Sunday, April 5, 2020

Palm Sunday Sermon Online

O Lord our God speak the word that all the weary long to hear. Your Son humbles himself to carry the cross that your people long to embrace. As we enter this holy week, let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus. Empty us of ourselves, and draw us closer to his cross, that, comforted by his word of forgiveness and gladdened by his promise of Paradise, into your hands we may commend our spirits. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen. (Peter J. Scagnelli)

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but… he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross. (from Philippians)

Humility. The final acts of Jesus are all about humility. The passion story we hear each year, from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, speak of Jesus who rode a humble animal into Jerusalem, who washes the feet of his own disciples, who is betrayed and goes to the cross alone.

Thinking of Holy Week in the midst of COVID-19, has me seeing the story in new ways. It begins with adoring crowds as Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem by those who greet him as Messiah with people laying their garments and branches along his path. There is no social distancing, they want to be close to Jesus.

But his passion story ends with Jesus in complete isolation. He hasn’t been the Messiah they were hoping for and so those who sung ‘Hosanna’ one day shout ‘Crucify’ the next. The disciples run away. When Jesus is crucified, only a few of the women are still there to be with him, but from a distance. Alone, save for a couple of dying criminals next to him, Jesus is socially distant from his disciples and all those people he came to serve and save.

This Holy Week we are going to have to follow Jesus into his isolation. This pandemic has forced us to change how we will commemorate this week. The question for us in this Covid-19 Holy Week is do we take Jesus humility and his actions to heart even as we stay separated one from another.

Miroslav Volf of Yale Divinity School puts it this way:

“For us the pandemic seems to be a major interruption in life as usual. Life as usual, is the key phrase, for though our lives have been severely disrupted, they have not been interrupted. For the truth is that our life goes on, and cannot be interrupted; you cannot put life on pause—as you may pause a Netflix movie because something has come up, and then return to it and press the play button.

The question for all of us is how do we live with the disruption and with the menacing cloud over us?... For the central question of the Christian faith is what kind of life is worthy of our humanity? How are we to live our lives as the creatures of the God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ, the savior who suffered on the mission to free us from the power of evil that destroys life and to make true life—life abundant, flourishing life—possible.

The question about the true, flourishing life for Christian faith was always a question about how we can live a true life surrounded by false life. Flourishing life in the midst of languishing—or to express it with the Psalmist, "how to sing the Lord’s song in the strange land." The current pandemic is just such strange land.

How can we live so as not to betray our own humanity, and the humanity of our loved ones and our neighbors as we live under conditions the pandemic has imposed on us. What does it mean to say at this time that the God of Jesus Christ, the healer of the sick, the critic of powers, and the crucified and resurrected Savior, is our God?”

I sit with Volf’s words and wonder how we proclaim Jesus is Lord during Covid-19, how do we sing our song isolated from one another… and yet the song is sung, our faith remains with us for it’s in humility that sees the needs of our neighbors and tries our best to do the most good: staying home, staying safe distances away, not treating this virus as nothing but as something we must do all that is in our power to avoid getting it and spreading it.

This pandemic has challenged our faith and how we have always done things, but it need not stop our witness to God who came down to us in Jesus Christ.

During the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959, Buddhist monks were the targets of violence and persecutions in order to undermine the deeply rooted spirituality of the Tibetan people. As Chinese forces would invade Tibetan villages, the monks would flee into the mountains.

But when the Chinese invaded one particular village, all the monks had fled — except one. On learning that a single monk dared to remain, the enraged Chinese commander marched up to the monastery and kicked in the gate. There in the courtyard stood the lone defiant monk.

“Do you know who I am?” the commander roared. “I am he who can run you through with a sword without batting an eyelash.

The monk replied: “And do you know who I am? I am he who can let you run me through with a sword without batting an eyelash.” [From Peacemaking Day by Day, published by Pax Christi.]

The commander cannot comprehend this humble monk standing before him – but the monk possesses a centeredness in God that enables him to detach himself from ambitions and quests for power and wealth in order to the find peace and hope in the certainty of his faith. The monk mirrors the Jesus of Holy Week, who empties himself of his divinity and lives into our humanity in order to restore us to the peace and compassion of God. In our remembering the passion and death of Jesus, we realize the destruction our sins can wreak.

Jesus’ body becomes a looking glass in which we see ourselves in the arrogance and intolerance of those who bring him to the cross. But in his broken, scarred body, we realize the possibilities for re-creating our lives and this world in his Gospel, the Good News of God’s love, hope, joy and forgiveness. God takes on our humanity in its brokenness in order to heal us of that brokenness: to open our eyes to realize our need for one another; to open our ears to hear the cries for compassion, forgiveness and justice around us; to open our spirits to embrace one another in our disappointments and pain.

This week we meet a God of such great love for us that he becomes one of us in order to make us whole in such love. May we this Holy Week, spread that love, cry out Hosana, and at home live into the humility of Jesus that bids us follow him into isolation and then, beyond. Amen.

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