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Sunday, March 28, 2021
“Pictures of Jesus” Sermon Series
Scripture: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 & John 12:12-19
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce
Last Sunday it was a beautiful day. I think the high was near 70 so my family and I had to take advantage of the warm weather. We don’t live that far from Rosy Mound so we decided to go on our first hike of the year. It’s one of my favorite hikes in the area. There are stretches where you are surrounded by trees and great scenic lookouts of the lake. Eventually you end up at an open space at the bottom of the dunes and eventually at the lake itself. I have to admit that I like that there are some strenuous parts to this hike. There are a lot of ascents and descents on this trail. There is a lot of going up and going down stairs. I imagine that many of you have done this hike so you know about the stairs. There are a lot of stairs. And the most brutal part of the hike is when after you’ve finally reached the bottom and had some time to play on the beach is the realization you have to go back up these stairs. (Show pic of stairs) I once over heard a kid count the steps as he climbed them and I think this stretch is close to 90 steps.
At the end of last summer my family and I could climb these steps…I wouldn’t say with no problem…it was definitely a work out. But going up these stairs last week for the first time this year was brutal.
The terrain at Rosy Mound is a lot like what we experience in our own journeys of faith. It’s full of ups and downs, highs and lows. There are sections where it’s easy to just revel in the beauty of your surroundings and at other times it’s down right brutal to put one foot in front of the other.
The crowd who came to welcome Jesus as he entered Jerusalem was definitely on a high point in their journey of faith. In the verse before, John tells us they were so excited to see Jesus after they had heard he was able to resurrect Lazarus from the dead. They knew he was different and there was a palatable excitement in the air. (show picture) The crowds waved palm fronds which are in abundance around Jerusalem and had become a symbol of hope for Israel. Which is how we get the name we’ve given this important Sunday in the church calendar: Palm Sunday. The crowd was welcoming Jesus as their new king. It was a grand processional.
The high of Palm Sunday for the followers of Jesus, however, didn’t last very long. Just five days later the crowds were nowhere to be found and even those closest to Jesus had deserted him. People are fickle. We are fickle. Throughout this sermon series we’ve asked that we all picture ourselves in these passages from John. I guarantee that we too would’ve easily scattered just like the rest of the crowd. It was even too much for the most faithful of disciples like Peter to remain at Jesus’s side. Once things get difficult or we are disappointed we are quick to abandon ship. It was easy for the crowd on Palm Sunday to hail Jesus as “King” and joyfully shout: “Hosannah!” because everyone else was doing it. If you were in that crowd it was impossible to get caught up in the energy, excitement and hopefulness that everyone else was exuding. There is power in numbers as well as safety, which is why after the crowd disbanded it was harder to keep the excitement about Jesus going.
Palm Sunday was the height of Jesus’s popularity, but it was all downhill from there. A crowd would indeed gather around Jesus just a few days later. Instead of shouting “Hosanna,” however, the crowd on Good Friday, which most likely included the same people from the crowd on Palm Sunday, sarcastically shouted : “King of the Jews!” and “crucify him!”
It’s tempting to skip the lows…actually darkness is a better word…that Jesus faced during Holy Week. We tend to jump from the celebratory and grand entry of Jesus into Jerusalem straight to Jesus walking out of the Tomb. We’d rather not dwell in the somberness of Maundy Thursday or the pain of Good Friday. We’d rather skip over the sorrow Jesus felt of feeling abandoned by everyone or the terror of the tortue he experienced. When we, however, take time to sit in the darkness and death that Jesus experienced, we see more clearly the new life that only he can offer. When we take the time to contemplate the darkness of Holy Week, we appreciate even more the brightness of Easter morning.
Just as our faith journey, and let’s be honest life itself, is full of its ups and downs, so was our Lord’s path to the cross. (show chart) The height of Jesus’ popularity was Palm Sunday as we see from thousands who gathered to see him. Soon after the crowds disperse and Jesus’s popularity begins to wane. Probably because Jesus did things like speak about his impending death, overturn tables in the Temple courtyard and challenge religious leaders. He also threatened those in power. When it became clear that the powers that be wanted to silence Jesus it became too dangerous for anyone to admit they were a follower of Christ. On Thursday, Jesus and the disciples celebrate the Passover. This is also when Jesus gives a new command (the word “Maundy” means command) of the Sacrament of Communion. It’s also the night when one of his closest friends betrays him and Jesus is arrested. The disciples, like the crowds, also disperse and desert Jesus. On Friday Jesus is tried, unjustly found guilty, tortured and crucified. Hope is finally restored as Jesus is raised from the dead, the disciples regather and the crowds return, but not until Acts chapter 2.
Again, in order to appreciate this part of the chart, we need to go back to here.
In Matthew and Mark’s account, while on the cross Jesus quotes Psalm 22 by crying out: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus knows what it’s like to feel abandoned by God. Throughout the Gospels, but especially during Holy Week we are shown just how much Jesus suffered. He suffered the loss of followers and his closest friends when they deserted him at his darkest hour. He became the victim of a failed system that upheld power instead of truth. At one point he felt forsaken by God. The suffering Jesus experienced mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically was excruciating.
Jesus understands the darkness in our lives because he also experienced the darkness of despair, injustice and abandonment. He understands when we feel alone to the point when it seems even God has left us. In any of the dark moments Jesus experienced during Holy Week he could’ve gotten out of it. He could’ve easily overpowered those who nailed him to the cross. But he chose not to. Instead he remained faithful to his calling to go the cross.
The title of this year’s Presbyterian Women (PW) Bible Study is “Lament.” Many were not enthused about this topic given the current state of our world and were hoping to study something more…well, something more hopeful. What I have personally enjoyed about this study is learning how the act of Lament can bring us closer to God. Lament is the act of being brutally honest. Honest about our pain. Honest about how we may feel abandoned by God. Honest about what we hope to see happen when something terrible has occurred. What is key in our understanding of Lament is that they are prayers. In our laments we are being honest in our prayers to God. By doing so we keep in communication with God when we’d rather not.
The act of Lament broadens our prayer lives in that we aren’t choosing to keep a stiff upper lip with God, but instead we are laying bare before God why we are struggling. In doing so we invite God into our struggles, into whatever darkness we may currently find ourselves in. In the act of Lament we give ourselves the permission that God has already given us: To be real and honest about what pains us. The act of Lament opens our eyes to the fact that even in our darkest moments Christ is present. We may not see him right away, but if we keep being honest with God in our prayers of lament, we will see him eventually.
Lament also brings us back to the truth that our laments and the crucifixion don’t have the last word. To quote Lynne Miller the author of this year’s PW Bible Study: “God raised Jesus from the dead, and Jesus ascended to heaven. God was not lost to Jesus and because of this, God is not lost to us.”
In the darkness of Holy Week we see the faithfulness of Christ. His faithfulness to God. His faithfulness to his calling. All of which makes possible his faithfulness to us. Through his own experience with darkness Christ makes it possible for us to always experience his light no matter how dark things may seem. While our faith journey is full of ups and downs, while we are fickle in our own faithfulness to God, Christ never wavers in his faith in us.
Just as Jesus didn’t need the support of an exuberant crowd to continue in his faithfulness to the cross, our actions don’t influence his faithfulness to us. While we are called to respond to Christ’s faithfulness by being faithful to God, Christ’s faithfulness doesn’t begin with us. What Christ chose to do is independent of our actions. Christ remained faithful to us until the end so that he could be faithful to us forever. Time and time again Christ chose us even during the excruciating events of Holy Week.
He did so so that we would know that on Easter, and every day since, and every day going forward, Christ remains faithful to us. Christ is faithful even when we waver in our faith in him. By his resurrection we know that he is for us when we join the crowds that declare him king and lord of all, but that he is also for us even when following the crowd that chants “crucify” him.