Sermon for Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020
Read Pastor Julie's sermon as shared on Facebook Live. Visit https://www.facebook.com/saronstrasburg each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. between now and May 10, 2020, for a brief live service of scripture, prayer, and a sermon by Pastor Julie.
Matthew 21:1–11 | Philippians 2:5–11 | Matthew 27:11–45
I’m guessing that most of you by now have personal stories about people—maybe yourself for whom COVID-19 has been more than an inconvenience: Those who have been sick at home, or in the hospital—maybe on a ventilator—or even who have lost their lives. It’s getting more real and less theoretical. The reality of fever, cough and difficulty breathing are painful and scary. It’s an experience of suffering for the sick. Add to that—whether sick or not—the suffering of the fearful and the frustrated: How can things be this way? We have plenty of suffering now to go around.
Maybe as a way to combat this, enter Jesus in the paradigm of a triumphal parade: At first, it looks pretty hopeful in terms of fixing. But it’s a brief foray into the idea of what people think they want: Someone to save them from hardship; to be “winners.” Problem is, it also begins this week—Holy Week—which will tell a different story. I still like that the crowds welcome him into Jerusalem with the palm branches and I like the idea that we, too, welcome Jesus. It’s just that they/we are often not ready to understand what that will mean—we probably never are: Instead of avoiding suffering, he’s going to walk right into it… And not just to be a martyr, but to give us the actual experience of what will give the kind of life that we really need; that will heal the world and us. That is, of “salvation.”
The tale is told of a woman who lost her baby to illness and went crazy with grief. She sought out a wise man for a way to make her baby live again. He told her that he could help if she would bring back a mustard seed from the home of family who had never experienced death. So the woman went door to door, searching for people untouched by the loss of a loved one. Of course, she never found such a home, but in the process sees that grief touches everyone. And even though she would still grieve, she was now rooted in was her reality and the reality of all people so that she her suffering had lessened—also so that she could live again. Like the words of the alien Stitch in the Disney movie “Lilo and Stitch” when he is trying to figure earthly things out. About the two sisters, Lilo and Noni, who lost their parents and are struggling to make things work, he says they are “a small and broken family. But a good one. Yes, a good one.”
To bring us into reality, Jesus goes into Jerusalem this fateful day: Knowing what waits for him; knowing what’s in our hearts. It’s not easy for him, mind you. His willing it to be otherwise during an all-night prayer in the Garden; his sadness at being betrayed and disowned by his friends the minute they see a chance for profit or escape; hearing the false and politically motivated charges against him. All this- which we’ll hear more fully on Good Friday—are important pieces of the journey: Not just to understand Jesus, but to help us break through our own resistance in knowing that this is our path, too. The words to his friends so many months ago in Matthew 16 come back—containing instruction, warning and promise: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” There’s no way around for him or for us. And what’s at stake is life itself. On this road will be the deaths of Death for the sake of Life.
Maybe it’s not so strange to see the ride into Jerusalem and the next days as one of “victory.” For, as Richard Rohr articulates: “[The truth about pain can be] exposed and revealed in sacred space… no longer a scary unknown, an unfortunate mistake, something we must change, but an entranceway!” “Walking through one’s fear of the last thing becomes an encounter with the first thing. A person is then free to live, often for the first time outside of their head or their fear… Then life itself, in all its depth and beauty, becomes the unquestionable gift. Again, “We don’t handle suffering. It handles us—in deep and mysterious ways that become the matrix of life and especially new life…” (CAC April 3, 2020)
This is, then, our Holy Week walk: Allowing ourselves to enter into the deep where our logic and cultural references fail; so that we let go of trying to make sense, control, resist, assume that things should be otherwise; where we have no other choice than to allow WHAT IS. OF course, that doesn’t mean being careless or not taking precautions in the face of a pandemic, but as the layers of our excuses and defenses and stories are stripped away—so is the fear… Suffering is inevitable. BUT—here’s the thing—SO IS LOVE. Just watch Jesus. Thanks be to God.