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Holy Communion every Sunday at 10am
THE GREAT SAGA OF HOLY WEEK AND EASTER
Yesterday we celebrated what used to be called “Palm Sunday”, but is now renamed Passion Sunday. The focus has been changed from just the triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the trial and crucifixion of Jesus - his Passion (from the Latin meaning the total giving of oneself).
In the “good old days” my church in Queens used to have a service every night in holy week, not just Thursday and Friday. At those services the entire events of Jesus’ short visit to Jerusalem were presented in the readings and sermon. But, alas, today people don’t come out every night, or even two nights - so in realistic expectations we cover all of Holy Week on Palm Sunday.
Unfortunately, the events of Holy Week have been rehearsed before us so often that we know them all by heart. Above all, Good Friday is no surprise, neither is Easter. We need to step back. Remember the Disciples and the others in Jesus’ small band of men and women (which may or may not have included his mother Mary), did not know the end as we do - they were yet to experience the shocking, disappointing, sadness of Good Friday and the amazing and unbelievable joy of Easter.
In lesser ways, life is that way for us, too - never following our plans exactly. In my home church while I was in high school and college the parishioners did not know me much at all. But they did know another young man, John Wrede, who was destined, in everybody’s thinking, to become a Lutheran Pastor. He was going to Wagner College (a Lutheran school), was president of the Luther League, sang in the choir, was our Church’s first acolyte. I on the other hand was going to CCNY and studying engineering. Well John ended up a social workers with the Salvation Army and I ended up a Pastor. God has ways of shattering our expectations.
We plan and make assumptions and guesses - but we never know who is going to die, what jobs are to come to us and be taken from us, when recessions and wars are going to change our plans, and what sicknesses or accidents are going to thwart our dreams.
When Jesus and his Disciples entered Jerusalem there was an air of excitement. He came riding a borrowed donkey and people, having only vague knowledge of his past achievements way up north in Galilee, cheered and threw down coats and palm branches to keep the dust down. They knew that only kings and big shots ride on an animal - they were ordinarily only used for cargo. They assumed he was coming to make a big difference in their lives.
Jesus’ disciples must have let their imaginations run away with them - were they going in to Jerusalem to “take over”, to establish Jesus as the Messiah forever, to go to war with the Romans? They really believed Jesus was something special - they had been there for his teachings and miracles. They saw how he proclaimed the presence of God among even the poor and outcast, they witnessed his miracles of healing and comfort. They had been fed along with the multitude. They had been the poor and outcasts who were included in Jesus’ “fishers of people”.
How shocked and disappointed they must have been when things turned sour so soon. Jesus went to the Temple and had a big fight with the money changers, angering the temple leadership. They watched as he got into arguments with the religious leaders. The listened as he spoke the gloomy parable of the wicked tenants in the vineyard (Mark 12:1-12) which spoke of a change in leadership. They heard him speak of the change in eras. They were excited and afraid at the same time.
Then on Thursday they gathered for a Passover supper. At that meal Jesus spoke of the bread of the meal as his broken body and the wine as his spilled blood. What could that mean? He spoke of one betraying him!
After the meal they went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. While at prayer he was arrested. What must the Disciples have thought?
Events went down hill so swiftly after that: the trial before the religious counsel, the trial before the Roman Governor, the sentence of death, the crucifixion. What was God doing! Their expectations of a glorious take over were dashed to the ground. How would they go on!
On Easter, of course they all begin to find out. It would take some time, I am sure, for them to put together the two events of Easter - the empty tomb and the appearance of Jesus alive with them. More on that in the future. . .
This world is all about God’s plans - not ours. God would fix the world not by a triumphant revolution, but through a sacrificial death and a new understanding of love and reconciliation. God worked in Jesus through the lowly, the outcast, the sick, the widows and orphans, foreigners and aliens. God works even through us today.