Message by Rev Jenny Carter
April 14, 2019
(Based on Psalm 118; John 12:12-16)
We made it! We have journeyed all the way through Lent. We have listened to, and wrestled with, the stories of our ancestors in the faith, as they sought to tell us something about this man Jesus. This rabbi they had followed throughout Galilee – the one born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, this carpenter, this unlikely man – had changed their lives and how they viewed the world.
So much so, that they sought to tell everyone they knew about what they had come to understand about God, the lost and the little ones, the principalities and powers, and how their journey with Jesus changed everything they once thought to be true and inevitable. Then they wrote it down, in a myriad of ways, so that we too might be able to follow the journey through Galilee, see and hear the things Jesus said and did, and arrive along with them at the very heart of Jerusalem.
Lent is the journey, and Palm Sunday is a day of arrival. We have arrived. The psalm we read together would have been the very song our ancestors sang as they passed through the city gates, navigated the narrow streets of Jerusalem, and made their way to the heart of the city and the heart of their faith, the Temple. So it is, we have arrived with them. Our symbolic journey through the forty days of Lent have brought us to this time, and this place. And we have arrived.
When we think of our faith lives, and look through the lens of Palm Sunday, what does it mean to arrive? Where is it we are arriving? Certainly for us, while we might be spiritually lining the streets of Jerusalem with our ancestors, we are not actually in Jerusalem. Yet we have arrived. There is a sense, through the passages read today, that “arrival” means coming to the crux of a thing – a moment of truth if you will.
We, along with Jesus and his followers, have arrived at a collective moment of truth. The tension that has been building between the Temple elites, the Roman occupiers, and Jesus and his followers, had been building for a long time. And here, on this particular day – these two ways of being in this world will collide.
Imagine, if you will, Jesus coming down a long hill from the direction that the ancients had said the redeemer, the Messiah would come. Riding a donkey, the people proclaimed him a king, but it was clear he would be no ordinary king. He had no weapons, no army, and no gold.
And yet he held the hearts of many, many people – but not through the abuse of power or the promise of riches, but through the power of love, a commitment to justice, and a radical welcome of all. In so many ways he was the opposite of what was expected, but even then people saw something in him that spoke of the messiah. The Romans and the Temple elites would have been watching this parade, this procession, as it unfolded, and they would have recognized Jesus, not as a messiah, but as a threat to them. As theologian Dominic Crossan says, “You can’t look at Jesus in this story and not be left with the sense that someone is going to kill this man.”
So this is where we have arrived. Along with our ancestors in the faith, we have arrived at the scene where the two ways of being in this world are set to collide. The powerful elites and the Roman Empire on one side, the growing throngs of people and Jesus on the other, and the streets of Jerusalem in the middle, where it will all take place.
We have arrived at the crux of this thing – a moment of truth. Truth for Jesus and his followers, truth for the powers that be, truth for those who are confused and confounded by this man Jesus and all that he teaches and stands for. In the coming days Jesus will be shown to be the one for whom the world has waited. The disciples will be shown for who they are as well: a betrayer, a denier, and the ones remaining resolute and steadfast. And as the people greeted Jesus as a king, the Temple elites and Jewish royalty are also revealed to be, in truth, violent oppressors in league with Rome. And as these two ways of being in the world are set to collide, we wonder what truth might be revealed about us.
Which is why this story was told in the first place, and is told year after year. It contains a simple, yet powerful truth. There are two ways to be in this world, and there comes a time in our lives, perhaps many times, where we need to choose which way we will follow. Do we follow the status quo? Do we follow Jesus? We have to decide because we cannot follow both. This is the crux of our spiritual lives – our own personal moment of truth. Do we follow the way of living that brings life to the world? Or do we follow the ways that bring destruction?
To be clear, I don’t know, nor have I ever met, any one determined to follow a path of destruction. I’ve never had a person disclose to me that they want to rule the world and oppress the littlest and the least among us. I have never attended a meeting where people set out plans to dominate the world. I have never had a conversation in this community, where the well-being of others didn’t lie at the heart of the matter. I believe most people in this world want what everybody else wants. They want peace, and a safe place to lay their heads. They want to be affirmed for the people they are, and for children to be raised free from fear and where they have an access to education and the means for a good life.
Yet it is also clear to me, that our world has arrived at a global Palm Sunday. Arrived at a place where two ways of being in this world are colliding, and we must determine whether, collectively, we will follow the way of life or the way of destruction. There are so many examples that I could cite – climate change, the rise of hate groups, the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor, as well as others – are all symptoms of the system in which we live. The system that brings good things to some, gives nothing to others, and threatens our very existence. The systems of spirituality and religion that have become rigid and rule bound and supportive of Empire – instead of bringing liberation and freedom and the necessities of life to the people.
Heavy stuff. I mention these things simply to highlight that as people who want to follow Jesus, we need to think about where it is we stand, what we are willing to risk, and how we show our love and commitment as disciples. We need to be willing to look at the hard things, and ask ourselves what choosing to follow Jesus looks like in our own time. So, as this Sunday unfolds and flows into Holy Week our spiritual task is to let the story of worlds colliding speak to us once more, so that we might find the path that leads to life.
While much of the Palm Sunday narrative is meant to help us decide, collectively, how to be faithful in this world, it also has a lot to say to us as individuals. I’m not talking about just personal beliefs about Jesus, or how we understand discipleship (although both are certainly important and part of our discovery process.) I am talking about something much deeper and closer to our own hearts. It is about our own sense of identity and how we navigate the challenges of our own lives.
I am willing to bet that there is not a person in this room who has not, at one time or another, felt overwhelmed by life events. We all have experienced difficult times – times where we felt the tears would never stop, the sun would never again shine, and where we wondered if we had somehow missed the point of it all. We all know what it is to grieve something that once was, but will never be again. This is a really hard place to live – and at one time or another – we have all made our home there.
Yet this is where the stories of Palm Sunday and all of Holy Week are so very helpful. These stories remind us that there is life to be found when we remember to look for it. They remind us that a grief shared and a community found can bring healing. That even when life has done its worst, that there is a way through if we face the challenges and sorrow head on, and that life can emerge from even the darkest of days.
So, when worlds collide – like they did all those years ago in Jerusalem, or have done so in our personal lives – let us remember the Palm Sunday story. That to challenge the death dealing narratives of our lives and our world, begins with us making a choice. Do we follow the path to life? Or the path to destruction? Let us choose life. Let us choose life for ourselves, life for others, and life for the world. That choice will make all the difference.