P.A.L.M.

Scripture: Luke 19:28-44

Given on Palm Sunday, 2016 at UPC of Amsterdam, NY

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 As we arrive at this moment of temporary jubilee and take our place alongside the crowds as they threw their cloaks down on the ground and tearing palm fronds from the trees and laying them on the path before Jesus, as they, with one voice lifted up their praises to him and to God, declaring him blessed, and the bearer of peace, of glory. It is important that we both be present here, in this space, and in this time. That we smell the air and feel the sensation of the crowds as they increased in number and in fervency. That we offer our honest and heartfelt praises to the one who comes in the name of the Most High. But at the same time, recognize that this place where we dwell is only a temporary one. No matter how much we might want to remain in the joyous part of this week, we must always remember that soon after his arrival in Jerusalem, the machinations that have been at work for the previous three years to ultimately silence Jesus are about to take hold and cast Jesus’s life and his mission and the lives and mission of those who follow him into utter chaos. And from this joyous moment to his last breath, there will arise a time in each of our lives. A time in which we must make a choice. And it is a choice that we must make for ourselves and ourselves alone and no one, not our family, not our partner, not our friends, can make it for us. And we have to make it before we depart from this place. Because this is the easy part. This space that we occupy, it is a safe space. It is a space where our kids can stand up front and give out the palms and declare in one voice “blessed is the one that comes in the name of the Lord!” And all we do is echo their words. We are a unified body in our praise and adoration of the messiah. But a time is coming soon after we leave this place in which we will have to choose if we are willing to walk those final painful steps with Jesus. We will have to choose if we are going to be in the garden when the Roman forces arrive with Judas and arrest him. We will have to choose if we will, at that moment when it counts the most, continue to be peacemakers and put away our swords and give earthly control over to the powerful Roman Empire, placing all our trust in God. We will have to decide if when everyone else, all our other friends, begin to scatter in the wind and go into hiding, if we will continue to walk with the savior, first to the trial before the Sanhedrin, where we hear that because it is the Passover, the religious authorities cannot order Jesus to be stoned so they pass the buck to the Roman authorities and change the charges from heresy to sedition and send the holy child of God to sit in the presence of Pontius Pilate. A man who is merely a puppet in the hands of the mighty empire, a man who so knows the weight of the Damoclesian sword that he is constantly sentencing those who rebel to Golgotha, the place of the skull, in order to maintain a false sense of peace in a country that is seemingly always in revolt. Will you be there to stand with Jesus when that there is that moment in which, when given the choice between him and Barabbas, you know that this gathering of people who had cheered your arrival just a few days prior will surely come to your defense again. And will you feel the pain of betrayal when, having been paid off by the religious authorities, they demand the release of the scoundrel Barabbas and demand that you be done away with like a common criminal. Will you stand there while Jesus is lashed, flesh being ripped from flesh until he has little life left in him to make the walk to his own demise. Will you offer to carry his cross to that place of death knowing that it could well mean your own death also? And will you stand there at the foot of the cross, watching him struggle in agony, watching him stare off into the coming darkness and scream out into the abyss to the God who created him, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani??” “Why have you forsaken me??” And will you stand there when he commends his soul into the hands of God and declare, “it is finished.” Because before we take up our palm, before we lift up one Hosanna, we must first decide if we really will walk those last few steps as willingly as we plan to walk those with him today. 

 And in this place today, I want to suggest that this story comes to us in four parts and for the sake of being easy to remember after we leave this place today, it will take the form of an acrostic poem. An acrostic based on the word, Palm. 

 P, for peace. We are told in the scripture for this morning that following his breaking bread with Zaccheus the crooked tax collector who found peace and forgiveness in Jesus. Following his telling of parables to the crowd that gathered at Zaccheus’s house to decry Jesus’s eating with someone so unworthy, we hear that he left that place and began to go to Jerusalem. Now we know that Jesus has been foreshadowing his own death for some time and earlier in the Gospel, soon after the Transfiguration, he turns his towards Jerusalem. But this is the moment at which Jesus knows that it is time to face his own end. And yes, he does so, in peace. He sends two of his followers ahead to get him something to ride in on because he does not fear the repercussions of making a grand entrance into a city occupied by Roman forces. He does not cling to his life but instead knows that it is God who is in control of everything that is about to happen. It is God who is deep in his own soul and nothing in this earthly realm can destroy that connection. It is God who is calling him to come home as God calls us all to come home. And the crowds are equally at peace. They have a part to play in all this and there is certainly some risk that comes with participating in such a triumphant entrance into such a public place. And yet there they all are, in a singular moment in which praise of God, adoration of Jesus, celebration of simply being in his presence come together to form an experience that two thousand years later we replicate without fail every single year. And from that moment we too share in a time of peace and jubilee and hope, even though we know that it will be short lived. 

 A, for animosity. Because anytime you try to do something new, or special, or challenging, there will always be those who push back to stop whatever it is that you are doing, we see the Pharisees doing what they always do with Jesus. “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” Of course that is what they say. Of course they can’t stand all this celebration, all this jubilation. They are, after all, the keepers of the old way of doing things, of the old religion. They are the ones who say, “we have the power and we get to determine what is a good and proper way to praise God, to think about God, to live into God. You are leading your followers down a deadly path Jesus. You have to tell them to stop.” Of course it’s never that easy, it’s never that simple. Jesus shows up to us all the time at the wrong time, always asking us to see the world in starkly different ways, demanding that we love our neighbors no matter how much we might not like them. Telling us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Telling us that because God’s grace for us is boundless we have to work towards our grace being boundless for one another. Telling us to forgive our debtors just like God forgives us when we have debts. And that’s never easy, that’s never simple, that almost always requires us to change everything about ourselves and so it should not come as a shock to anyone that sometimes we react to those demands in less that peaceful ways. Less than helpful ways. We each have some degree of animosity in our hearts and our minds and so we can’t be sure that in each moment we aren’t going to be the ones saying, “Jesus, you have to tell your followers to stop it.” Of course, Jesus knows that which eludes even the wisest in our midst. “You have no idea,” he told them. Even if they stopped praising God, all you would hear would be the stones shouting out their praises.” A hymn of glory that began at the beginning of time and has continued through the present moment. Each part of creation offering prayers of thanks and praise to God, the source of all life and being. 

 L, for lamentation. We follow Jesus from his triumphant arrival to a place where he is looking down over the city and he is crushed by the knowledge that even though he cries out for peace, even though he has traversed the lands preaching a message of love over hate and hope emerging from despair he still knows that in this world too often, it is the hate-filled and the violent who garner a temporary upper hand. He knows that there are those times throughout the history of the world when the meek and mild and peacemakers find themselves utterly destroyed by those who would seek to possess all they can, those who come to your city and take control. Those who will tear down all you have tried to create. And he sees that and he knows that too often in this world the forces of darkness subsume everything for a time and overcome with that knowledge, overcome with that vision, he begins to weep. Because sometimes that is all you can do. Sometimes the pain is too real, too close. Sometimes you can see into the future and you know that there will be agony in the lives of those that you love and there is nothing you can do about it but join Jesus in his tears. And so it is that he, and we, lament the brokenness of the world.  

 M, for memory. Because even in the midst of these few moments of respite, we cannot forget the last few steps that he, and we, have to walk. When we leave this place today, it will be to prepare for the final steps in the journey, where we will break bread with Jesus and hear about how one of us will betray him. We will walk with him to the garden and fall asleep while he is in his hour of deepest need. These are the last few steps, but painful as they are, we have to take them. We have to take them because though for a time it will seem as if darkness have overtaken the light and hatred has won, and death gets the final say over life, this only happens because it has to. This only happens because the only way to get to Easter morning is though Good Friday, the only way to get to the beginning is through the end. The only way to get to life everlasting is through the death of the one that we follow. 

 You have a choice to make. Will. You. Walk. With. Him? Amen. 

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