Monday, April 2, 2012

Palm Sunday Sermon: "Are We There Yet?"

+ Palmarum – April 1st, 2012 +

Zechariah 9:9-12; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 15:1-47

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

            Spring is here. Summer’s around the corner. Time for vacation. Kick the tires. Load up the car. Hit the lights. Shut the door. Head for the hills. And don’t forget the kids. Because every five minutes for the next 8 hours you know that all you’ll hear is:  “Are We There Yet?”
            In a way, Holy Week is like the family road-trip. You’ve been on the road for 40 days; Ash Wednesday feels like ages ago; you’re hungry from Lenten fast; ready for the Easter feast. You’re road-weary and ready to go home. The home-stretch is finally here. Holy week. Lent. The whole church year. It’s one big procession, pointing us to the pilgrimage of the Christian life - a journey from Baptism to the grave, sustained by the Supper, and on to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

            Jesus has no time for dilly-dallying. No time to gaze on the beautiful Kidron Valley vistas or visit the world’s oldest olive tree. For Jesus, the road goes ever on and on to Calvary. The journey’s end is near. To the cross, or we’re all busted. Places to go. People to save.

Are we there yet?

            The road begins with the triumphal entry: palm branches waving; Hosannas shouting! “Lord, save us!” The King makes his grand entrance on a borrowed donkey. “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Where did people think this road was heading? Certainly not to a cross and a grave! More likely to revolution and holy war. Jesus the freedom-fighter. “Occupy Jerusalem! Throw ‘em all out; Jesus, set up your earthly kingdom.” That’s the kind of messiah we expect. But that was not the Messiah who came. Jesus came in humility and weakness to lay down His life, to die for you and for the world.

Are we there yet? We’ve only just begun.

            The road winds to the temple, the place of God’s presence. Jesus cleanses it as the prophets foretold. His house of prayer had become a brothel of corruption. Meanwhile his opposition schemes in the temple corridors. The religious are out for blood. And there’s mutiny. A disciple agrees to betray his Master for 30 silver coins even as a poor widow puts her two pennies into the temple treasury. Faith and unbelief lie close together. Even among His own there are betrayers. Some things don’t change, do they?
            The road passes through the streets of Jerusalem, to a borrowed upper room. The Passover, the sacrament of the Exodus is fulfilled. The Lamb of God sits at table with His Twelve, His Israel. He is the host, waiter and meal. New Manna from heaven for his greater exodus from death to life. Take eat; this is my body. Take drink, this is my blood. A new and everlasting covenant poured out in Jesus’ blood. And the angel of death passes over his disciples, over you and onto Jesus. Give and shed for you. Yes, you’re on this road too. He gives his church this meal as sustenance until He comes in glory: Do this for my remembrance.
            Are we there yet? No. But we’re getting closer.

            The road leads out to Gethsemane, a quiet place to pray at the Mount of Olives. Jesus prays for another way, another road. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.” He prays as He taught His disciples to pray: “Yet not my will, but yours be done.” He is the faithful, obedient Son for us all. For Adam’s disobedience in a garden led to death for all, even so, Christ’s obedience in a garden leads to life for all. Obedient, even unto death on the cross. As He prays, He bears the sin of the world on His shoulders. Your sin and mine. The anguish is great. The road is stained with sweat and blood that falls from His brow.

            The once peaceful garden becomes like Eden: treasonous. The betrayer kisses his Master. And we’re no better: we confess with our lips but our hearts are far from him. Swords are drawn; the air is thick with hatred. Jesus reaches out and heals the servant whose ear was cut off in His defense. He does not resist His enemies. “If your enemy forces you to walk one mile,” He once said, “walk two.” Jesus walks the whole way with His enemies, for His enemies.

            The road marches on to the court of the chief priest. There Peter is the first to speak and the first to reveal what a coward and a denier we all are. Three times, “I do not know Him!” The eyes of the Lord pierce his sinful heart. Jesus knows our denying and cowardly hearts too. He knows the truth about us; He knows our denials better than we do. And for us he is denied so that in his death, the Father will never deny you.
            Are we there yet? Getting closer.

            Then the road takes a detour to Herod’s palace. Herod, the man who would be King of the Jews at any cost including the lives of those around me. He wants to be entertained by Jesus. He is mocked and ridiculed and sent Him back to Pilate dressed in royal robes of purple.

             The sinless becomes the sinner so that the sinner is forgiven. Behold the happy exchange that brings you life. He gives you double remission for all your sins.  “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Behold your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation: a crown of thorns, a robe of suffering, a reed of weakness; His enthronement on the cross for you, his rebellious subjects, awaits.
            His sorrow, his grief, his suffering – it’s all so exhausting. Overwhelming.  You’ve probably all felt that way at some point too.  “I’ve no more tears to cry"...pull the blankets over your head..."do I have to get up today? I give up; I can’t go one step farther. I’m exhausted.  
            Are we there yet?    I know you’re tired. We’re almost there.

            That’s why Jesus goes on this journey. He goes for you. He knows that you can’t take one step in the right direction, let alone enough to save yourself. He knows what you need: someone to carry you – not part of the way - but all the way home.               
            For you who are exhausted by grief and sorrow; Jesus carries every last one of them to the cross. His tears are yours. His sorrows are yours. He sheds them for you.           
            For you who are overwhelmed and weighed down by sin and death; Jesus allows death and sin to overtake and overwhelm him. The wood upon which Jesus is set adrift under the storming wrath of God, He fashions into an ark of salvation.                    
            For you who are brokenhearted from life in this world; Jesus comes to bind your wounds in his. All of your sorrow, sin and death. All of your fear, anxiety and weariness. All the questions we can’t answer and problems we can’t solve are finally and ultimately answered once and for all on the cross Christ Crucified.

            Thankfully, you don’t have to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in order to get closer to God or to have some kind of religious experience. Jesus commands no such thing. If you set out to find Jesus on your own you’ll never find him that way. No. Jesus comes to rescue you. He sends His Holy Spirit to prepare you for a weekly pilgrimage here to the one place where heaven comes to earth. The one place where Jesus promises to live and dwell among his pilgrim church on earth; here we road-weary, sinners of this world find rest. Peace. Forgiveness. In Holy Week (as in every week), Jesus delivers his life, his forgiveness, the fruits of his cross and passion to you, for you and with you.

            Don’t starve yourself on this Lenten journey or the rest of your pilgrim life. For we’re impoverished if we don’t avail ourselves of the gifts of Holy Week, or any other week too. You can look at pictures of faraway places, and you can read books about it, but there’s nothing quite like being there. Holy Week is a kind of “being there,” for the Christian church, walking the road of sorrows and shame that leads to the one death that conquers Death for us all.
            Today the palms are behind you. The cross is before you. And Jesus is with you along the way.
                Are we there yet? No. Not yet, but very soon.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment