving and the shouts of Hosanna go up, but the story doesn’t go in the direction of triumph in the way we’d like it to. There is no overthrow of the Roman occupation. There is no rise to the throne of King David. There is no white stallion, just a colt.
And so again we see the gift we receive this week, during this season of pandemic, is not one of immediate healing or miraculous end to struggle. Rather, the God we discover in this Holy Week pilgrimage is a God who knows suffering, knows pain, and knows that we must enter into it in order to find life.

A Suffering God, A Crucified God

The people wanted a hero. But God has never been about heroes. They wanted an earthly king. But God has never been about propping up theocrats and leaders who wear crowns.
God has been up to something very different all along. Instead of charging in and overthrowing, God has been up to the work of coming intimately close to the ones God loves, denying privilege and power and finding solidarity with the weakest, poorest, most vulnerable, the thieves, the outsiders, the brokenhearted and the lost.
Hear the Hymn of Christ, the passage of emptiness from Philippians, where we see the depth and intimacy of Christ’s love for humanity and the glory of Christ’s solidarity with us.
Philippians 2:5–11 NRSV
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The Empty Gift, The Empty Church

I do not mean to be presumptuous, but I believe I can speak for many of us in the deep lament we are experiencing. This is a season of such grief.
And you know what, I need Christ to be there in the grief. I do not need a God who is a strongman, who can wipe all the pain away with a swift piece of legislation or miracle cure. I do not need a God who eases my mind with platitudes of a brighter day when we get back on our feet. I need God to come close into the pain with me here and now. I need God to know what its like to fear for the health my family, my loved ones, my community. I need God to know what its like to have to wear a protective mask when we go out into the world. I need God who intimately knows what hunger feels like for the ones who have lost their income and can no longer buy enough food. I need God to stand in solidarity with me as I struggle to put on a happy face each day in the face of so much uncertainty. I need a God who is willing to let go of all pretense, all privilege, all justification of power and instead choose to lovingly listen, be present in sorrow and affliction, to know empathy and experience the tears. I need God to be with us, as Emmanuel promised to be.
Here is the gift we have been given this Holy Week. It is a gift of emptiness. Our church is empty this morning. The one place we hoped and expected God to always dwell is empty. And it is a gift. Because in this emptiness, we find the person of Christ who knows emptiness with us. A Christ whose life is poured out. Not a Christ of fullness and glory who has come on a white horse to become the reigning earthly king — not yet at least. No, a broken, bruised and scarred man who loves humanity and enters into the emptiness with us, right where we are.

The Only Way Out is Through

We do not end today on a high note of hope. Rather, we journey deeper into the reality of the pain. We journey to the Table where bread and cup became the elements of our redemption and yet also preceded betrayal and murder. We journey toward darkness, not out of some nihilistic view that nothing matters…but darkness because darkness and death are what we know and what we must experience if we are to truly know our humanity. And we journey through it all because the only way out of it is through. We do not choose this path — Christ chose this path. Christ chose the path that none of us would choose because Christ loves us and wants to know us and experience the pain with us so that we can be set free of it.
The journey leads to freedom. The journey of emptiness leads to freedom. It is a road Christ walks in solidarity with us.
Friends…we journey deeper in. Know that Christ journeys with us.
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