Sermon by the Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, April 9, 2017. Palm Sunday, Year A, Matthew 26:14- 27:66
“So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… Amen.
The past week has been a difficult week for me. Maybe the most difficult week that I have had since we arrived last August. I spent hours tossing and turning. Wrestling with the kinds of things priests have to deal with. Will they get mad at me? Will they like me? Whom will I offend?
But priests have to make these kinds of landmark decisions from time to time. We need to put on our big boy (or girl) pants and make the call…
“Hey Matt, would you play Judas in the Passion Play on Sunday?” So glad you didn’t get mad, Matt.
You all should know, that not only did he not get mad, but he wanted to know if he should dress in costume. Honestly… He was a little too into the character… if you know what I mean.
Matt, we are all in agreement that you were the right choice. It is a tough job being Judas… hard work… but you perfected it.
Speaking of work, I have had a lot of jobs in my life. Some I have loved some I have not. Some I was well suited for some I was not. Some paid a livable wage most did not. Some offered adequate benefits, most did not.
Some of the work I’ve done that has been most fitting for my skills and passions were things like; summer camp, waiting tables, working with refugees, being a priest.
Some of the work I’ve done that has NOT been most fitting for my skills and passions, and yet offered a modicum of financial relief for the goals I had, were jobs like; picking vegetables as an 11 year old (it was hot, the bean plants made my skin itch… and there was no bathroom in the field), or delivering the local weekly newspaper (are you kidding me??? Tuesday nights???? That was the BEST night for television! That was ” A Team” night followed by “Night Rider”!!!! Tuesdays just didn’t work for me).
When I was in my young adult years, I performed really labor-intensive work that had its benefits but I couldn’t see them at the time; like working construction. I thought I would learn how to build houses but instead, I ended up moving plywood from the ground to the roof. I thought I would learn how to finish a concrete floor, but instead, I ended up carrying 80 pound buckets of rock up three flights of stairs or running a jack hammer for hours. Despite this beard and body, I was not suited for physical labor.
I have also spent a lot of time in school. During those times, my work to do… my job… was to be a student. In fact, some of the jobs that I did were the result of me not wanting to go to school.
Working temp jobs and working in factories and other work that didn’t suit me, helped me stick it out later on as I was trying to complete my undergraduate work. When I would start to groan about class or writing a paper, I would just need to remember all the times I carried those buckets of stone or times I had to get up at the crack of dawn to punch a clock in a woodshop.
Whether I loved my job or not, whether I was in school or not, whether I was 11 years old or 40, the last week was always brutal. Watching the hours slowly tick away. Thinking about the folks I would miss and not miss… Celebrating with classmates over a coke or a beer…
A week was a week. Sometimes that final week would fly by and other times it would creep at a snail’s pace.
Maybe you can think of weeks in your life that were a huge transition… a final week before a baby is due… a final week at a job that YOU didn’t like… A final week before you retired… A final week before your wedding… A final week of a marriage that was ending… A final week at the bedside of a loved one who was dying… A final week with a pet that was suffering…
All of these weeks are very memorable. Sometimes because of the unimaginable joy and sometimes because of the intense pain.
Human behavior changes during these times… during times when people know a transition is coming. Whether a death or some other transition, people look for closure.
We look to make memories with others while we still can.
Out for dinner one last time with close work friends…
A party or awards banquet after a basketball season…
We want to mark the time.
We want to set it apart.
We want to make it special…
We want to make it… Holy.
I wonder what this final week was like for Jesus.
How much could (or did) he anticipate? Did he know the future? How much did he really know? Did he know it was the final week or did he just know that the end was near? Was he aware of the pain that was coming or was he already immersed in it?
Maybe Jesus was afraid. Maybe he was lonely. Maybe he was angry. Maybe he was depressed.
What about for his triumphal entry into Jerusalem? How did he feel on that donkey?
In the Sunday school books, he was drawn as “smiling”… as though he was enjoying himself.
Was he thinking, “Finally… about time I got some respect around here. This is great! I’ve waited my whole life for this moment?”
Or were his thoughts focused on the fact that he would not, could not, ever be what these folks were hoping for? Was he cynical about how misguided their desire for a powerful messiah was? Did he just roll his eyes as they chanted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
In the readings from today, there are clues all around from the author, that something was happening beyond just an interesting and tragic story. There are signs for a reader who knows her or his Hebrew Scriptures. Signs that clue the reader in, that something very different is going on.
Jesus arrives on a donkey. We may not think of it much because we have been immersed in the story, but this was a signal to the crowds.
A fulfilling of prophecy…
The Son of David… the Son of Man… the anointed one, would NOT be riding into Jerusalem on a war HORSE like a warrior. Like a Caesar… Like a King of this world. No, he would ride in on an undersized, underutilized, underappreciated jackass.
And there are other clues that this final week was an eschatological event.
At his death, the curtain at the Temple is torn… there was an earthquake.
the dead walked out of their tombs and into the city…
These events were very different from anything that all of Creation had ever experienced.
This final week was the procession into a new reality. A reality where heaven and earth collide. A marking of the time. The end of one age and the beginning of another.
An apocalypse was indeed taking place. It was… a Holy… Week.
And I still wonder… what was Jesus thinking and feeling?
I kind of assume he is an actor outside of the play who already knows the end of the scene. Was that the case? Or was he surprised? Would he miss his friends? Would he miss his mother? Was he grieving these things? What was he thinking? What was he feeling?
That is THEE work of Holy Week.
To walk through the events of Jesus’ final week… To identify with him as best we can.
There certainly is theological and cerebral work to be done. The work of “what does this all mean,” is an important one… but maybe not the most important work during this last week.
Instead, maybe our job is to try to get into the sandals of Jesus the Christ. To slow down with our liturgical acts… our deep memory that the church has passed down to us. To experience the trial and crucifixion and death. To walk with our friend Jesus on his way to the Cross.
Here at St. Philip’s this week, we will have plenty of chances for you to create space for this endeavor.
We will have plenty of chances to try to feel all the feelings. To think all of the thoughts. To get as close as we can to experiencing the experiences.
Plenty of chances to try to wrap our hearts and minds around this mystery.
And so I invite you to Holy Week.
Several days this week, Jodi and I will be here for morning prayer at 9am. Come and pray.
We will gather together on Thursday night at 6pm to wash each other’s feet.
Friday, all day, you are welcome to come for a self-guided meditation, of an ancient pilgrimage, on the stations of the cross.
On Good Friday at 6pm, we will gather and immerse ourselves in the death of God.
Finally, Saturday night, we will gather for the Great Vigil of Easter at 8:30pm.
You are invited to come.
You are invited to share in the work that God did and is doing.
You are… invited.