St. John's, Centreville
April 5, 2020
Matt: 26:14 - 27:66
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.
Today we are entering the most holy time on the church calendar. Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, when we will walk with Jesus through his betrayal, trial, crucifixion and death.
We start out on such a high note on Palm Sunday. Jesus is entering Jerusalem and people are shouting Hosanna and throwing palm branches in his path. They are thrilled to see him. "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest." When others in the city ask who this is, they reply, 'This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."
The crowds in Jerusalem may still be figuring our exactly who Jesus is but they know his is someone special and that he has come from God. So they treat him with the respect and reverence that he deserves.
In Matthew's gospel, after his triumphant entry, Jesus goes into the temple and throws out all the vendors and moneychangers, who have made this house of prayer into a den of thieves. He throws over their tables and forces the animals out. From then on, the Pharisees and other authorities try to trap Jesus by asking him questions about his authority. Jesus is seen as a threat, and one way or another, they want to get rid of him. 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 3 years. They had shared meals, told each other stories, walked side by side many times. He had heard Jesus preach, seen him perform miracles, teach his followers to have love for one another. Had Judas not learned anything from Jesus? Maybe Judas thought Jesus had gone too far in upsetting the authorities. Maybe being arrested would teach Jesus to tone down the rhetoric a bit. Maybe Judas was trying to save Jesus from himself. Unfortunately, we don't know what was going through the mind of Judas when he decided to turn Jesus over to the authorities.
After the Last Supper with his disciples, after Judas has left to betray Jesus, Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He knows what lies ahead and he needs God's strength. He takes Peter, James and John with him, and asks them to stay awake with him. But they can't. Three times they fall asleep, not even staying awake with Jesus in his final hours. And when the authorities come to arrest Jesus, the disciples flee. They are not with Jesus during his darkest hours.
Where were the crowds who were shouting "Hosanna" on Palm Sunday, when Jesus was put on public trial on Good Friday? Why didn't those people come to his defense? Perhaps they were afraid of the authorities. Perhaps because Jesus did not fulfil their expectations of riding into Jerusalem on a white horse with a strong army behind him ready to throw the Romans out. Jesus didn't do what some of the people wanted him to do - to get rid of the Romans- so they reject him .
Denial. Betrayal. Abandonment. Death. Listening to this story some 2000 years later, we might say that we would never 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 writings 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 fulfill 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 reject God, just like the crowds rejected Jesus.
Who among us hasn't betrayed a friend or a 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 don't feel good about, rather an stick up for what is 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, to 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, even though we are not physically together, 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 what Jesus did because of his love for us. It would be so much easier if we could skip from Palm Sunday to Easter. But we can't do that. It is important for us to be with Jesus when he is betrayed by a friend, to be with Jesus when 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, to sit at the foot of the cross and watch Jesus die in a cruel and humiliating way. His death is for us because of his love for us. It is only when we have walked with Jesus through the events of Holy Week that we can understand and have reason to celebrate Jesus' resurrection on Easter morning. Amen.