Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Easter is Coming

Psalm 31/ Matthew 21

In every church I have ever been a part of, Palm Sunday has been seen as a day of joy.  We revile in the fact that for once, we and the people of Jerusalem, finally seem to get who Jesus is.  We like the people in Jesus’ time, see, and experience the presence of God in our lives and we read all the stories of Jesus’ life and while some reject him and others accept him, it seems that on this day, as Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the foal, we finally get it! We finally understand who Jesus is!

I remember as a child getting to come into the church on Palm Sunday smiling, happy, singing Loud Hosannas waving my palm branch in the air.  It was always a joyous occasion.  If nothing else, as a child, it meant Easter was coming.  Mom had probably already made my Easter Dress by then, we were starting to attend community Easter Egg hunts, dying and decorating eggs.  We were getting ready! Maybe if we had been observing Lent that year, I could look forward to taking up whatever bad habit I had temporarily given up.  I could soon eat candy again or drink sodas.  In my excitement I never really thought about what it might have really been like that first Palm Sunday.  What made this day different?  Why were they all of a sudden willing to claim Jesus as the Messiah?  And even if I did briefly think about this it quickly turned to blame.  These hypocrites!  Your shouting Loud Hosannas now but in less than a week you will have turned your back on the messiah… and in my naiveté, I thought I would never have done that- I am embarrassed to say that I no longer have the same confidence of that statement.  I hope and pray I wouldn’t. But even his best friends deserted him and who am I?  And what I really never thought about until I was preparing for today, is what was Jesus thinking and feeling?

This day was a very important day in the life and ministry of Christ.  Jesus had been fulfilling prophecies all through his life but it was coming to a climax on this day.  The Prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah and Zachariah had lots to say about who the Messiah would be and what that would look like.  The Messiah would ride in on a donkey, a sign of peace, not a war horse.  He would come into Jerusalem from the East, from the Mount of Olives; he would be betrayed by a friend, sentenced to death with criminals and hung on a tree.  This is the beginning of the climax of the fulfillment of these prophesies from hundreds of years before.  Jesus knew all this.  He knew at least to some extent what the week ahead would bring, and he knew his time had come.  His whole earthly life had been building up to this moment.  I get filled with anxiety just thinking about it.  And yet, every mental image I have of this moment, Jesus is smiling and waving like the grand marshal in a parade. 

I can only imagine the stress Jesus is feeling.  So, I struggle to reconcile this in my mind. Is Jesus welcoming the last bit of positive and supportive attention he will get from these crowds?  Is he smiling and soaking it all in or is he the humble, merciful and compassionate servant gently smiling at those he loves?  Maybe we see Jesus as smiling and laughing with the crowd because that is what we expect our leaders to do today.  We expect the well-oiled politician to shake hands and kiss babies and ride in the back of a red convertible with a big plastic grin on his face.  I am sure Jesus laughed and smiled, and joked around with his friends, just like everyone else but we know the idea of politician is not the type of leader Jesus embodied for us, especially not on this day.  Maybe Jesus is smiling, but I doubt it is a smile of Joy.  Instead, maybe it is that other smile that we are all too often aware of; the smile that covers up our pain.  The smile we give to friends and neighbors when we don’t want to tell them what’s wrong.  The smile we use to reassure ourselves when all we really want to do is cry.  Jesus knows where this road is leading, and while this moment is pleasant, he knows what the disciples and the crowd don’t understand yet, Good Friday is coming.  This smile is not one of Joy but one of anxiety.   The psalmist describes in our text today what I imagine Jesus was feeling.  You say you love me now but I know in a matter of days you will all abandon me, even my closest of friends will betray me.  People are already plotting my death and yet, I need to go through the motions, keep up appearances, all this will be over soon enough. 
It is a little much to claim that we know how Jesus felt.  I am sure over the course of history there have been leaders who were martyred for their faith, killed for standing up for what was right but most of us have never experienced anything close to it.  But we get a glimpse when we are in those situations that we find ourselves anxiously waiting.   It is the anticipation of the tough and painful conversation we know we have to have with a loved one.  It is the week between testing and diagnosis.  It is the waiting in ICU to see if a loved one will make it through the night.  It is what we have been symbolically walking through this Lenten season as we reflect on the times in our lives when we have found ourselves spiritually lost or in wilderness moments. 
Jesus did have one advantage.  It is one that we have been given too, but we don’t always recognize it.  He knew what the final outcome would be.  Despite the stress, anxiety, worry and anticipation Jesus knew that Good Friday was not the end- Easter was coming.  There was light at the end of the ordeal and Jesus is our light in these moments of darkness too.  The Psalmist expresses this trust in our scripture today.  “I trust in you Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands;” Because of our personal history and experience with God, because of the life of Jesus, because of the Gospel, because we have been given the word of God, we can have that hope too.  We have hope and can trust in the messiah, who knew what was coming next and loved us enough to endure the pressure of this week and the pain cross out of love for us. 

God can see past our anxiety, past our fear.  God can see past the things we cannot comprehend and promised to be with us every step of the way.  It is a matter of reality that sometimes things in this life get better but sometimes they don’t.  Like Jesus, we may still have to walk the road in front of us.  We may not be cured of the disease of our bodies; we may not get what we want in this life. But even still, and that is a big But- God can still be trusted to be there.  Whether the prognosis is good or bad, whether the conversation ends in forgiveness or anger, whether life or death, God will always be there with us, guiding us through to the other side.  And we can trust just as Jesus did and as many children celebrate on this day- Easter is coming!
Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death- not over it or around it or avoid it- but as we go through it, God is with us.  Where does our help come from? It comes from the Lord.  The Lord will keep your life.  As we experience all the fear and anxiety associated with living this life, God hears our cries and not only does God hear, but in Jesus we see that he empathizes and understands our distress, and provides us companionship, comfort, peace, guidance and reassurance no matter the circumstances of our situation.  We can trust God, in good times and bad, to be there with us, leading us and guiding us to new life in Christ. We can trust that Easter is coming and we can believe with full confidence that Jesus is our Hosanna, and will save us. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the Highest!