|Detail from a painting by Marc Chagall|
Palm Sunday is unique in all the church year. We begin the day by singing joyfully and blessing palms - but they are the same palms that will be burned next winter to make the ashes we will smudge on our foreheads, reminding us that we are dust and to dust we shall return. We continue by observing as Jesus is betrayed in the garden by his friend and taken away to be tried. Finally we watch from a distance as Jesus is beaten, mocked, and crucified, put to death for the crime of sedition - speech or conduct to incite rebellion against the government - the songs and palms long since cast aside and forgotten. The joy of the morning is cast aside and forgotten, too.
And now we have come to the deepest, darkest night in the heart of Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem is where we go to uncover and confront the arrangement we’ve made with life,” said The Reverend Tom Smith one time from this pulpit. “It’s where we go to get to the heart of the matter but also where we don’t want to go because we fear both the intimacy and the enlightenment it can bring. Jerusalem is the last place in the world I want to go. But life, until I go there, is forever an evasion, a dodge, an avoidance, a denial.”
Jesus knew what would happen to him in Jerusalem. But he went there anyway. He went there because he believed that God would bring something beautiful out of the death-dealing ugliness he was going to experience. He believed that he would be the vessel through which that beauty would shine. He believed true life and freedom would show through because he was willing to be obedient to God, the God of love, the God of abundance, the God of peace and eternal life. He would not dodge the consequences of a life lived among sinners and outcasts, the poor and needy, the ones who were sick and the ones who were out of their minds, and even the ones who were dead, to heal them, to restore their inherent dignity, to bring them back into life. He would not avoid the consequences of being willing to leave the ninety-nine together in the wilderness in order to rescue the one that was unlucky or stupid enough to have gotten itself lost. He was not really surprised when the ninety-nine ended up turning against him.
Since this is the heart of the matter, I invite you not to simply jump ahead to next Sunday, to Easter, but to spend awhile with this holy and intimate time, to come closer during this Holy Week as we revisit the last days of Jesus’ life on earth: to hear his commandment to love on Maundy Thursday; to keep vigil with him that night; to witness on Friday his vulnerability before the dark side, his willingness to die rather than to resort to violence and revenge.
During Holy Week we will see the best and the worst of life. We will see overflowing love and we will see disfiguring hate. We will see faithfulness and we will see abandonment. We will see displays of power and we will see utter degradation. But most of all, at the heart of the matter, we will see truth.
So we are standing at the gate of Jerusalem. But do not be afraid, we will go in together.