Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 13, 2014:

First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a

Psalm: Psalm 31:9-16

Second Reading: Philippians 2:5-11

Gospel: Matthew 26:14--27:66

Gospel (Alt.): Matthew 27:11-54

The verses above don't include the readings that are often read at the beginning of the service, the Palm Sunday story. Those of you who have been going to church for awhile may have noticed that Palm Sunday sometimes stretches for a longer time than Easter Sunday. There's so much we cover these days. We start with the Palm Sunday story--some churches actually have their congregants start out seated, then they rise and march around the church, either inside or outside, and then they sit down again. And then, when they get to the readings, they hear the whole story of the Passion. We get Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday all in one Sunday.

Some years this approach irritates me.  I want to dwell in the jubilation of Palm Sunday without launching immediately into the Passion narrative, the pain and crucifixion.  The world will destroy us all too soon.  Can't we stay with the triumphant procession just a wee bit longer?

But so far, I've had an Ash Wednesday kind of year.  Each week brings reminders of that Ash Wednesday message that we are dust and to dust we shall return--and very quickly, much too quickly.

A Sunday which contains both the Palm Sunday narrative and the Passion narrative seems honest to me this year.  The crowd who loves you one Sunday will have turned against you by the following Thursday.  The crowd who acclaims you one month will be denying you and demanding your death the following month.  And even if we can avoid this kind of public humiliations, there are all the betrayals by our friends, loved ones, and by our very bodies.

What do we do with this knowledge?

The corridor between Palm Sunday and Easter instructs us in what to do.  We can watch out for each other.  We can find like-minded humans and stay together in solidarity.  We can make meals and take time to eat together. 

We can go even deeper into our care for each other, and on Maundy Thursday, we get a glimpse of that kind of care.  Some churches will read the Maundy Thursday text of the woman anointing Christ's feet with oil.  Some churches will read the Maundy Thursday text that shows Jesus washing the feet of the disciples.

Good Friday reminds us that we can do all these things, and still we may have to stand by helplessly as those whom we love are ravaged.  Or we may find that we are ravaged.

Happily, we have Easter to remind us that we are not struggling in vain.  Easter shows us that God can take the most dire ugliness and transform it into redemption.

Perhaps this is one of those Lenten seasons where you find yourself surrounded by all sorts of ugliness:  lay offs at work, cancers of all kinds, death of dear ones, the list could go on and on.  The Palm Sunday/Passion Week trajectory reminds us that we worship a God who has experienced this truth of the human condition first hand.

But we also worship a God who has been working through time and outside of time to transform this human condition.  We don't always see it, but Easter assures us that the process is in place and that resurrection will break through, even in the most unlikely circumstances.

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