Palm Sunday

We are told in this Gospel text today that the people in the city of Jerusalem were in turmoil.  Literally, though, the word used is “shaken…”

A better translation is: When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken, asking “who is this”?

Rocked to its core, jostled to its foundation, totally upended and knocked off its axis.

Sound familiar?

Today I would say that we could describe ourselves the same way.  We are being shaken to our core.

You and me, our congregation, our community and beyond,

We are all upended with worry for loved ones, for ourselves, for our nation, and for the world.

We are shaken by this ongoing pandemic so that formerly mundane tasks like shopping, getting a haircut, and getting groceries seem insurmountable and we have to reconsider whether doing them is worth it, and if so how can we do them safely. 

People we know are working on the front lines in healthcare, putting themselves and their families at risk.  People we know and love have become sick.  People we know and love have died.

Life has changed for everyone: We can’t be with the people we love, we can’t go the places we want, can’t do the things that usually give our life shape and meaning, we can’t see how all this ends.

Every year of my life, and maybe of yours, I have been with the community of Christ that holds up palm branches on this day.  Every year on this day we sing have sung “All glory laud and honor,” together, in the assembly, with lots of voices raised in unison. 

Every year this powerful palming of the processional cross carried into our very midst, has drawn together the connection between us and the crowds in Jerusalem on the day Jesus rode triumphantly into the Holy City to declare himself long-awaited king and promised messiah for a world in need.

Normally the connection between that crowd and the crowd that is us gathered would be clear.

But today we are not together in person as we usually have been and we may feel disconnected from one another and from that crowd in Jerusalem…and in one respect we are very different from this crowd that lined the dusty road from the mount of olives to the towering stone walls of the City of David.

Of course, this great crowd of people were jammed together as we remember having been jammed together at different times and places — at a Nationals baseball game all heading to the seats with hotdogs and sodas, or at Kings Dominion all trying to get in line to ride the rides, or even just at church together as we passed the peace with everyone around us using handshakes and hugs and even holy kisses.  And I know that, like me, you can you still remember what it was like.

Today, in this one way we are different from this Jerusalem crowd. We can’t gather like they were gathered. Everyone right up in each other’s faces. Jostling and passing palm branches, smelling each other’s breath, no one wearing a mask or gloves as they throw cloaks into the road, hugging and slapping one another on the back to celebrate the new King has arrived.

In that one way we are different — but we are the SAME as this crowd in that just as Jesus rode that beast of burden through the streets and into crowd, Jesus comes right into our midst.  Jesus is unafraid to come and be with us.  Jesus is at the center of us all.

God is with us in the midst of our physical distancing through the word that creates faith, through our baptism into Christ where we are joined as one body even though we scattered to our own homes, and through the Holy Spirit that unites our hearts and minds before God in worship.

And we are a crowd, gathered together.  I know we are separated but we are still worshipping publicly, you could even say, as a crowd.  The names of all of us gathered are out there for the world to see.  Anyone can watch this facebook and youtube post.  Your faces will be displayed today saying “Hosanna!”  In some ways we may be MORE publicly gathered than ever before as this video lives on beyond this moment.

Make no mistake – it is different than it has ever been before – but the Spirit persists to gather us together to publicly proclaim for a world in need that:

Jesus was unafraid to come into the shaking world of those dusty streets, to ride into the heart of the quake, and to fix his eyes on the very people who would betray him and turn him over to die, and this same Jesus is unafraid to come into our midst in the shaking world all around us.  God’s ability to unite us and uphold us is not limited by physical distancing, and 6 feet limits in contact, or school and office closure, or even the necessity of worshipping together from a multiplicity of physical locations.

God persists to equip us with hope, enters into the shaking world around us, and by grace gives us the mind of Christ that Paul sings on in his letter to the Philippians.

God helps us see as Jesus sees, think as Jesus thinks…

Jesus became God’s servant, humbled himself, became obedient even to death on a cross, trusting that God would raise him up, trusting that God would not forsake him, trusting that ultimately God could and would overturn suffering to bring victory, overturn violence to bring peace, overturn death to bring life. 

Jesus was unafraid… and remains unafraid… to be with us in the midst of our shaking, upturned lives and our unmoored and traumatized world and shows us what it looks like to trust God.

Most of our connections have moved online and to the phone…and I have talked with lots of parents of young children this week.  Many children we know and love want to know what to make of all this.  Our own daughter, so excited to be a big kindergartener and loving her teacher and her friends at school has been so sad, like so many student and teachers of all ages to find out we won’t be going back to school this year.  After tears and tantrums about the littlest things that would never set her off, she was able to say said that when she hears about the germs and when she thinks about not going back to school it doesn’t feel very good inside.

I think the hardest part for those of us who are not on the front lines, even as we pray for doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, and all essential workers, is feeling like we can’t help beyond staying home and offering prayer and staying connected.  Ultimately that’s what we can do and in the midst of this we live with not knowing how all this will turn out. 

We don’t know what will happen with all this.  But we are told that Jesus knew all that was to happen to him.

He knew where the donkey and colt would be in the little village outside Jerusalem, he knew the person who would relinquish them to the disciples for his use, and he knew that this crowd that celebrated him with shouts and songs would turn on him and yell CRUCIFY HIM!

And still, Jesus set his face like flint, still Jesus persisted, because Jesus came for just one reason.

For just one reason he mounted it to ride up the slope to the Holy City.  For just one reason he entered into the crowd.  For just one reason he endured the worst life has to give.

Jesus came to suffer with the world that suffers.

My friends, Jesus persists to be with us when our world is shaken, when our cries of celebration turn to cries of disappointment, when our expectations of our own self-reliance dissolve into awareness of need, when our supposed self-sufficiency falls away and we realize our weakness.

Jesus persists to be with us in our grief.

Jesus comes for just one reason: to be with us.

And today, wherever we are God calls forth from us our praise to Jesus, even as the world shakes.

The crowds were just working with what they had…hey we don’t have anything here for a real parade, lets just tear some branches of a near by tree, lets just throw our coats in the road for him to ride on, lets just use the simple sound of our voice.

We are just working with what we have here…computers, cell phones, facebook, youtube, but even in this, God calls forth our praise, even now we lift up the name Jesus, the name that is above every name, the name of our crucified but exalted Lord, the name at which every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, the name all creation will confess to the glory of God our Father.

May you be carried by this song.

May God call forth our praise and join it with the praise of all the saints and all creation.

May God fill us with trust in his goodness and graciousness.

And may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep our hearts in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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