Walking with Christ – Lectionary 04/26/2020

John 20: 1-18

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”

He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”

Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Sermon Text

Walking along life’s way we are not always at risk of getting lost. Sometimes we are on the exact road we need to be taking, working our way in our own time from where we have been to where we are going. Long and winding though it may be, the path from the past to the present to the future seems at times to consist of a single path – step by laborious step we head down the road of time.

That simple path that we are on, ever forward and never backward, is contrasted with the day to day experience we have of choice making. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep we have choices to make. What to eat or drink, what to do in X or Y scenario, and what to say to those who we speak to. The forward momentum of time is married to the infinitely branching paths of our own life. Thus, even as we constantly move forward, even with a relatively certain end to the journey, the path along the way is constantly shifting – equal parts circumstance and choice.

Our scripture today captures Cleopas and an unnamed disciple of Jesus taking a literal journey with many shifting parts. They have just left Jerusalem, just seen their Lord crucified and buried. Now, as they are making their way to the town of Emmaus a ways out of the city they begin discussing the news that came to them on their way out of town. “Jesus is risen… Or else his tomb is empty, either way he’s gone.” The two walk along the road, trying to make sense of this tangled mess of emotion and information that has been given them. If Jesus was stolen then they must mourn again, if Jesus is risen then nothing can ever be the same again.

The rest of the story we know, Jesus comes to them and begins to join their discussion. Though it is the same Jesus they knew and loved, the resurrection has altered Jesus in some way or else altered how they see Jesus, and they cannot recognize him. Ever the teacher, Jesus explains scripture and the events of the past week to them in a way that, “opens up,” the scripture to the disciples. They encounter God’s word as they never have before, and they cannot part from this apparent stranger who has come to talk with them.

Finally, over dinner, in the moment Jesus breaks and blesses the bread the disciples are suddenly able to see Jesus for who he is. The revelation occurs simultaneously with Jesus’ disappearance from the scene.

This is the second to last major event in the Gospel of Luke. More than that, it is proposed as being pre-Lukan, that is to say, that Luke had this story as one of his sources for his Gospel and chose to include it. Luke is upfront about his Gospel being an aggregate of other sources. Throughout Luke, there are passages that are identical to Mark and Matthew, yet this story is only in this gospel. More importantly, the language does not quite line up with Luke’s stylistic choices. That Luke placed a source document in his Gospel and with very little stylistic edits left it as is, indicates this story is significant to the overall message of the Gospel.

Indeed, a great deal of ink has been spilled on the discussion of the Emmaus Road and whether or not this person or that could be Cleopas’ companion. It is used as the foundation, along with Paul’s writings and the last supper in Luke’s Gospel, of our eucharistic liturgy. The image itself burned into the hearts of all who read it.

The significance of this text is not in establishing a historical event of Jesus’ resurrection appearance. While the story definitely does so, it is not written just to tell us a thing that happened and who was there. As with many gospel passages, it is equal parts object lesson and historical fact, there is no separation between sign and signifier, The walk along the road is a thing that happened, it is also a thing that constantly happens to us every day.

We often read this passage only in terms of a person’s conversion into the faith. The journey whereby we, en route somewhere, meet Jesus and find the scripture opened up to us for the first time and our hearts on fire. The journey that sees us enter into fellowship with Jesus and the church for the first time. While we often see this passage as only about this moment in the life of our faith, we can push further. The reality is that this is a story about two faithful people making a journey and encountering Jesus. It is about people like you and me meeting the risen Lord as we make our way through life.

Christ, and with him the promises of the Resurrection, is constantly appearing to us, always showing us the way, the scriptures ought to be read. Our heart is not fit to be kindled once and for all, we must have it lit again and again by Jesus’ speech. We never just take a journey with Jesus once, we are constantly walking on our way to Emmaus, constantly with Jesus beside us.

What combines the symbolic language of phrases like, “our own Emmaus,” to our daily life is the weekly pattern we all participate in. We live our lives and do our work separately from one another. We each take our own road to our relative Emmauses. For some of us, that is the simple survival till Friday that allows for our weekend and the Sabbath that comes with it. For others, there are particular destinations that they reach week in and week out. The completion of that case, of those assignments, of X, of Y, and even of Z.

The path we take week by week would only be a rote repetition if not for the people we travel with. The unknown companion of Cleopas allows us to imagine anyone in that position. Several traditions of the church have provided several answers, each to a different theological end. In our own life, we can never be sure who will be in our lives in the week ahead. Yes, our family and friends likely will play a part in the week ahead, but what of the people we do not expect a call from, the people we run into on the street or in the store? Our travel partner week after week will be different, we must take the journey with them, nonetheless.

Then comes Jesus. The teacher of all scripture, the savior of all the world, and now another companion we have along the walk of life. Jesus listens to our discussions, our questions, paying rapt attention to our interrogation of life and God and faith. Jesus also gives us direction if we listen. This is not always in auditory sensation, in fact for many people it is not. More often than not Christ speaks to us through others in our life, through circumstance and providence that is expressly divine.

How do we acknowledge that it was God who told us such wonderful things? Where is our confirmation of God’s presence and activity in our life? The assurance of our divine help comes in the moment that the bread is broken and blessed. In table fellowship, the most common image in Luke for Jesus’ interactions with his people, we see that Jesus never left our side. In liturgy we find this in the Eucharist, in worship in the fellowship of believers. The walk we take from Monday to Sunday is important, because as we gather to worship God, as we bless the gifts we are given and share them with one another, as we meet our eyes are made to see. We understand Jesus and faith as a community, not as islands.

So important is this community to our understanding scripture that Cleopas seemingly misspeaks in describing what Jesus did along the road. While most translations render Cleopas and his friend as saying, “Were not our hearts burning within us…” the text is actually written with “heart,” being singular. Cleopas does not see he and his friend as having separate divine experiences, but a single one. They share a, “heart,” which is now burning because of Jesus’ walk with them.

We gather today in the same way. Our heart, that inner seat of discernment and understanding, is one today. We gather together after our long walks throughout the week and come together to speak about what God is doing in our life. Our eyes are allowed to open up, and we begin to see that our companion was none other than our savior. We cannot help but share what we have received with one another, our revelation significant enough to shake the world. Today we all move back from our own Emmaus’ to Jerusalem. Telling what we have seen to the other disciples, praising God, and fanning the flames that have consumed our hearts. – Amen

Service of Lament – 04/19/2020

Invitation to Lament

Today, we come together to take time and acknowledge the hardships of life. Whether they be the trouble we face communally in this era of COVID-19, or our personal struggles and the many forms that they take. Whatever the burdens we carry, today we bring them before God. This is a service of Lament, the forgotten language of faith which is God’s gift to those in pain.

Introduction to Lament – Orientation

          Today, we embark on a journey through the waters of lamentation. We gather, Easter still fresh in our mind and the promises of Christ’s resurrection still ringing in our ears. Yet, when the candles are snuffed and the incense clears from where the sermon is filmed, we still face the world. We face hardships again and again, after we already mourned so much last year, we now find new reasons to cry, new people to mourn the loss of, more trouble in the world we live in.

Lament is that Biblical language that we have been given, thousands of years of our spiritual ancestors have granted it to us as a gift. It is the means by which we explore our emotions, interrogate God’s promises, and ultimately begin to heal from the distress that we have suffered. Walter Bruggeman, a scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures, gives three general categories of our human experience.[1] There are the moments in life where all is well, we are happy, and our mind and soul are at rest. All is right with the world, and we can praise God without reservation. This is a place of Orientation in our life. It is from here we can pray out confidently the words of Psalm 16. Let us hear the words of the Psalmist as they proclaim the goodness of a God who gives them security in the face of all adversity.

A Psalm of Security                                                                                                             Psalm 16

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,  in whom is all my delight. Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips. The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Introduction to Lament – Disorientation

What a wonderful prayer to pray. What praise offered up to the God who provides… Yet, what happens when we begin to move away from a place of security. When the check doesn’t come in the mail, when the hospital calls us in to hear the results of our latest test, when no matter how long the door is look at, it will never open up with the beloved coming home again.

When the certainty of the world breaks down around us, we move from orientation to disorientation. We look out into the world and cannot find respite. We seek and do not find. We knock and find a door slammed in our face. Provision becomes a fantasy, and we cannot sleep because our tears keep us awake. We are transformed, we shrink into ourselves, we are lost in the wilderness of life and worry. It causes us to cry out to God, as the Psalmist does in Psalm 74.

A Psalm of Lament                                                                                                              Psalm 13

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.

Introduction to Lament – Re-Orientation

The Psalms of Lament all follow a general pattern. While heavily detailed rubrics exist to explain the flow of the Psalm, we will break it down into three main sections. Firstly, the lamenting Psalmist cries out to God. “How long, Lord?!” This usually flows into an introduction of their problem to God, in this Psalm, “my enemy triumph[s] over me.” We will call this – Plea and Complaint

The Psalmist will then make a request of God, “Look on me and answer,” and express what is at stake if God does not act. “My enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’ and my foes will rejoice when I fall.” – this highlights both why God would be good to act and the iniquity of the Psalmist’s enemies. – We will call this Naming the Stakes

Finally, the Psalmist lets God know what they are willing to do in response to God’s work. This is not, as it may seem, an instance of Divine bribery – as if one person who offers to praise is less than a person who offers to praise and give – but is an invitation to God to re-enter the Covenant relationship with the plaintiff.  – This is a section of Praise and Hope[2]

This re-entry is what constitutes the third stage of human experience – Re-Orientation. Here we find ourselves secure again, able to praise God freely and trust as we once did, but not in the same way. It is a re-orientation in a different place and time to the original place of orientation. We have grown, and our relationship with God and self has changed.

What happens when our disorientation extends beyond our limits? What happens when we cannot seem to come back to a place of peace and trust? Do we just grin and bear it? Do we force ourselves to move beyond our problems and force our way into a place of comfort again? Let us look to Lamentations, a book devoted to our crying out to God, and find out.

The Old Testament Lesson                                                                         Lamentations 2:17-22

The Lord has done what he purposed, he has carried out his threat; as he ordained long ago, he has demolished without pity; he has made the enemy rejoice over you and exalted the might of your foes. Cry aloud to the Lord! O wall of daughter Zion! Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite!

Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street. Look, O Lord, and consider! To whom have you done this? Should women eat their offspring, the children they have borne? Should priest and prophet be killed in the sanctuary of the Lord?

The young and the old are lying on the ground in the streets; my young women and my young men have fallen by the sword; in the day of your anger you have killed them, slaughtering without mercy. You invited my enemies from all around as if for a day of festival; and on the day of the anger of the Lord no one escaped or survived; those whom I bore and reared my enemy has destroyed.

Meditation on Lament                                                                                 When Refuge Fails

Lamentations, like Lament itself, is a book we do not like to encounter. We fear looking to deeply into a book that begins and ends with desperation. The opening line, “How deserted lies the city, once so full of people!” Is never resolved, and the book ends with the terrible question lingering in one final request for help, “Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.”

We encounter the ambiguity of the book, its demand for us to question where God is in the midst of all the problems of this life, and we run away. The ruined city of Jerusalem, destroyed by Babylon, is the place we utterly do not wish to be. To borrow from our celebration of Holy Week recently, we love Palm Sunday and Easter, but we often do what we can to ignore Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The days of Death and Silence are covered up in our desire to put on a happy face. If we do not acknowledge the hurt we feel or the troubles in the world, then we imagine it will go away.

Even the book of Lamentations struggles with this back and forth. Early in the book an observer reprimands a woman, representing Jerusalem, for weeping. “You got what you deserved; you have to move on!” They say. Yet, as the speaker sits in the ruined city, they cannot help but acknowledge the sorrow that they and the city feel. This is where our scripture for today enters in. The voices that once criticized the weeping Zion is now calling on her to cry more.

The grief of the community is finally acknowledged, the once critical speaker is now forced to reflect on what God is doing in the world. They challenge God, “How can you claim to be doing right when innocents are dead! When people starve to death and sickness spreads like wildfire! Behold the ruins of the city and ask yourself, o’ God, how is this right?”

The sight of devastation was enough to move this speaker to join in on the lament. Where Zion was crying out before and initiating the conversation with God, this voice now offers the challenge to God – “Why, O’ Lord! How Long, O’ Lord!” They speak on behalf of Zion who, it would seem, is at a loss for words.

Yet, following our scripture comes what Lamentations is best known for. After still more descriptions of disaster a voice calls out, “God would never mean to hurt us! We must have done this to ourselves somehow. God will come back!” The whole of Chapter 3 almost reads like a lament Psalm. Complain becomes petition because praise of God… Yet, immediately the language falls back into the utter destruction surrounding those who are gathered in the city. The language of praise is quickly lost in a sea of tragedy – the knowledge that God’s love is steadfast was not in itself enough to silence the pain of the people.

Lamentations goes on and concludes in ambiguity and darkness. It is not a book of hope, because it is a book written by people readily suffering disaster. Hope is present throughout, cries that the various speakers throughout are confident (to varying degrees,) will be heard.  Yet, the hope coexists in the pain. The people are not ready to be at peace, their pain is too new, their complaint is too valid. They cannot grin and bear it, they refuse to pretend all is well, and they do not let themselves skip disorientation and land in re-orientation.

We too must not deny our need to lament, our need to mourn. God is in God’s Heaven, that is sure, but all is not right in the world. Grief is all around us – for some a fresh thing poured over them again and again, and for others a new visitor they are just now meeting. Mourning for opportunity, mourning for income, mourning for loved ones gone from us. Mourning overtakes us… Yet, we must not chase it away.

Last week we discussed how we come to Easter as people who are in mourning, yet we can still find the resurrected Christ speaking to us. What we cannot lose in making such a statement is that we will still be weeping in the garden before Christ arrives. Until God makes the showing and the relationship is restored then there is the need to cry out and demand to be heard. The need to let our emotions be plain to God and the need to set on the table what we expect from the Covenant we are a part of.

Lament is not telling God that God doesn’t know what God is doing. It is not a sign of weak faith or immaturity. It is what keeps the relationship between God and humanity strong. The knowledge that we can cry out and be heard, that our concerns are important to God, that even in the midst of all the pain we have an advocate even when we cannot see or hear them.

Lament is necessary, lament is here for us, let us take for advantage of this gift of God. Let us not be afraid to listen to our scripture that demands of us, “Cry aloud to the Lord! Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite!” – Amen

Prayers of the People

In acknowledgement of this service’s focus on lament. The Prayers of the People will be different this week. A time will be given following the communal prayer for us to share our concerns with one another and a prayer will be said afterward lifting up our concerns. However, instead of going through petition by petition, this week we are all encouraged to take the template, which is provided in our order of worship, and to give language to our concerns as laments to God.

Given our digital format, this means that after the prayer below is read, the general pattern of lament will be provided, and time will be given for everyone to craft their own lament. These can be shared in the comments of the video after the service, kept privately and prayed at home, or else shared any way you may choose. I will read out my own lament as an example, but other than that the service will conclude with the outline and the opportunity for each person to make their own. Our benediction will be in the prayers of the people, and otherwise your words to God will mark the end of our time together.

Please pray now with me: Most merciful God, hear our prayers when we are in trouble. Come to our aid and prevent us from perishing. Today as we gather together, we do so as people with heavy burdens, in particular we lift these up to you…

Time is given for sharing of concerns

Lord, hear our prayers this day and always, and as we come now to a time devoted to sharing our laments with you, hear to the depths of our pain. Let us learn to experience all our emotions fully and well, and may we take the long and winding road from disorientation to re-orientation knowing that you are with us all the way on the road. – Amen

“Cry aloud to the Lord” Writing a Lament

The following Template is provided for you to pray your own Lament to God.

The template is offered only to remind you of the Biblical models provided,

You may alter it anyway you wish and use it to share your laments or

To pray privately whenever you need to lament before God.

General Structure of Lament:

  •  Plea and Complaint – “Hear me, O’ God! This is my problem…”
  • Naming the Stakes – “If this does not happen then this will…”
  • Praise and Hope – “You will hear me; I want to know peace again… Please hear my prayer.”

Example Lament:

A Lament of Pastor John,

Plea and Complaint

O’ Lord do not forsake your servant! Though the rush of a wild world swirls around me, do not abandon me to the floodwaters. My mind is awash with worry, my bones ache with anticipation of disaster. Release your servant from all concerns, destroy the chains constructed within and for my mind.

Name the Stakes

Remember God your own agony in the Garden. How you wept and sweated blood contemplating the disaster awaiting you. Would you have another suffer as you did? Bring relief to the pain of your servant. Though the cup of your suffering cannot be refused, surely relief can be given to the soul who drinks of it. Do not abandon your servant in their despair!

Praise and Hope

I long to see your courts fully once more. Open my eyes to the joys of your light. Let me delight once again in the spring of your glorious provision. Eliminate all obstacles to our relationship, that no shadow of fear or anxiety should overtake the light of your love. Lord hear your servant’s prayer! Do not forsake and take me once again into your courts! You alone save, Lord! Save me now!


[1] Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 19.

[2] These three stages are adapted from Sally A. Brown. “When Lament Shapes the Sermon.” In Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew, and Public Square. (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2005) 29

The Hidden Life – Easter 2020

John 20: 1-18

When Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb.

He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Sermon Text

The Resurrection, like so much of Christ’s life – is both a single moment and an eternal reality. When God brought Christ from death and into life there was only one tomb that opened, only one Sunday morning that saw the glorified feet of Christ touch its dew. Only one morning, in a garden so long ago and far from us, where all the wonders of creation were silenced for a moment and God-breathed a deep breath into lungs that had days ago ceased to function. The miracle of the Resurrection, the fulcrum on which all creation turns, is a single event centuries ago.

Yet, the Resurrected Christ does not cease to be active in the world. We are not left out of Christ’s redemption because we are not present to see his body. We are not excluded because of circumstances of particularity but are included through the eternal presence of Christ in the Holy Spirit. The oft-forgotten member of the Trinity that moves among us, that inhabits us, that encloses creation and cares for it. The source of life of all things living, the breath of God that revivifies even our own dead bones.

The Spirit moves over the earth. It seeks out the needy and gives them provision. It seeks out those who mourn and gives them comfort. It meets those of us who are weeping in the shadow of death and it calls us by name. The Spirit is here among us today, in each of our rooms and households, weaving us together into the tapestry that constitutes Christ’s body – the eternal Church which is present in Heaven and upon the Earth.

Our scripture today gives us a snapshot of what the day of Resurrection was like. The women come to Christ’s tomb and are distressed to find it empty. The assumption is that grave robbers have carried Jesus away, perhaps to disgrace his followers even more. To remove him from proper burial and to place him in a place of shame.

The distraught disciples, finding the tomb empty, left the tomb. Death had already robbed them of their beloved teacher and friend, and now they were robbed of proper mourning – of a decent burial for their beloved. All the disciples left the tomb, all but one. Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ closest confidants, remained in the garden surrounding the grave and wept for the loss she had now had to suffer twice.

It is not uncommon that we who are called together as the Church find ourselves in just such a state. When the promises of God seem unfulfilled, with all the hardships of life have overwhelmed us. The reality of death hangs over us, or else of a lack of provision. When the cupboard is empty, or a spot in a chair is left unattended, or else we cannot live our life normally for one reason or another. Our expectations are shattered, we are left in a place of disillusion and disorientation. Falling into such a state is not a sign of infidelity to God, it is a reality of life and its fullness. The onslaught of disaster and horror throughout history cannot leave us unmoved.

Even as we now are in the midst of disaster, even as we prepare to vocalize our dissatisfaction and concern next week in a service of lament, we find ourselves in a mixed place emotionally. We are today celebrating the return to life of Christ, the entry into glory of the human race. Yet we are tramped down. The burden of all that presses in around us is too powerful to ignore. Death hangs heavy over us. Like Mary we are seated in a place of life, a garden of fresh hyacinth and blossoming fruit trees, yet with a tomb casting a shadow upon us from a distance.

Though the particulars of this Easter place us all in this place of mourning, there is no Easter that does not happen in the shadow of death. We always gather as a mixed multitude of people who have more than enough reason to celebrate and more than enough to mourn. Easter is always the first Easter without a loved one for somebody. Easter is always the day after someone’s world is shattered. We experience today universally what is usually a particular reality. We are apart from one another. We are isolated by a need to keep others safe. We sit in cold and terrified anticipation of what comes next – will it be deliverance? Will it be yet more disaster?

Of all the images that place in stark contrast life and death at Easter time what occurred only a year ago in Sri Lanka stands out. As people gathered to worship the resurrected Lord, an explosion went off – killing many who were present. A day of celebration was turned immediately into mourning, where baptisms were planned funerals needed to be held instead. A community lost all that it had – not only its members but its feelings of security and of certainty. The world turned and wept for these people, for the conditions that would allow for such evil to be carried out against people worshipping God in peace.

A year ago, in response to this disaster, I wrote these words, “The beauty of Easter is that before the resurrection came the tomb, that Christ has full knowledge of what it is to suffer and die. Christ does not tell us that this life will be easy, and honestly being Christian should mean that life becomes more difficult for you, but Christ’s command is one of experience – not of despotism.”[1] A year later, I think that these words should settle with us in a different way.

We are people suffering. For some of us, life has gone on as normal and then some. Some of us are working the same job we always have, but with much more responsibility added to it. Many are dealing with this disaster head-on and then working with people they know and love as they too face the disaster. As I have said to many of you during this time, when asked how I am liking having a break from so much work, all I can say is, “For everything I was doing before, I seem to be doing three or four others.” For those whose work has not ceased in this time, the build of still more stress and still more work can seem overpowering.

Others of us are cut off from the normal flow of things. Students especially, who have transitioned to remote classes are now cut off from time with their friends. While the digital age allows us to meet in Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, and Discord, there is nothing that can replace seeing someone face to face. If anything the digital world can seem even more isolating, and for those who do not utilize technology or have no access to it, this isolation is even more acute. For those who can be in the digital spaces we inhabit – whether they be chat rooms, video calls, or Animal Crossing islands – we know now they are not enough to replicate our togetherness.      Suffering is our actual greatest obstacle to understanding God and God’s promises for us. We all experience it, some more acutely than others, but none less authentically than any other. When we gather today, we do so in the midst of a tragedy. One which is worse than others we have lived through because rather than a single day of terror we are forced into months and months of it. We are a people who must mourn and will mourn for some time what is happening around us.

Yet, despite all the darkness encroaching around us. We are not alone. Louder than the disaster which crashes in around us is the proclamation of the resurrection. Let no noise cover up your Hallelujah, let your tears mingle with your triumphant cry. Christ is here with us, the Spirit has brought us together today to worship the Risen Lord. We, like Mary, are in a garden of life and potentiality, but we can still smell the grave we have just left. Do not feel shame for your tears, do not neglect to feel all the hurt and confusion you feel. Do not turn away the feelings knocking down your door.

Welcome them in, let them sit in the silence with you. Weep and pray all you people of God. Weep and pray, but do not stop up your ears just yet. For when we turn to God and we beg for deliverance, for presence in the midst of death, for something to guide us out of this darkness… When we do this, we must do so ready to hear the gentle word that comes to us from the Risen One… A gentle voice which says our name and awakens us to what has happened. A gentle voice we recognize as the one we have been seeking. The voice that we lost to death and disaster, to destruction and plague, to all evil and hardship imaginable… We suddenly hear it calling our name… And then, and only then… Does our Easter ring true. Only then is our hidden life revealed to us, and we can praise in all fullness of time. We sit in the garden, let us now weep and listen, let us seek and let us find. – Amen.

[1] The Promise of Easter – Pastor John Langenstein – Available at:

Who is This? – Palm Sunday 2020


Luke 1:26-38

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Sermon Text

When Jesus entered into Jerusalem long ago it made a stir. What is confounding to us looking back on his entry into the city is that so much of that day has become sacrosanct. We have images in our head, built up from years of church liturgy and sermons, from passion plays and movies, that make us think of very particular things when Palm Sunday comes around. It is a day of waving palm fronds, of joining with the crowd who welcomed Jesus into the city. It is our last outright celebration that precedes the solemnity of Holy Week.

The text we have read today speaks to a difficult reality within our reading of the scripture. Namely that we are looking back at people who lived lives that were quite different to our own. More than that, in the crowds of people who lived differently than us there was a multiplicity of voices and opinions. There was no one Jewish opinion or one Roman opinion in the ancient world. In the same way that we live in a divided and diverse world, the people of scripture encountered various people with thoughts, viewpoints, and practices different than their own.

We know of first-century Judaism that in Jerusalem alone there was something like five factions working with or against one another. Zealots wandered the streets staging assassinations of Roman forces. Pharisees lived in every town in the region offering moral teachings to anyone who needed them. Sadducees controlled the Temple, holding sacrificial authority over all the region. Meanwhile, the Greek-speaking Jews lived on the margins, and the new movement of the Nazarene was gaining traction.

All these diverse parties came together around the Passover to celebrate as Moses commanded them. They gathered together in Jerusalem and greatly expanded the population of the city. It was a time when the Jews united in their commonality, but also a time when their differences threatened to bubble up into open conflict. The first century saw several Jewish revolts against Rome and oftentimes these revolts were motivated by intrasectarian disagreements as much as they were motivated by Jewish liberationists.

For Jesus to enter the city as he did, with the crowd going before him and shouting he was a Son of David and rightful king of Jerusalem was to court disaster. If the Romans decided that a significant threat was posed by Jesus and his followers then every one of them, and much of the unaffiliated Jews who were in the city, would be killed as dissenters and rebels. The arrival of someone claiming to be King, that would certainly cause a stir for the people in the city. Fear and worry hung thick over the people within the city as they saw Jesus approaching on the colt, would he and his band of followers be enough to finally stir up the wrath of Rome.

Add to their concerns the reality that Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea – unpopular in Rome and he was in Jerusalem – had just arrived to hold court for a period of time. Pilate was known for his cruelty – in shutting down rebellions and dissent in the past he had aired on the side of bloodshed. This upset the population of Judea who saw him as a tyrant, and it upset Rome who saw him as causing more problems than he had fixed. Pilate was desperate for good press and killing a rebellion before it started could give him some clout back home in Rome.

The people of the city, here called the Πολις  (Polis,) are described as, “Trembling,” as the crowd arrives. While many throughout history have taken this to mean that there was excitement at Jesus’ arrival, to read this into the text is to assume that the people of Jerusalem were reacting as we hope we would when Jesus arrived. We project onto them the joy we feel in Christ’s arrival and attempt to clean up an otherwise complex narrative. If Jesus is universally loved upon his arrival, then we do not have to question which group of people we would be in.

When we read the text as though Jesus entering the city caused universal joy instead of anxiety then we can easily picture ourselves among those crying out, “Hosanna!” When we see Jesus triumphantly entering and imagine that he came upon a happy church service waving fronds, then we do not have to think about whether or not we would be among the Crowd he entered with or the anxious city. When we project a uniform image of Sunday School simplicity, we are not asked to evaluate our lives.

When Jesus enters into a situation, Jesus always enters as the rightful King. Jesus is not relegated to any position other than Lordship except for when Jesus does so himself, as we will remember on Maundy Thursday.  Jesus comes into divided cities, nations, even sanctuaries, and all people are made to look at him in that moment and ask whether they will celebrate his coming or be terrified by it. When we speak like this, we are not talking about the end of time, not the final coming of Christ in judgment, but in the day to day moments when Jesus appears to us and we either accept or reject his entrance.

When Jesus came into Jerusalem he had an entourage with him of people who were already convinced of his kingship and his status as Messiah. Among this group were members of all the major Jewish sects. He gathered followers who were Pharisees and even members of the High Council. He gathered Zealots who threw down their weapons to follow the prince of peace. He gathered Greek-born Jews and Hebraic Jews and had them come together as one family. His triumph in coming into Jerusalem was not that he had gotten a unified force together that all agreed on every issue, but that he had gathered together a great multitude of people who had nothing in common except their desire to be with Christ and to follow Christ into his kingdom. They learned to be united because Christ called them to be so, not as a monolithic structure of uniform ideas, but of uniform conviction and desire to see good done in the world.

The reality of the crowd we are presented within Jesus’ triumphal entry is that they were not a large group of people. Elsewhere Matthew uses the term, “Great crowd,” “multiple crowds,” or some other formulation to say when a large group of people is gathered together. Here though, here we see a rowdy band gathered together to welcome Jesus into the city. There are enough there to constitute a gathering, but they are almost lost in the vastness of the city. They are big enough to cause a noise, to put everyone on edge, but they are still a drop of water into a very large bucket.

When we gather together as the Church universal we do so as the Jews did in Jerusalem. We earnestly come together to worship God, we gather to celebrate a feast just like our ancestors did. However, like them, we gather as people of diverse opinions, desires, and worldviews. We come as people who are worried about the powers that exist in our world and whether or not we can stand against them. There is fear, there is prayer and praise, there is uncertainty.

Jesus enters into the church every day. Each morning when we wake up we all face the triumphal entry head-on. Christ presents himself in our lives and we decide every day whether that is an attractive or terrifying prospect. Do we see the arrival of our king and quake in fear that he will disrupt our lives? Or do we cry out to be saved and follow him into a world that has yet to wake up to his light?

The answer is different every day. Somedays we fail to hail our King, some days we choose to protect ourselves from disruption and curl up in resignation about how things are. Sometimes Pilate, the power of the status quo, seems more attractive than Christ, the meek and the revolutionary. The reality of sin is that we will choose one over the other throughout our life, but the promise of Christ is that we never sell out completely to the status quo, not unless we choose to.

Christ came into Jerusalem on a colt only once. Yet, as we have said, Christ comes to us every day, multiple times a day. We never are left unable to join the crowd shouting loud Hosanna! Yet, we must make the choice to follow Christ into the city. Yet we must choose discomfort over comfort, to choose what is right over what is convenient. When Jesus entered the city, the people in it expected a riot, and honestly, perhaps the church should be more like that.

The church should be a group that is excited to do the work of Christ. Organized together out of every rejected class of person in society. Those who have been told time and time again that they are not good enough, that they do not deserve what they have, that they should be treated poorly because of circumstances of birth, position, or happenstance. The church should be a ragamuffin rabble, it should be made up of ne’er-do-well on the path to redemption.

What marks the church as separate from other gatherings of the marginalized is its intent. While the past few years have shown us white supremacists, anti-semites, and other hate groups gathering people who feel disenfranchised to commit evil, we see the Church gathering to scattered people of the earth for good. The Church gathers all the poor and powerless of the world, all those who have been treated cruelly by power, all people of all races and creeds, not because it desires to become bigger or stronger or more powerful, but because it wants to eliminate all these words of domination from our vocabulary.

Jesus comes to us, Jesus calls us daily, not so we can triumphally raze the world to the ground in holy fire. Jesus comes to us meekly, on a colt instead of a chariot, seated on robes and not on fine linens. Jesus models for us what our triumph in life truly is. A riotous group of people, loudly praising God, worshipping a king whose revolution is one of peace, and whose greatest weapon is not the sword but is love large enough to die even for those who hate you. Let us all follow the lead of Christ, let us join the procession of the righteous, and let us all put aside our many differences in the name of truth, the name of love, and ultimately the name of Christ who saves us, the Son of David for all eternity. – Amen.