This too shall pass
SERMON : Palm Sunday c 4 14 19
Jesus came to live among us two thousand years ago. He came to show us that God was not only on our side, collectively and individually, but that God loved us no matter what. This message, we now know, was so unsettling to the secular authorities of the time that they did away with him. Or so they thought. But Jesus brought another very important message to all of humanity. In short, he brought to us the understanding that 'this too shall pass.' This is true if we're talking about something as amazing as his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. This is true if we are talking about something as mundane as a headache.
Behind the message that 'this too shall pass' was the promise that God would be with us through it all. This was an idea that was fairly novel at the time. It was thought that God would abandon those who strayed. That they were then on their own with very limited prospects. But Jesus made it very clear, calling on some of the Hebrew scripture with which he was completely familiar, that God wanted the people to turn away from their ungodly ways and turn to God for guidance and assurance.
In our collect this morning we prayed to God, "Mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection." This prayer pretty much acknowledges that we do not all by ourselves become so much like Jesus that a stranger could not tell us apart. In fact we have a long, long way to go until we are even significantly like Jesus. But we do get brief glimpses of the better life we can enjoy when we do manage to comport ourselves according to our Baptismal Covenant. And it is at times like Palm Sunday when we realize it.
At times like today we realize that Jesus has actually become known to lots of people in Jerusalem. We realize they are thrilled to have him entering their city. We also realize the authorities--both religious and secular--are unhappy about it. They just don't want to be bothered. The way Jesus enters Jerusalem tells us a lot. If a warrior or a king had been entering Jerusalem that person would have had horses and chariots and armed guards and a mighty show of frightening power. Jesus went another way. He picked a colt and rose into town in a remarkable display of powerlessness. Nonetheless he was greeted by palms spread in the streets and cries of Hosannah!
I think we can understand this pretty well. We live in times when there is so much pressure, so much expected of people, that the mere notion of a day off to celebrate someone coming to town sounds outlandish. I remember a day in 1980 when Pope John Paul II came to Anchorage. I was working for the mayor of that town at the time and he was a very devoted Roman Catholic. No one was compelled but everyone was free to take time off to see the Pope as his motorcade travelled from the airport to the downtown Catholic cathedral. My impression is that everyone in town went. Every one.
Of course we were pretty surprised that the Pope would come to Anchorage in the first place. It kind of put us on the map, at least a little. So there we were, the faithful and the not so much, enjoying the attention of the Pope and marveling that he was like Jesus. Pope John Paul II was famous for being kind and generous to the poor, for being peaceful and loving, and for enthusiastically embracing other religions in the belief that the faith community was one community, not hundreds of denominational communities large and small.
Pope John Paul II was known around the world whereas Jesus was known in a small corner of the Middle East. But in terms of renown, they were quite similar. Their followers and those who were neutral took great delight in a man of such stature visiting them, bringing a peaceful and hopeful message to the people, whether the people of Anchorage, Alaska or the people of Jerusalem.
It's well established that when people open themselves to ideas like having leaders who love and who seek peace and who believe in hope, their lives improve. They don't always see their candidates win elections or survive campaigns to discredit or sideline them, but such leaders set such a memorable standard that people do remember them and follow them, long after they are gone.
The human heart yearns for such leaders. The noise and clutter of contemporary society is so oppressive that the non-anxious presence of Jesus or of Pope John Paul II would seem to make it all right. And it does, for a time.
What happens then is that those who witnessed the power of such examples take it on themselves to adopt the principles of the people they admire. And the cycle begins anew, with new leaders inspiring people and the fearful criticizing and complaining from the sidelines.
But the message of the spiritually enlightened outlasts the criticism and the critics. It always has and it always will. It is upheld by its own power, the power of a spiritual message, one which inspires people to turn to God, to believe in God's truth and not fret about those who would seek to instill fear and loathing.
The bible is full of messages of hope for those in dire circumstances. It is also full of warnings for those who rely on human power and will to support them in their lives.
The New York Times actually had a column on its opinion pages this week that drove this point home. The writer, David Brooks, ordinarily writes about political affairs. A well-established conservative, he was observing that our society has become so obsessed with acquisition and influence that it has lost sight of eternal values, those of community and mutual aid and support. He didn't lay this particularly at the feet of one party or platform, though I think he should have.
His theory is that people who hear this message are self aware enough to realize they are not in this thing called life alone. They have human companions and they have some kind of connection to the spiritual. They are not individualistic, they are people who have experienced enough of life and its ebbs and flows to realize a spiritual life is needed to ride out the storms with confidence and at least some comfort.
The odd thing, David Brooks says, is that people have to recognize their own brokenness before they generally seek and find spiritual connection. The comforts of faith are not automatically available; one has to seek them. He wrote that people have to decide the way they were headed wasn't going to work out for them. Whether they lost confidence or lost their shirt, when they go looking for another way they find the spiritual path which, of course, was there all along.
We heard much the same message at last weekend's 'I Want My Church To Grow' workshop here at St. Paul's. Again and again we heard that we cannot be truly open to another person in need of spiritual support unless we are experienced in it ourselves, and that means we have to know intimately our own brokenness and be able to acknowledge that it was the spiritual support we obtained when we were at our lowest that actually saved us. Observing others living life bravely despite pain, failure and loss is inspiring. Observing Jesus being celebrated as he entered Jerusalem, even though he would die a week later, forgotten and humiliated, moves us more than if we knew the road to come for him was only success, milk and honey. His credibility comes from his accepting his God-given fate, despite our desire that he live a long and enjoyable life. His power comes from his perspective, the spiritual perspective, of one in communion with God.
We celebrate with Jesus' followers today, even though we know what is to come. We do so because we know he was well aware of what was to come. Yet he permitted this to happen, he brought on his fate, because he believed, as we do, it was the will of his father. Let us not just celebrate Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem today. Let us also acknowledge his strength in the face of a sad fate and an awful death. Let us praise him for knowing what we, his followers, need, to recognize him as our Lord and Savior. He knows what we need and he knows how to help us locate it in our hearts and in our words and in our songs.
We don't need riches and we don't need prizes. We need our faith, though, which carries us through our own dark times. It helps us recognize Easter follows Good Friday, too. And it leads us through all manner of struggle because we believe that once again, this, too, shall pass.
A sermon preached on Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector