Saturday, April 16, 2011

Palm Sunday

Hosanna!  Hosanna!  The crowds were cheering!  Jesus was coming and the people were excited!  The Messiah was coming into the city!  Hosanna!
That is the way the service started.  Shouts of Hosanna!  We start with joy and happiness.  Isn’t it great when things are new?  When things are new, there are all kinds of expectations.  Isn’t it great when you just start that new job?  There is all the anticipation.  The possibilities, the promise!  Do you remember those days of early romance?  There is so much wonder about what the future might hold in store.  Or getting a new car.  The smell, the promises, the not letting ANYONE eat or drink anything in it!  When things are new, the future is full of possibilities just waiting for us to grab them.  When things are new, we are excited just because of all the things that might be.
But all too soon in our story, the crowd goes from shouting, “Hosanna!” to shouting, “Crucify him!”  The mood of joy and anticipation becomes a mood of annoyance and anger.  How could that be?  How could shouts of praise as Jesus enters Jerusalem on Sunday become cries of condemnation before Pilate on Thursday?  Praise and admiration on Sunday, hatred and loathing on Thursday.  The mood of the crowd quickly becomes ugly.
I think we can also understand this change in feeling.  We are all excited about the new job is wonderful and the paycheck is great but, boy, the new boss is really quite a jerk. We love that wonderful girl or guy, but it would be nice if they didn’t have bad breath and would learn to scoop the cat box.  And the new car is wonderful until we start putting gas in the thing and find how much more we are going to have to pay in insurance. The great possibilities the future seems holds start to dissolve in the troubles of daily life.  We were once all happy and excited at the beginning, but now we are just trying to get through.  Now we are just trying to live life with as little pain as possible.
The people in the bible wanted a messiah whom they expected was going to come in and save them.  They wanted a messiah who was going to take care of them.  They wanted a messiah who was going to promise them a future that would contain everything they wanted.  And when Jesus entered into Jerusalem, this was this messiah the people were greeting.  When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the messiah as Santa Clause was who they lauded.  When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the messiah as personal sugar daddy was who the people thought was riding in on the colt.
But things were to change.  By the end of the week, the people were disillusioned.  This messiah wasn’t just going to give the people everything they wanted.  This messiah had some expectations.  This messiah was not going to settle with the status quo, this messiah was expecting change.  Now granted, the people wanted change, but they wanted THEIR kind of change.  But the reality of the changes was not what people were searching for.  Jesus was ushering in a new world and the people were not quit ready for that.
When new things start in our lives, we are excited.  But soon enough the realities of life takes over and things start going in ways we may not want.  Soon things start to diverge from how we would plan.  Soon the ups we were feeling become the downs.  When life changes from what we expected, how will we respond?  When the world we find is different than the world we had planned, what will we do?
We see many different ways of responding in our gospel reading and I am guessing we have all used these various ways at one time or other.
Maybe we responded as Peter did.  When things get down, we lose our faith entirely.  We deny that we know Jesus.  We go out and follow the pressure of the crowd and pretend that Jesus has no place in our life.
Another way we may act is to be like the first criminal.  We may taunt Jesus when things are not going well.  We may want to say to Jesus, “Well, you got me into this situation, now what are you going to do to get me out of it?”  We want Jesus to come and rescue us from the situation that is before us.
Or we may act like the women and just stand back and wait.  We may just watch life and assume that something will happen.  We may assume that God has a purpose for all of this and we really don’t want to go against God’s plan.
Unfortunately, each of these ways only works to increase the pain of Jesus.  When we act like Peter, we increase Jesus’ pain by abandoning Jesus.  We increase Jesus’ pain by turning away from him.  When we follow the way of Peter, we throw away the possible comfort we may find in Jesus.
In the same way, when we follow the example of the criminal we increase Jesus pain by ignoring the gifts Jesus has already given to us.  And when we follow the example of the women, we increase Jesus’ pain by not doing anything to help the situation.
But we also have examples of how we could respond to adversity.  Simon of Cyrene helped in adversity by carrying the cross of Jesus.  Joseph of Aramathea gave by sacrificing of his treasures to provide a tomb for Jesus.  And the second criminal recognized that the predicament that the criminals found themselves in was not the fault of Jesus but was their own fault.
By following these examples, we can learn to move from blaming Jesus and God for our situations.  We can move beyond focusing on ourselves, and move toward helping others.  We can move beyond ignoring Jesus when things get difficult and remember to keep our faith in Jesus.
Now these sound like a good things and they are good things.  It sounds good to move beyond ourselves and to hold fast in faith.  It is a good thing to trust in Jesus and put our faith in God.  These are good things to do and we may be able to do this for a time.  It sounds good to reach out to others when we are in the midst of our problems.  But let’s face it; we are humans.  There will be times when we are going to be the ones who abandon Jesus.  There will be times when we go from shouting “Hosanna!” to screaming, “Crucify Him!”  There will be times in our life when our actions will cause pain to Jesus.
So when we fall short, Jesus just abandons us, right?  WRONG!  If we listen to Jesus dying words we find nothing but love.  Jesus doesn’t say, “Hey God, take care of these fools!  They didn’t understand so just damn them Hell.”  No.  Jesus says, “Father forgive them.”  Even while being crucified, Jesus is praying for those that are doing the killing.  Jesus is not looking for revenge or thinking about himself, Jesus is praying for those who were shouting to crucify him and just don’t get it!
And Jesus is praying for us too.  Quite often we are the ones who “know not what we do.”  We are the ones that cannot see Jesus as savior and deny him.  We are the ones that just sit back and watch and wait.  When Jesus prays for forgiveness, he is praying for forgiveness for us!  Jesus goes to the cross knowing that he will be abandoned and mocked.  Jesus knows, but still he goes to the cross.  Jesus knows but still he prays.  Jesus knows and still seeks forgiveness.  Jesus prays for forgiveness from the cross for both the people of Biblical times and for us.  That is pretty powerful. 
As we approach Holy Week, keep in mind that often in our life, we will go from shouting “Hosanna!” to screaming “Crucify Him!”  Often we will deny Jesus.  Often we will abandon Jesus and claim that Jesus has abandoned us.  We will fall short.  But even when we fall short, even when we turn away for Jesus, Jesus does not turn away from us.  We may not be able to see the way in the midst of life, but we can rely on the fact that God is still sovereign.  We can know that Jesus prays to God for our forgiveness even though we know not what we do.
The troubles in life won’t go away.  We will go from hosanna to crucify him.  We will fall short.  But through Christ, we are not alone.  Through Good Friday, we get to Easter.  Through the gift of Jesus we attain eternal life.

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