Scripture: Matthew 21:1-11 and Matthew 26:47-66
Today we move from royal palms, cloaks, and joyful cries filling the city streets: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” to the verdict spoken in Caiaphas’ house: “He deserves death.”
How quickly we move from here to there. How fickle are we. We love him we betray him we crucify him.
As Joni Mitchell has sung to so many through heartbreak and loss and transition: “I have looked at love from both sides now.”
I’ve looked at the clouds from both sides now – “from ice cream castles in the air and feather canyons everywhere; to how they rain and snow on everyone. I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now.”
How quickly the clouds shift and change, how quickly they roll in on Gethsemene and Golgotha from the clear Jerusalem air proclaiming the arrival of the long-awaited messiah. This day of the processional and the palms is a reflection of ourselves – a paradox of triumph and rejection, love and betrayal, resolve and uncertainty, birth and death. As we stood outside the closed sanctuary doors this morning, pregnant with the anticipation of entering, we paused to prepare ourselves to enter into the holiest week of the year when all the most profound truths of human life are exposed. What is holier than the Truth, naked, exposed, raw and hung on a cross for all the world to see?
On Palm Sunday, more than any other day of the year, we are reminded that the essential Christian narrative, the oldest, the first, the central story by which we are formed is not Advent with Isaiah and visions of the lion laying with the lambs, it’s not Christmas with the shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night, it’s not Epiphany with the magi following the star, it’s not Pentecost with the flaming tongues of fire birthing the church, it’s not the miracles or the healings or the parables or even the Sermon on the Mount. But the story held in between the palms and the passion, it is the truth by which we are formed.
We live betwixt and between the reality of our world and the truth of the gospel. We live somewhere in between the palms and the passion. We live on both sides of love.
The movement from the palms to the passion is complex, but so is life. We welcome and worship the one who will save us from ourselves and from false idols, gods and kings…until… word is spoken against him. We loose our courage, question his motives, and side with the strong behind his back. The movement from the palms to the passion is complex, but so is life and here we are.
While creed, doctrine, and institution have the luxury of operating in the black and white, the world operates in the gray. We live on both sides of love and the truth is, like Peter and Judas, we don’t know how far we’re willing to go for Jesus. We don’t.
We are willing to give, but not sacrificially. Ok, we’ll give 10% of our income to the church and charitable causes…but is that before or after taxes? Here we do our most careful math…we could give more but what about our morning coffee or lunch out at our favorite restaurant or what I struggle with, what about that pedicure I so need every 4-6 weeks?
We are willing to forgive, but only to a point…Bernie Madoff, rapists, the Tsarnaev brothers, the young man who massacred the children in Newtown…is that depth of forgiveness beyond our grasp?
We are willing to help and serve, but only from a comfortable distance…I was brought smack into the middle of the gray when I heard about the arrival of the CleanSlate Addiction Treatment Center on Washington Street here in Braintree, located across from the Highlands neighborhood where we live in the parsonage. I was forwarded and read email after email after email full of angry complaints to Mayor Sullivan that had been voiced by our neighbors; fathers, mothers, grandparents who argued that the edge of the Highlands neighborhood was no place for a treatment center for addicts. But even as a mother and Highlands resident, living less than a ½ mile from the treatment center, I wondered what message this sends to our children. As a pastor, I wondered what message this sends to you all, my congregation. That we want the heroine and opiate epidemic in our communities to go away, but aren’t willing to help our very own youth and neighbors who struggle with it. If not here, then where? We’ll send the over 400 Braintree residents who are actively seek sobriety to Brockton or New Bedford or to the poorest neighborhoods of Boston to get their meds and help they need to reclaim their life? We are willing to serve, but only from a comfortable distance.
We say we don’t judge but find ourselves judging others, if not out loud then within the silence of our hearts. I had the chance to speak with Rick Doane this week, the Director of Interfaith Social Services in Quincy. He praised the volunteers who generously give of their time to work the thrift shop and food pantry and counseling center there. They could not exist without their volunteers. But he told also of occasions when volunteers at ISS have help clients carry their food pantry bags to their car and return commenting on the nice make and model that they drove away in…but reaching into that reserve of faith that Rick so clearly has, that place of discipleship that he so clearly seeks, he asked, “Is it their car? Are they borrowing it? Are they living out of it? Is it about to be repossessed tomorrow?” How we pretend to know another’s journey…until we walk a mile. How we pretend to know another’s struggle until it knocks on our own door.
“Are ye able,” said the Master “to be crucified with me?
Are ye able to remember when a thief lifts up his eyes,
that his pardoned soul is worthy of a place in paradise?”
Through Lent, through Church, through community, through faith we seek to experience a new and different life. And that transformation is possible in between the palms and the passion, where reflection and self-awareness are unavoidable, where Truth about ourselves and our God is at its finest, most accessible – raw, exposed, and hung on a cross for all the world to see.
Where we can – at once - see ourselves as the faithful carriers of the palms and the discrete deniers of our God. We are at once breaking bread with Jesus, watching him bend to one knee and wash our feet and then betraying him with a kiss for a few coins of silver.
And yet, and yet, Jesus returns to us anyway. We’ve spent the past five Lenten Sundays considering Jesus’ return to Peter after his death and resurrection – Peter, ah, precious Peter – denier and disciple, rebuked and regretful, fisher of fish and men. After the cross, Jesus returns to the Peter in us all, filling our empty nets with fish that we did not catch, feeding us with a meal that we did not prepare, offering us forgiveness that we did not earn or deserve.
Jesus returns and gives us life in those places where we are dead, hope in those places we are lost, love in those places where we are empty, offering compassion for our misplaced kiss. Good Friday is good, indeed, for what follows after.
As the Psalmist sings and prays, it follows that:
Love and faithfulness meet together,
Righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
And righteousness looks down from heaven.
Because we have lingered in between the palms and the passion, because we have met the holiest of weeks with thought and reverence, come Easter morning we will see and know the meeting of love and faithfulness, righteousness and peace and we will be transformed. We will experience a new and different life.
We will lead not by power, but by service to others;
We will seek not to dominate, but to empower;
We will seek not to judge but to love;
Not to store up but to give;
And these virtues, they will be our palms,
Laying them down to prepare the world for Christ and the kingdom to come in His name.
“Are ye able,” said the Master, “To be crucified with me?”
Lord, we are able.
Our spirits are Thine.
Remold them, make us, like Thee, divine.
~Rev. Leanne Walt