St. John's, Centreville
April 14, 2019
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For me, Palm Sunday is a hard time to preach. We celebrated Jesus' triumphant entry in Jerusalem, with the waving of palm branches outside, for too short a time, before being called inside to hear the story of Jesus' passion. There are too many conflicting emotions today and it is hard to change gears so fast.
The crowd on that first Palm Sunday was joyous, filled with hope and promise. Jesus had come to save them. He worked miracles. He taught about love and peace. He would be their savior. It was a time to celebrate!
But Jesus did not save them in the way they thought he would. The crowds imagined that the one who would save them from the oppression of the Romans would come riding into Jerusalem on a powerful horse, not a humble donkey. He would come with military plans to drive out the Romans.
But Jesus didn't do that. And in a matter of days, the crowds turned on him. Jesus came to teach us about love and forgiveness, about how to treat one's neighbor, about respect for every human being and turning the other cheek. So what started as a wonderful welcome into Jerusalem turned tragic.
Why did the people turn on Jesus? Because Jesus did not fulfil their expectations. Jesus upset the status quo and those in authority felt that he threatened their power. Jesus might cost them their place in the world and they liked being on top of the social order. The authorities wanted Jesus out of the way, eliminated, killed. So they look for a way to trap Jesus. And they find their weak link in the person of Judas who agrees to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Then Judas looks for an appropriate time to betray him.
Betrayal is hard for anyone, but it is especially hard when it is done by a friend. Judas had been with Jesus for three years. They had shared meals, told each other stories, walked side by side many times. Had he not learned anything from Jesus? Maybe Judas thought that Jesus had gone too far in upsetting the authorities. Maybe he was trying to save Jesus from himself. Unfortunately, we don't know what was going through Judas' mind when he decides to turn Jesus over to the authorities.
After the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He knows what lies ahead and he needs God's strength. He takes Peter and James and John with him, and he asks them to stay awake with him. But they can't. Three times they fall asleep, not even to be present with Jesus in his final hours. And when the disciples come to arrest Jesus, the disciples flee. They are not with Jesus during his darkest hours.
Denial. Betrayal. Abandonment. Death. Listening to this story some 2000 years later, we might say to ourselves that we never would have turned against Jesus or betrayed him or abandoned him in his time of need. But we have 2000 years of history between the actual events and now. We have the gospels and the Letters of Paul. We know without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is the Son of God. But the people of Jesus' day who had encountered him were still trying to make sense of it all.
How many times have we turned against God when God does not fill our expectations, when God does not do what we want God to do, when we want God to do it? When we want God to heal a loved one, or get us the job we want, or heal a broken relationship - when God does not do what WE want, and in the time frame that WE want, then we, too, turn against God and we reject God, just like the crowds rejected Jesus.
Who among us hasn't betrayed a friend or co-worker, particularly when it was to our advantage? Who among us hasn't at some time gone along with the crowd, to do something you didn't feel good about, rather than stick up for what was right? Who among us hasn't turned away in fear rather than stand with someone who needs our help and support, because we didn't want to get involved, or tarnish our reputation by being seen with a person like "that"?
We are human and we fall short. But just as Jesus did not give up on his disciples, he does not give up on us. Jesus died for us and for our sins and loves us more than we can imagine.
As we begin this Holy Week, we need to remember that this is not just a story that took place in the past. The events of this week are not just an historical re-enactment. It's about the kind of life Jesus makes possible for us now. Although it is tempting just to skip ahead to the joy of Easter, it is necessary for each and every one of us to walk with Jesus through the events of Holy Week - to be with Jesus as he is betrayed by a friend, to be with Jesus as he agonizes in the Garden of Gethsemane, to be with Jesus as he stands alone before Pilate and is condemned by the crowd. It is necessary FOR US to walk with Jesus on the way to Golgotha. It is necessary FOR US to sit at the foot of the cross and watch Jesus die in a cruel and humiliating way. FOR US......for us. We don't really have a choice whether to walk with Jesus during the painful events of Holy Week. If we love him, we will follow him and be with him. His death is for us because of his love for us. Only when we have walked through the events of this Holy Week - Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday - can we understand and have reason to celebrate Jesus' resurrection on Easter morning. Amen.