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April 05, 2020
Processional Gospel: Matthew 21:1-11
Gospel: Matthew 26:14-30
Usually on Palm Sunday, there’s an intentional transition to the Passion about halfway through the worship service to move us towards the remainder of Holy Week. We began with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But today we only read part of the story about the night Jesus was handed over – right up to him and the disciples going to the Mount of Olives.
Stopping there, we can’t help but feel a certain level of tension as we read about these events and don’t go any further, because we know what’s about to happen in just a few days. We know that at the same time the multitude of disciples was shouting praise and spreading their cloaks on the road, others in the city were plotting Jesus’ death.
We know that in less than a day, Jesus had gone from being praised and worshiped to being an enemy of the state. And that in less than a week, the disciples’ reality had been completely upended as they realized Jesus wasn’t the Messiah they wanted him to be.
The afternoon that he arrived in Jerusalem, Jesus tossed the tables in the temple. And in the days between then and what we call Maundy Thursday, he cursed a fig tree, told parable after parable about what the realm of heaven is like as he challenged the temple leaders, foretold his own death, and was anointed by a woman as he ate dinner in the home of a man who had leprosy.
He had a busy few days. He challenged authority, but underlying that is the way he went about it.
Instead of overthrowing the political and religious status quo by violent means, Jesus continued to show his disciples a new way to live. A way that embodied healing and the life God desires for us in such a way that it became a reality on earth. A way of living that can sometimes seem weak by the world’s standards.
But it isn’t weak at all. In fact, it’s a way of living that’s quite powerful, and also threatening, to the powers that be. So much so, that by Thursday night of that week, Jesus had been handed over by one of his own to the authorities.
In those few days, the disciples quickly came to understand that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah they wanted him to be. But they didn’t yet understand, at least not fully, that he was the Messiah they needed him to be. And that it was completely different than what they thought.
Last Sunday, I mentioned a meme going around that says “this is the Lentiest Lent I’ve ever Lented.” In response to it, one of my professors said, “This may be the Holiest Holy Week we have ever Holied.” And there’s truth in what she says.
I won’t go so far as to say that this Holy Week for us is perhaps the one we need, but it’s safe to say that it isn’t the one we wanted – and it’s certainly different than what we all were expecting. And different isn’t necessarily bad, but it isn’t always easy – especially when it disrupts long-held traditions.
But as one of my colleagues reminds us, to be holy, or to be made holy, means to be set apart for something different. And this week coming up is different in a lot of ways, including some that we couldn’t have foreseen and traditions and practices have had to go by the wayside.
Instead of children processing in today with palm branches, we created a procession of photos that you sent in to decorate this space. Instead of shouting “Hosanna!” in person, we heard it read in the scriptures. Instead of remembering the biblical events of this week together in this space, we’ll do it individually in our homes.
But even though it’s unlike holy weeks of years past, this week is still holy. It’s still set apart as a week that’s different from most others. And as we progress through it, we’re reminded that on what we call Palm Sunday, the people weren’t shouting “Alleluia!” as Jesus entered Jerusalem. They were shouting “Hosanna!” which means “Save us!” They were crying out to God for salvation – for healing.
And that’s exactly what Jesus brought. It just didn’t look the way they thought it would.
When we hear the word “Hosanna!” today and remember what it means, it helps us relate to what the people cried out for in ways that we maybe couldn’t before. And we feel a certain level of tension as we wait, because we know that Jesus brings healing, but right now we don’t know when that healing will come.
We’ve been given an extended order to stay at home and maintain physical distancing. And even though we anticipated that would happen, it continues to change the way we live and interact with each other.
I went for a walk yesterday on part of the 5-mile trail that loops through the Microsoft campus. And I expected to see people and that we would have to step off to the side to increase the physical distance as we passed each other. And that did happen.
But what I wasn’t expecting was for some people to stop and actually turn their backs to me as I passed them. And it reminded me that, whether we’re aware of it or not, each of us is crying out for healing and salvation from this pandemic we’re facing. And we don’t know when it will come.
But as people of faith, when we hear the words “Hosanna – save us!” we remember that Jesus brings salvation and healing every day. And we know it doesn’t mean that we’ll be protected somehow from Covid-19 or that there’ll be an immediate end to this health crisis, or that nothing else bad will happen, but it gives us coping skills for navigating it.
Remembering the healing Jesus brings us helps us to stay connected to each other through our phone calls and prayers. It helps us remember that we aren’t in this by ourselves. And it reminds us of the life God wants for us and helps us to embody it and make it a reality even as we stay at home.
And in doing that, we discover that we experience each day the healing Jesus brings us the healing that we need – even as we move through this very different, but very holy, Holy Week. Thanks be to God! Amen.