Be Not Afraid – Palm Sunday 2021

The following was preached on the Sunday my churches resumed meeting (under CDC guidelines,) after a hiatus.

John 12:12-16

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—  the King of Israel!”

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:

“Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

Sermon Text

            Welcome home! We enter these four walls, we sit under the steeple that has nurtured us. Welcome home to the Assembly that we call our own, and the people who we call our family. Enter in and find that not much has changed here from the Winter. The months away have not diminished the importance we have invested into our home, into this Church.

            Yet, we are not the same – not even from the last time we sat in these pews. The relentless pace of the world continues and we along with it are transformed into new iterations of our self. We are closing out Lent and entering into Easter. Thirty-four days, excluding Sundays, have passed by with what was hopefully some intentionality on our part. Did we commit more to study scripture? To go beyond our usual boundaries and to actively seek ways to do good? Perhaps, even without an attempt, we have grown over the past few months.

            The newness of Spring, and with it, of Easter, reminds us that our life is a procession of Seasons. One of trouble leads into one of peace and one of deconstruction into one of reconstruction. We as a people and as individuals are caught up in some part of this cycle as we gather together today. As a whole we see the light of renewed ways of being – the gloom of the Pandemic not yet gone, but receding. As individuals, perhaps things are not so simple – perhaps the world is opening up just as we want nothing more than to recede into ourselves.

            No matter where we stand, we find our Scripture beckoning us. We see Christ coming our way, and we are invited like that crowd was long ago to join in greeting him. The rumored arrival of our Savior drives our hearts wild. We have a chance to cheer his coming, but that chance in itself is a choice. We are at the gates of Jerusalem; we see Christ at a distance riding on a Colt. We must now determine if we can muster the strength to shout, “Hosanna!” or if we will hide ourselves away.

            The scripture we have read today tells us very little about the crowd that gathered to see Jesus. We know that the crowd was large and that they were excited, and other than that John leaves us to imagine any other details. While Matthew’s account of the triumphal entry separates out the people in the city from the crowd, John makes no such attempt. The emphasis is placed instead upon the universal work of God and is not as interested in details of “who,” and “what,” in quite the same way that Matthew is. God’s love for all creation means that we are to see in this crowd of people, not just the historic crowd that was there on that particular day, but all the faithful who have ever come to worship Jesus.

            The salvation which Christ offers is for all time, for all people. There has never been a perfect time to be a Christian because all time and all people are valuable to God. No matter when we first came to worship God, we are blessed, no matter what era of the Church we inhabit, the Divine Love is unchanging. While we often idealize the past – whether it be the early church, the Great Awakenings, the rise of radio and video televangelists, or even our modern epoch – God is loving to all people and offers no advantage to any time that is not known to another. Every generation has unique problems, unique opportunities, but the same God.

            We today are at a special junction in history. The waning of a pandemic, the recalibration of our lives to a more mindful way of living, our renewed sense of the blessing of technology and the necessity of proximity. All these and more are moments we face and that will define those coming of age now as well as those who are just becoming cognizant of life as a whole. Beyond these clear revelations, there are a million, million more we will only notice upon reflection, by casting our gaze backward in time. We stand at a threshold of something new, just as a thousand generations have done before us. God approaches us still. God is coming to save just as Christ entered Jerusalem long ago.

            The people gathered outside Jerusalem that day were similarly at a threshold of history. The Roman Empire had fully established its terrible reign over Judea. Yet, their tyranny brought roads that opened up untold possibilities of travel and trade. Several failed revolutions had led to a sectarian Judaism and a splintered political landscape. The Herodian dynasty, short-lived as it was, was in a lurch. The present tetrarchy has still not settled after the death of its founding member, Herod the Great. Nothing was fixed, all things were in flux – the people gathered to find the one source of security they possibly had, God and God’s Messiah.

            These two worlds – ours and Christ’s – scattered by two millennia, are united by the Palm fronds we hold in our hands today. The worship that we bring is echoed in the voices of all who have ever gathered to remember this moment. From the apostles who wrote of it by lamplight to the attendants of the Mass for centuries to follow. It is sung of by Reformers and the Reformed. The praise is led by revivalists in the eighteenth century and by believers the whole world round throughout history. It spans the gulf of all time and space. Wherever people have taken up branches and sung of Christ’s arrival into Jerusalem, there has been a unified presence before the Spiritual Jerusalem – God’s dwelling place.

            Among us here today are people from various generation – perhaps some are like me, a millennial, a bit younger and we might call them Gen Z. We have boomers and Gen Xers, all gathered together to worship. We bring our memories, we bring our troubles and our praise and we lie them all at the feet of Jesus. Like the crowd long ago, we make a way for Jesus to enter in and be among us. We all have something to offer, to teach and to learn. We are all a microcosm of what today means throughout all of time.

            Our age is full of trouble, just like any other would be. There are things we all have faced this year that our past selves would have never dreamed of. More than this, I would wager we have individually faced things we wish we would have never had to. Loved ones gone, relationships splintered, faith shattered, maybe even unspeakably more than even these. What we must not fail to do, especially in our present season, is give space for us to grapple with all our struggles in light of Christ’s presence with us. We must work together to overcome it.

            This week, our services will follow Christ to the cross. Online Thursday we will see our feet be washed by our Servant King. Friday we will rend our hearts as the great mystery play out before us and the cross and death seem to overtake life. This week I would invite us all to reflect on the goodness of God toward us, and the darkness of the troubles we face which we are saved from. Salvation is coming, but while we await resurrection, we must look upon the fullness of despair.

            Yet, whether we gather with today’s troubles heavy on our hearts or the troubles of the past, we hold our palm fronds high. We do this, not in denial of what life holds for us, but in acclaim of what God does for us. We celebrate, along with all the faithful people across space and time, the goodness of our Lord. Aware of our fear, unsure of what is to come, we hear the prophet cry, “Be not afraid! Behold! Your King is coming.” So, take time today and give God praise, push aside fear and doubt even for just a moment and behold our salvation.

            Christ the King has come to save us. The young and the old, the rich and the poor. Christ the King enters our temple today. Be not afraid, God is surely with us. – Amen.

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