Whoever you are, wherever you are on life's journey, you are welcome here.

                 Ashfield, Massachusetts

The First Congregational Church, UCC

Ashfield, Massachusetts

April 5, 2020

Sixth Sunday in Lent – Liturgy of the Palms

 

“Mystery is a depth of meaning.”  Fr. Herbert McCabe, 20th century

 

From Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29     A Song of Victory

 

1 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;

his steadfast love endures forever!

2 Let Israel say,

“His steadfast love endures forever.”

 

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,

that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.

20 This is the gate of the Lord;

the righteous shall enter through it.

21 I thank you that you have answered me

and have become my salvation.

22 The stone that the builders rejected

has become the chief cornerstone.

23 This is the Lord’s doing;

it is marvelous in our eyes.

24 This is the day that the Lord has made;

let us rejoice and be glad in it.

25 Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!

O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

We bless you from the house of the Lord.

27 The Lord is God,

and he has given us light.

Bind the festal procession with branches,

up to the horns of the altar.

28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;

you are my God, I will extol you.

29 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,

for his steadfast love endures forever.

 

From the Gospel According to Matthew 21:1-11  Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

 

1 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 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. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

5 “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.”

 

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 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!”

 

10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

 

Sermon     “The Right Time for Hope”     Minister David Jones

 


This is a strange time for stories of triumph. Right now we are gathering in spirit but not able to in body. We’re doing our best to hold sacred space, to make sacred time; to reach out to one another to bridge our isolations. But there is something inescapably irreligious about this. At the center of our spiritual practice is the gathering crowd, running ahead into our sanctuary, to anticipate the arrival of God into our hearts and into history--to anticipate the arrival of a universal, conquering love. Each time we gather in church, when we take our place in the pews or at the piano or at the altar for communion, we renew God’s claim over Creation; we renew the claim of love and life over the fear and death that characterizes so much of the world we have made in place of the promise that God continues to hope for us. There is something uneven, something discordant about this last Sunday of Lent, on the eve of the Christian Holy Week.


Meanwhile, there is something uneven, something discordant, about the triumphal arrival of Jesus to Jerusalem in the Gospel according to Matthew. It is a glorious arrival; it makes a beautiful, stirring sound in the hearts and voices of the faithful crowd. Yet the crowd makes this beauty with an underlying tension and a mounting unease. We know the city was in turmoil, the cross no longer over the horizon, but now right in front of us. Jesus was not arriving in the holy city to universal acclaim. Even as his followers’ hosannas ring out, he enters into hostile territory. God’s city on earth, in the Palestine of Jesus’ time as in the world of our own, is marred by distrust and fear; Jesus’ presence in the city is the same as Jesus’ presence today, a divine love, a human love, so complete and so absolute, that our world does not admit it--can not admit it--knowing that too much would be undermined, too much worldly power brought low, if love of this order were allowed to really be in this world. Jesus has been preaching servitude and healing by compassion; now he enters the city on a donkey, an unmistakable symbol of peace. His kingdom is so unavoidably at odds with the rule of Rome and Rome’s client rulers in Jerusalem, that no amount of triumph at the gates let’s us miss the creeping shadow of the cross.


Our strange, isolated Palm Sunday, then, is more familiar to the biblical witness than we might expect. The triumph of Jesus’ arrival is the strange feeling of having to sing our hosannas alone this morning. There is hope in them, there is glory, resilient courage, but they are this year more keenly attuned to the distress and turmoil of our surrounding society than perhaps in other years. I myself feel God closer than usual; I feel that in our inability to gather, in the necessity of our isolation, that I am more than ever among that faithful crowd at Jerusalem’s gates. Because, remember, the crowd that runs ahead of Jesus on his mount of peace is a crowd of peasants and the city’s poorest. The faithful crowd is desperate for hope--they can not live any longer without it. The crowd’s hope has tears in its eyes, has grief on its heart, has worry in its mind. It is a hope so convicted with life’s burdens, so depressed by each mark of daily persecution, that it is prepared for the cross; it already defies the cross. This is its strange triumph: to gather our despairs, our sufferings and pains, into an anthem; to join my heart with yours, and our hearts with theirs, until a stronger, deeper hope--a mystery of hope--ushers a new kind of king onto the throne of a new kind of kingdom. On this strange Palm Sunday, we should not make excuses for our pain, our grief, our distress; we have every right to these feelings. Jesus has arrived at the gate of our yearning for peace and justice, and he can not do his work--he can not join us and serve us in our suffering, if we deny that it exists. 


Last Wednesday at the hospital I found myself ministering to an emergency department social worker, who was on the verge of tears because the hospital’s visitor policy was forcing her to decide whether a dying man’s wife or his daughter would get to say goodbye at the bedside. Every day elderly, vulnerable cashiers are making sure we can still buy food. Students without internet access are struggling to sort out how they can keep up in school. Members of our congregation are supporting children who have been laid off; are caring for family members, and members in our community, when they deserve to be at home, caring for themselves. Members of our congregation are keeping the food pantry open. Members of our church are working in healthcare, their vocation and life’s passion suddenly a source of anxiety and dread. We feel alone, and we are afraid. On this strange Palm Sunday, we experience the strange triumph of Jesus’ arrival to Jerusalem in much the same state of desperation as Jesus’ first followers. 

And so we must have the same strange kind of hope. A hope that is attuned to our pain and suffering, that is urgent and desperate for a new creation, for a new kind of kingdom; one where our daily work is respected with daily bread, and where the everyday work and service we offer and receive alongside one another is itself sufficient--with the love of God--to sing out our humble triumph over death. There is a moment, in the Gospel according to Luke, that Jesus stops and looks out over Jerusalem from his perch on the Mount of Olives, and weeps for the whole city. Even knowing what awaits him beyond the jubilant crowd, it is this hope, with tears in its eyes, that drives Jesus forward into the city. And it is this hope, with tears in its eyes, that finds us still running ahead to greet him. This is a strange time for triumph, but it is the just the right time for hope.


Amen.