Yesterday we threw a funeral for Norma Shannon. It was like that too, throwing a funeral. She was 93 when she died, and there was joy in the midst of the sorrow. Death took Norma, as it will take all of us, and even though it was sad, it felt like life gave death a run for its money yesterday. I think every one of us left there a little more grateful to be alive, a little more aware of what a gift it all is.
Earlier this week I told Andy that I first had a funeral sermon to write for Norma and then I’d be working on one for Palm Sunday, and he answered, “so you’ll write a funeral sermon for Jesus too, then.”
I’ve never thought about Palm Sunday like that before, but this might be why it’s a strange one for me. Because in the midst of this celebration of the crowds who think things are just getting started, we know death is coming for Jesus. And he knows it too. He’s been trying to tell his disciples for some time, but they wont listen.
This is a bit of political theater that will be played out for all to see – and God chose to do this; it’s an important part of the story, so we treat it that way, but it’s not clear to us just what is going on because even though we know where this parade is leading, we’re not so far off from the crowds themselves.
Seemingly since the beginning of time, we’ve thought the world was ending. We’ve wanted to be saved from whatever it was we were in, and we’ve pretty consistently created God in our image much of the time, demanding to be saved the way we think we should from the things we think should be saved from. And so you and I take up our metaphorical palm branches when it suits us as well, and stand alongside the crowd, many of whom were thinking Jesus was there to save them from the Roman Empire, to make Israel great again, wanting him to be all these things that he wasn’t, and crying Save us, which is what hosanna means, Save us holy one! and then by the end of the week yelling Crucify him!
And it is at least in part, I think, due to feeling ripped off that Jesus wasn’t all the things they had projected onto him, he wasn’t strong and invincible and ready to lead a revolution after all, and disappointment turns easily to anger, and maybe even a craving for revenge, for making us hope and then letting us down.
But Jesus was never what they thought he should be – if they’d been paying attention at any point in his life, that is maybe the most consistent theme in all he did and said – the Kingdom of God is not like the kindgoms of this world, and he was never interested in strength and power; instead of courting the elite he hung out with the overlooked and his kind of salvation looked like freeing people from the things that kept them cut off from their neighbor and restoring people to their humanity as beloved children of God, and calling them to go and do likewise.
Jesus is heading toward the cross, but the week begins in this parade. This parade where people lay down coats and take up branches and shout things that may have all sorts of mixed up motives and false assumptions, but even so, were true.
That’s the ironic beauty of this moment, for those who knew, who could see the real truth: What they are saying is completely true, more true than they will ever realize, part of the fabric of all things most true.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the lord.
Blessed is the one who saves us; save us please!
In the midst of crazy noise these days where, despite all the other big stories going on in the world, all the human suffering and pain, the places we need saving, our national politics seem to be drowning out everything else. We are surrounded, it seems, by fear and posturing, shouting and shaming, refusals to admit wrong and the unyielding need to be right, and it feels really big; things feel pressing, ugly, fearful and overwhelming, and I, for one, find myself crying out to God, “Save us please!”
In a world of power and posturing, here is our “king” riding on poverty’s animal straight through the middle of our expectations, nevertheless taking in all the Hosannas, all the save uses that the people raise up, welcoming them to himself. And when he reaches the temple he glances around and leaves. Because that is not where this is all leading – it’s not for the center of power or the seat of religion, the place where the movers and the shakers go, where the decisions are made and the plans are unfolded.
It’s leading to the cross. Where the cries for salvation will be answered for real, and not at all in the ways we all think they should be.
Because beyond everything we think power and might and right salvation should be, this is the way of God. God’s way of love is unrelenting and quiet, foolish and strange. It doesn’t look like how this world looks. It looks like something else entirely.
Whether we think Jesus should sweep in and fix everything, protect our sense of safety and keep bad things from happening, strong-arm our enemies, or make us supernaturally good people, however our version of God’s plan goes or our view of salvation looks, that doesn’t stop God from 1- hearing us, and welcoming into Godself our misguided but very real cries for salvation, and 2- drawing us into the real Kingdom of God, even while breaking down all we thought it was about.
Nothing can stop or change the trajectory of God’s Kingdom. God is bent on loving us no matter what, bent on salvation of the world, bent on bringing humanity close to the heart of God and blessing the whole world with life as God intends it to be in wholeness and harmony. We think enemies should be destroyed or at least silenced, and power should be wielded to make things feel stable so we can build ourselves up and avoid bad things, most especially death, but God instead submitted completely to suffering and death, so that nothing can separate us from God’s love. God has come, God is here, God is holding it all. That is what is really real.
So God chooses this moment of sheer praise and celebration to begin this whole week. And one invitation in this for you and me is this: praising God reminds us what is really real. When stop whatever it is we are caught up in fearing and believing and doing, and simply lift our heads and acknowledge God in our midst, showing up and suprising us like a peasant on a donkey, when we can stop walking and lay down our coats and pick up our branches, that is, whatever we have at hand at the moment, make it into a tool of worship, even ridiculously so, even with confusion or mixed motives, if we stop and praise God, it reminds us again what is true.
In order for Jesus to proceed into the week ahead, in order for any of them to, something had to be made clear right at the outset. And even if they didn’t know at the time what they were saying, they were going to say it anyway because it is the truest thing –God has come. God is here. Right here Among us. Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Stopping to praise God reminds us what is true. Praising God reminds us what is really real.
In a few minutes we will gather around Marty and give thanks to God for God’s calling on Marty’s life. And because death is coming for every one of us at some point, we will say outloud together that Marty is dying, and you guys, I feel really sad about that. I feel so sad.
But we will also say that God is still God, and that God is with us, and God is with Marty. And in these coming weeks we will be saying, Save us! and meaning all sorts of things by it, and God will hear it anyway, and God will save us because this is what God does and who God is.
And there is more beauty and hope and love and joy that God wants to impart into Marty’s life, and into all of our lives, as we share them with each other, so we will not be afraid. And even when we are, a little, still, we will walk with Marty. Because this is where Jesus is.
Jesus walks this way with us. Jesus went this way before us in this prophetic parade; this confusing, strange spectacle, where truth was spoken right into illusion, right through delusions, and what was happening was bigger and truer than any of them could have realized at the time. And so we trust that by facing instead of fearing death, we are also part of something that is bigger and truer than we can realize.
Next week is Easter, and we will celebrate that that death does not get the final word. We will sing and pray and rejoice in resurrection– even while we are all dying, we will proclaim that in Jesus Christ, death is not the end. The life and love of God, that we are made for and called into, has already begun and will never, ever end.
So as children of God, claimed by this promise, let us lift up our voices in praise. Let’s stop and acknowledge God with us, right in our midst, and find again our true home in the One who holds it all, who has come to share it all with us, and who never leaves or forsakes us, but instead faces death with us and leads us in life everlasting.
Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes!