The Liturgy of the Palms: John 12:12-16 Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Isaiah 50:4-9a Psalm 31:9-16 Philippians 2:5-11 Mark 15:1-39
Blessed be God, our doors are open! This past year has been full of heart ache and suffering and we’ve had to endure it without gathering as we are today. Some people continue to isolate and with reason. The fact that we are observing social distancing and wearing masks in church is a reminder of that we’re not out of the woods yet – but we can see the clearing from here and that fills us with hope. One day, one day soon, we will be able to sit next to one another and pass the peace with handshakes and hugs – just not today.
Re-opening our doors here for Holy Week feels like we’re picking up where we left off a year ago in Lent when we closed our doors. And today’s lessons seem particularly appropriate. We started with the Liturgy of the Palms, which tell of the excitement the people in Jerusalem experience when they hear Jesus is coming. They welcome him into the city with branches of palm trees and shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel!”
The people can see the clearing – but they aren’t there yet. Over the next few days, they get impatience and give up on Jesus. In today’s gospel reading, Mark tells us that chief priest meets with the elders and the scribes and the whole council and they conspire against Jesus. He is bound and taken to Pilate where his is accused of many things. Jesus makes no attempt to defend himself, so Pilate takes his fate to the people who had declared him the King of Israel. They had expected Jesus to fight back – and they would have joined the fight, but Jesus does not fulfill their expectations for the messiah. When Pilate asks what the people want him to do with Jesus, they shout, “Crucify him!”
The passion narrative is always difficult for me to hear. It is not only a story of betrayal; it is a story that points out one of the ugliest traits of humankind. We tend to place our hopes and expectations upon a person and when he or she does not live up to our expectations, we reject him or her. Sometimes we go beyond rejection and turn against that person saying and doing hurtful things. Thankfully beatings and executions are not typical – but they do occur regularly.
There have been two more mass murders in the news these last two weeks – one in Atlanta and one Boulder. These get our attention and stir up our emotions and prompt numerous debates. Murders are on the rise across our nation and we cannot reach an agreement as to what needs to be done to make our streets safe. As much as I would like to distance myself from the passion narrative and the cruelty of this story, I cannot. Human cruelty is as real today as it was when Jesus was hung on the cross.
The human race continues to turn to violence when we don’t get our way. Not all violence is physical – a great deal of it is emotional. We say things that are hurtful to and about others. We are quick to criticize others who think or believe differently about politics, religion, human rights, gun control, immigration, human sexuality, and the like. We argue rather than agreement.
What happened to Jesus happens again and again every day in little ways – and I’m afraid to say we are often apart of the crowd who cries out, “Crucify him.” The services during Holy Week are, I believe, the most important of our church year because they help us to understand why our world needs Jesus – why we need Jesus. We can see in the scriptures and experience in our liturgy the power of what Jesus does to help us turn from sin and death to life and hope.
On Wednesday, we will have the Tenebrae service in which scriptures are read and candles are extinguished. Then, beginning on Thursday we will celebrate what is know as the Triduum – one service celebrated in three parts – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. We begin by remembering the last supper and betrayal of Jesus. On Good Friday we will experience his execution, and in the evening of the third day we will celebrate the resurrection of our Lord at our Great Easter Vigil.
At the Easter Vigil we light a new flame and process into the church by candle light. I will chant, “The Light of Christ,” and a chanter will respond, “thanks be to God.” Today I read the passion narrative, but thanks be to God we know the story doesn’t end with Jesus on the cross. We know that just as this pandemic will end – the light of Christ will return bringing us a renewed hope.
Our hope was not lost when we closed the doors of St. Paul’s last year during Lent. But we had no idea just how long we would need to isolate. We, like the people of Israel wandering through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, have experienced our doubts – but the clearing is just ahead. So, let’s continue forward in faith, knowing that Christ is with us and will lead us to a better life.
Let us pray.
Loving God, you sent your Son to help us find the way through the darkness that enshrouds the earth. Help us to focus on the light of Christ that we might find our way out of the darkness of betrayal and sin into your world of light and love and truth. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.