Between Now and Easter
March 29, 2015
“Those who went ahead and those who
followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna.’”
On that day long ago, all were shouting
a word that means “save us,” which is not how we today generally want to talk
about life or even the life of faith.
To shout, “Save us!” suggests that we
can’t take care of ourselves, that we can’t use our own ingenuity, or
thoughtfulness, or scientific skills, or creativity to solve the problems that
beset us. To shout, “Save us!” suggests that we’re not strong enough or tough
enough or stoic enough to bear up under whatever weighs us down and not
complain. In other words, it says, “We can’t do this on our own.”
Of course, such talk also suggests
drawing a line between those who are in and those who are out, those who have
made it and those who haven’t, those who are “saved” and those who aren’t. It’s
not a line we chose to draw in this congregation and we reject any attempts to
On theologian asks: “What
does it mean to be saved?” and answering his own question says that “In
considering the matter some people focus on life after death, but it seems to
me salvation is closer to daily life itself. Salvation means being saved from
greed, hatred, and confusion; and being saved for kindness and creativity,
wisdom and compassion. If someone asks us if we are saved, we should say:
‘Sometimes.’ In our more loving moments we are saved from hatred, even if only
for fifteen seconds…”[i]
gives us some concrete ways of imagining this when he says: “If you’re pulled
out of water over your head, if someone drags you from a burning building, if
you discover that life—your life—has a deeper meaning and greater value than
you could ever create yourself, chances are you’ve found a savior.”
then, a little longer to that cry of “Hosanna!” It might still speak to us. It
might still speak for us.
The longer we listen to scripture, the
more closely we look at scripture, the more it defines and sharpens what we
hear. The picture we see comes into clearer focus.
This morning we began by singing with
the Psalmist, acclaiming the sovereign ruler who comes in “full might and
power.” This is the One who will bring victory.
Then we heard the prophet Zechariah
telling the people to rejoice and shout in triumph because this victorious king
who comes arrives not in a military procession but humbly on a donkey, the
animal of peace.
And finally Mark’s gospel gives us the
picture of Jesus creating a living parable of all these centuries-long hopes,
arriving in Jerusalem no in the full might and power of military victory, but on
a donkey, as the One who brings God’s peace and mercy.
It isn’t that the Psalmist and the
prophet foresaw what Jesus would one day do.
It was more that the followers of Jesus
were saying that if we listen carefully and look closely, we will hear and see
something of the way in which God works in the world, even today. If we are
among those who are saved sometimes,
if we at times hope to find ourselves saved from
greed, hatred, and confusion and being saved for kindness and
creativity, wisdom and compassion, this story of palm branches and “Hosannas”
might be the place to start. With eye and ears and hearts open we begin to get
better picture of who this Jesus is whom we seek to follow.
But it is important for us to listen to
the whole story.
There’s a classic Seinfeld episode in which George’s latest girlfriend is somewhat
evasive. She tells him a few things about herself and then skips over the
details, saying, “Yada, yada, yada.”
That’s what this week between now and
Easter is often like for many people:
Jesus comes into Jerusalem with the
crowds waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who
comes in the name of the Lord!”
Yada, yada, yada.
And the tomb is empty! Christ is risen!
Sound the trumpets!
We want to skip over the hard parts: the
conflict, the betrayal, the torture, the crucifixion, the death, the burial,
the fear and grief.
We want to “yada yada” Holy Week, maybe
even imagining with The Life of Brian
those on crosses whistling and singing “Always look on the bright side of
Maybe it’s just that all of the
suffering and sorrow that we encounter in the week ahead is just too real, too
close to our own lives.
We see the devastation and folly of war
and still the architects of failed policies call for more bombing. The
Antarctic ice sheets are melting and yet, in Florida state officials are banned
from using the phrase “climate change.” Income disparity grows and we struggle
to deal with hunger and homelessness even as budgets are proposed that ignore
the problems. Those who speak loudest about the sanctity of marriage and the
family are quick to tear families apart for the sake of border security and
outdated and unrealistic immigration policies. And in our own lives we know
brokenness, illness, grief, uncertainty…
I could go on, but I don’t need to, do
I? We all know it. We know it all.
The shorthand for all of this is sin—the separation from God, from one
another, even from the best in ourselves with which we are all too familiar.
Given the reality of sin and suffering
in our lives and in our world, we might say that each week is Holy Week and we don’t
really want to enter into the suffering of the days between now and Easter. We
can do without the betrayal and growing shadows of Maundy Thursday; we can do
without the crucifixion and death of Friday because we encounter them every
But maybe the events of Holy Week, the
events that we are so ready to skip over, illuminate our own lives, helping us
to understand our situation better and to better live our lives. Maybe they help
us to get a better focused picture of this Jesus, the One to whom the people
Here’s the thing: However we go through
the days between now and Easter, whatever we do—or don’t do—to mark Holy Week,
we can’t skip over the hard parts in our own lives or in the world. Illness
must be walked through in all its pain and uncertainty and treatment and
healing day by day. The sorrow of grief is with us when we wake each morning.
The anxiety about tomorrow keeps us awake in the night. And we know quite well
that we will not suddenly arrive on the pleasant shore of racial harmony,
interfaith understanding, or international peace. The perilous journeys to such
lands are long and needing our best efforts each day.
So on Palm Sunday, when we find ourselves
among those who are waving branches and shouting “Hosanna,” it feels right
because we sense that the water is rising, that the house is on fire, that we
need a savior.
And, please, bear with me, because as I
suggested earlier, we don’t usually talk like this in the United Church of
You see, it’s not that we need to enter
into Holy Week and try one more time to work ourselves up into thinking about
the suffering of Jesus and imagining how he might have felt. Instead, we are
given an invitation, an opportunity in these days to hear and see once more
that God has entered into our world, bringing a change to our lives. And that
is what salvation is about. The word “salvation” speaks of wholeness of life,
of health, of well-being in body and spirit. It’s a good, conventionally religious word,
but we don’t use it much—and probably won’t use it much, because we’re not
really a conventionally religious people.
Throughout this season of Lent we have
heard about the covenant faithfulness of God: the rainbow and the commitment
after the Flood to preserve fragile human life on this fragile planet; the
blessing of Abraham and Sarah and through them bringing blessing—more life—to
all people and nations; the Way of life written in stone on Sinai; and the
Jeremiah’s promise of a new covenant written upon the hearts of the people
instead of in stone. All of these were ways of shaping and reshaping, defining
and redefining the Creator’s relationship with those creatures lovingly made in
the image of God—human beings like you and me. This has always been a
relationship of love and mercy and forgiveness; of God being with humankind in
sorrow and loss and suffering; of God being with each one of us in sorrow and
loss and suffering. So what we see in Jesus, while something new, is what we
might have expected all along as we listened to the stories of God’s covenant
love for all people and indeed for all creation.
We live in the time between now and
Easter—familiar with suffering and sorrow. And at the same time, we know that
we are not alone in these days.
We have one another in this this
church—and that is a glorious advantage. Ask anyone who has been through a
difficult time and they will tell you that they made it through in part because
of the other members here—people whom you are sitting next to, maybe even you
yourself. We bear one another’s burdens, and in doing so, Paul says, we fulfill
the law of Christ. As Paul suggests in that passage from Romans that has been
on the bulletin cover during Lent, we contribute to the needs of the saints in
many different ways.
We also have the sustaining presence of
God, the One who in Jesus Christ suffers with us. This is not an unmoved,
impassible god, but the One who responds to human pain. God does not skip over
our suffering, but enters into the very heart of it. The story of Moses and the
Exodus begins with God coming to the people because God saw their suffering.
James Carroll recently wrote that “the age-old intuition that God is close to
the hurt and the lost is given a particular expression in the story of Jesus.”[ii] In
Jesus God takes on human suffering, bearing it fully on the cross. That is our
wholeness, our well-being, our salvation.
In life and in death, we belong to God.
In these days between now and Easter we have the chance to see and hear this
good news with renewed clarity so that all our days might be lived in joy and
[ii] James Carroll, Christ Actually, pg. 260.