March 29, 2010

Sermon for Palm Sunday, Year C

Last week, Cassie, Eliza and I had the luxury of spending some time in Kissimmee, FL for Cassie's cousin's wedding. The save the date notice for the March 19th wedding arrived in Cassie's inbox on August 19, 2009 so we had exactly seven months to plan and prepare for the trip to central Florida. Flights were researched. Driving routes were looked over. Hotel reviews were read, but not necessarily paid attention to. Reservations were made. Discounts were secured. And a way to carry all of Eliza's stuff in our CRV was carefully discerned. We headed East at about 1PM on March 14th but the trip started long long before that.
Today we remember Jesus' triumphant entrance into the holy city of Jerusalem. We hear the familiar story of his mounting a donkey and leaving Bethany and Bethpage on a two mile westward journey down the Mount of Olives, through the Kidron Valley and up to the gates of the Great City. Jesus left Bethany on Sunday, but the journey began long long before that.
"Go into the village ahead of you," he told two of his disciples, "and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it.'" We can only guess whose donkey Jesus is telling his disciples to take, but one can't help but wonder if his dear friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus have found this never-before-ridden beast for him. There has been some planning, maybe a lot of planning, that has gone into this seemingly spontaneous entrance into Jerusalem. It has been a long road since Jesus "set his face for Jerusalem" in chapter nine. And today, as he begins the final week of his life, Jesus will ride a donkey, a lowly beast of burden not fit for royalty, into one of the Great City's lesser gates.
This donkey is special. This donkey has never been ridden. This donkey has been set aside; never ridden, never worked. It has been set aside for sacred use according to the ritual laws of Numbers and Deuteronomy. This donkey, tied up in the next village up the road isn't there out of coincidence, it is there because Jesus has planned it. Jesus, the king of peace, will ride this donkey set aside for sacred use into the Holy City as the whole multitude of his disciples shout praises to God, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!" Jesus, the King of Peace is riding as a sacrifice into the Holy City for the Passover.
Today, however, we stop at the gates of the city. Despite the prescription in the Prayer Book to follow the Liturgy of the Palms with the reading of the Passion Gospel, we are not there yet. Holy Week begins today, but the journey toward the cross started long-long before now. It has been planned and worked and reworked in the hope that each of us will have the chance to walk with Jesus in the way of his suffering. Each morning this week you will receive by email a special E-Pistle taking you through the last days of Jesus' life. We will leave this place singing "All glory, laud and honor" and tomorrow find ourselves with an angry Jesus turning the tables in the Temple. As the week goes on, you will have the chance to encounter Jesus and the withered fig tree. On Wednesday, we'll read of Jesus' anointing at Bethany, and at noon I will preach on the betrayal of Judas. For Maundy Thursday we will experience the Lord's Supper and on Friday we will find ourselves swept up in the rapid, sordid, and late night events surrounding Jesus' arrest, trial, and crucifixion. And then, on Saturday, we will wait.
Today, however, we rejoice. We know what the week will bring, but we join with the disciples in shouting our praises to God for his mighty works because that is where we find ourselves on the journey. We are just outside the Holy City, probably far enough away that the Roman soldiers can't hear us, proclaiming our guy as the Lord, the King of Peace, hopeful for what that means. We hear the angry grumbling of the fearful Pharisees. They should be worried. With a new king in place their ties with Rome will no doubt spell their doom. But that isn't their concern. They are more worried about what will happen right now if the soliders hear the shouts. The foot of Rome will be at the neck all of Isreal. It is Passover. The time to remember the great deliverance of the Hebrews out of Egypt. A time of great nationalistic pride. A time when a crowd can easily get whipped up into riots and attempted coups. "Not now Jesus, don't let your people say this now. Don't cause trouble now."
But we rejoice anyway. If we did't do it, the stones would rise up to fill our silence. We rejoice because we have no other option but to sing praises to God. We sing praises on Palm Sunday knowing what Holy Week will bring. We sing praises everyday, knowing that suffering goes on in the world around us. We sing praises even when we are suffering. Or if the suffering becomes too great and we can't, we trust the stones to open their mouths and fill our silence. Our rejoicing leads us further down the path, through the gates into the valley that is Holy Week and I hope that you will walk it with us in its entirety. Don't leave this place with the high happy feeling of Palm Sunday and return here only for the high happy feeling of Easter. We know the awfulness ahead of us, and we must walk with Jesus the whole way to the Cross and grave. We must walk in the way of his suffering so that we can share in the true joy of his resurrection; life overcoming death.
Holy Week 2010 is a brand new journey for you, but it began long long ago. Walk with Jesus this week, not just in the highs of today and Easter Day, but through the valley of death so that you and the whole world might hail Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords. Amen.

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