Monday, April 6, 2009

Sermon: Palm Sunday

Take me out to the Ballgame…

And so it begins again, a time renewed, when every team feels like they can win the pennant. It is quite strange as we begin this Holy Week with the beginning of baseball. It kicks off later today on this Palm Sunday. The Detroit Tigers kick off their home opener on Good Friday with a game at 1 PM. I am not surprised Baseball has games these Holy Days, its just the way the schedule fell. But what should we do? Miss the games?

The Detroit Tigers slugger Hank Greenberg long ago on an October day when Yom Kippur fell on one of the World Series game days, didn't play, he went to synagogue instead. As one observer put it, “Greenberg seemed to have understood that there is more than one calendar in the world, and it is inevitable that their particular observances will sometimes clash. The Tigers' home opener surely was not scheduled to annoy the faithful.” (Harry Cook, Detroit news)

It reminds me that we live in a culture that no longer observes most holidays and the idea of a Holy Week doesn’t fit in with our pluralistic society. Easter is now a fuzzy spring bunny and there is no sense that Good Friday leads to Easter. To observe Holy Week, to let the passion of Jesus infuse our souls, goes against the grain. Most Christians jump from Palm Sunday to Easter, forgetting the three days from Maundy Thursday to Easter. Who wants to hear about suffering and death?

We hear so much about it on the news from Darfur or Afghanistan, even if it seems far removed from our daily lives, we see no Good News there. And without a supportive culture, its hard to live into these days. But live into them we must, if we want to understand the depths of our faith and the meaning for our lives today.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “We need to immerse ourselves over and over again for periods of time and very quietly into the living, speaking, acting, suffering and dying of Jesus, so that we may recognize what God promises and what God fulfills.”

As we listen to the life of Jesus this morning, we hear the echoes of our own lives: great triumphs, betrayal, suffering, and finally death. What had started out so gloriously with the triumphant march into Jerusalem, Jesus riding a donkey with palm branches and people shouting Hosanna! Now comes to its fitful conclusion with betrayal, arrest, beatings, and a cruel death on a cross. It was an end none of his disciples could fully grasp or imagine. They all fled. Save for a faithful few women like Mary Magdalene who watched until the bitter end.

Its hard at times to understand why it all took place in this way, but I think its our difficulty not God’s. Death and life look so very different, but for God they fall into one, for God is with us in both life and death. The idea of suffering is so opposite to our understanding of God and our faith, that sometimes Holy Week just doesn’t make sense. And yet, the whole Holy Week experience reminds us that even God’s own son, suffered just as we do. That suffering is part of our lives, not because God wills us to suffer but because of our own choices that we make and our being mortal creatures that we suffer.

Whether its watching starving children half way across the globe, or being with a family member ill with cancer, we just want to know why. And yet, the feeding of others lies in our hands if we have the will to do it, and we also understand that our bodies will fall ill. Suffering is part of our lives even if we don’t want it to be. Its how we rise up to meet that suffering that dictates its meaning for our lives.

There is an old saying that “what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.” And it is true that we can learn a lot through our suffering and we can become stronger for the difficulties that do lie ahead of us. But as I read an article on-line, I was reminded that that the saying is not always true.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and when it comes to our children, abuse and suffering can lead to permanent disability, what doesn’t kill a child does not make them stronger for Child abuse not only robs children of their childhood but it is needless suffering that we can help prevent. Jesus did not die on that cross so we can stand by and let the little ones suffer, its up to all of us to remember the children, to recognize that prevention is our shared responsibility, to report abuse when we see it, to reach out to isolated neighbors and to those in need around us, and to respond to families in crisis.

The cross beckons us to bear witness to Jesus’ suffering and death and to share in the suffering and to reach out to those experiencing it now.

As Dorothee Soelle put it, “To meditate on the cross means to say good-bye to the narcissistic hope of being free of sickness, deformity and death. Then all the energies wasted on such hopes could become free to answer the call for the battle against suffering.”

That is, our call is to take up our cross and follow Jesus, and to reach out to those who are suffering, to help them feel the abiding presence of God and God’s love through what we do.

It is said that when Hank Greenberg entered the synagogue instead of Tiger Stadium in 1934, the congregation applauded, for he had chosen to honor his faith that day. A poem was written by Edgar Guest:

Came Yom Kippur
holy fast day world wide over to the Jew,
And Hank Greenberg to his teaching
and the old tradition true
Spent the day among his people
and he didn't come to play.
Said Murphy to Mulrooney,
'We shall lose the game today!
We shall miss him on the infield
and shall miss him at the bat
But he's true to his religion
and I honor him for that!

As we once again, enjoy baseball’s opening days, we also must be true to our religion and walk with Jesus in his passion this Holy Week. And to do that we must take the time to live into his experience, from the last supper through the cross and beyond. For it is those experiences that will help our lives understand God’s promise to be with us always and will guide us in helping this suffering world. Amen.

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