There is a whole bunch of things going on in today’s text. There is a lot to unpack and think about. If we were to do all of that with the sermon today, we would be here for a long time – likely until Maundy Thursday! And even though I think this is the greatest story ever told, I don’t think it is of any benefit to hear me unpack all the things I have discovered in my studies of this text, all at once.
I want to give the Gospel reading the space it needs to tell its own sermon today because as I said a few weeks ago: like the Parables that Jesus used to teach, this tale needs time to simmer within each of us. We get the opportunity to ruminate on this text as we make our way into Holy Week. We will be led on a journey that unpacks portions of the whole story on different days and leads us through an incredible truth rooted in love.
There is so much about Jesus last days, death, and resurrection that we simply do not understand. There have been, and still are, teachers, preachers, and countless scholars who have made it their lives’ work to try and figure it all out. I think it’s fair to say that because these jobs still exist, it hasn’t been figured out yet. And so Holy Week, though full of a variety of worship and celebration, can often become more confusing as we try to digest the words that we are hearing.
I don’t think that the confusion only applies to newcomers to Christianity or to people who no little to nothing about Christianity at all. I was once told, by a person much wiser than I, that the more you study something, the more questions arise and the more unknowns you discover. This has proven true to me: the older I get, the more puzzled I seem to be when I try to figure it all out. It is true of many things in my life, but none more than when I talk about faith, belief, and life as related to Christ.
But, as Isaiah says, God gives us all the tools we need to take this Great Tale in: eyes to see, ears to hear, minds to take it all in. The wonderful thing that our faith helps us believe deep in each heart is that God doesn’t leave us alone to figure it all out on our own. God is here beside us, helping each of us to discover the truth that God is speaking to us. The Lord God will help us.
In the very first chapter of the Gospel of John we hear the words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) The word of God is a living word, present in everything we see and do.
We also believe that the words we hear from the scriptures are the living word –
words that heal;
words that comfort;
words that love;
words that transform and change us for all time;
words that live.
Never more true than in this incredible story.
As we make our way through the story we encounter God doing incredible things with words:
Jesus, on the way to the cross, tells the women weeping for him to not cry for him. He speaks words that teach and transform the situation right before their eyes.
Jesus, about to be crucified, speaks words of love as he asks God to forgive the people who crucify him, as they do not know what they are doing.
Jesus, on the cross between two criminals, speaks words of comfort to the one who seeks forgiveness in assuring him that he would be with God in paradise. Not eventually, not given enough time out to think long and hard about what he had done. Today.
All those words, God’s words. God present in everything we see and do.
And, exactly like the parables, all those words need time to do God’s work in each of the people present, and in each of the people who hear this great tale.
Today you were given a palm as we remember the palms waving and strewn in the street as Jesus made his way into Jerusalem. In your bulletin, you will find a set of instructions that show you how to turn a palm leaf into a cross. This exercise is a visual reminder of our journey of Holy Week: fresh, green palms waving in the air, with the excitement and anticipation of what is to come. We know that what is to come is not what most of those gathered are expecting. Our green palms are transformed into the human instrument of Christ’s death: a cross. A symbol of both death and life. Of horrendous human punishment and of incredibly open love from God. May your newly created palm crosses be a reminder in this coming week and year of God’s transforming and changing presence in everything humanity does, sees, and hears.
It is my hope that through our Holy Week journey we would each allow God to move in us and transform us, so that we, like the centurion at Jesus feet, will find eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that are stirred, so that we have mouths that are excited to declare: “It’s really true!”