On this day in the church’s calendar, we celebrate and remember the many people who came out on this day long ago in Jerusalem to “see” Jesus as he entered the holy city. We’re told the crowd was large. But certainly many in that crowd did not see Jesus. They were unable to comprehend who he was and why he had come, why he had been sent by God the Father. Imagine how jolting it must have been to an observer in Jerusalem to see this joyous parade, reflecting hope and a sense of camaraderie transformed only five days later into an angry mob crying out for blood. What a hard thing that must have been to see.
We have seen a lot of hard things over this past year, haven’t we? We have seen motionless bodies hooked up to ventilators and medical personnel with blistered faces from long shifts of worn PPE pressed against their faces. We have seen a black man with a knee pressed down on his neck, pressed against the street for more than eight minutes. We have seen an empty New York Times Square. We have seen a Confederate flag in our capitol. We have seen potent bear spray striking the face of one Capitol Officer. We have seen another Capitol Officer lure an angry mob away from senate chambers, risking his life to save others. We have seen Asian Americans spit on and pushed to the ground. We have seen an inauguration with more security than ever before. We have seen individuals traumatized by gunshots in massage parlors and a grocery store. What hard things we have seen over this past year.
For ancient Jews, the “world” was divided into two parts – Jewish and non-Jewish. Call them Gentiles, Romans, heathens… or Greeks in this morning’s story. And so, when they express their desire to “see” Jesus, we know that Jesus’ mission is moving toward consummation: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” When the Greeks show up inquiring if they might “see” Jesus, he announces that his hour has arrived. He is like a grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies. It is only one seed until it surrenders to the ground and the new life, abundant life, bursts forth.
We call this week Holy Week and we are asked as Christians to not run from this week and the hard images it presents. We are asked, no matter how hard it is, to stand at the foot of the cross and truly see this hard thing – the Son of God bleeding, suffering, dying. We are asked to see because, thanks be to God, we know how this will end: life will come from this death.
And that is the message of this season. That is the message of our faith: life comes out of death if we have the eyes to see; if we can find the courage to look at those things which are hard.
I find it hard to look out over this sanctuary. This Palm Passion Sunday looks nothing like it did two years ago. We are a sparse gathering of the faithful. And some days, I confess to you, I worry about the church’s future, post-COVID. Will there be people who just decide that getting dressed and in the car, greeting friends – but also strangers, sitting in – admittedly – uncomfortable pews isn’t their thing anymore? That they’d rather sip coffee in their pajamas in front of a computer screen, clicking around for a Facebook service they like, “channel surfing” for church.
That’s my world and my post-COVID fear. You have your own world and your own fear I’ll bet. Something that has changed during this time that you fear will never come back, will never be the same, herd immunity be damned.
You know, resurrection is such a mysterious thing. Physicians and scientists have written articles on how crucifixion worked. Experiments and research reveal potential asphyxia, shock, collapsed lung, heart failure, pulmonary embolism. And there’s ancient data as well – books, eye witness accounts, skeletons from archeological digs. Death happened all the time in the ancient Roman world. But resurrection, science is pretty stumped on that one. That’s why every time we take communion as we will next Sunday, we “proclaim the mystery of faith: Chris has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.”
Anyone can tell you: death happens all the time. But followers of Jesus can see that’s not the end of the story because new life comes out of death. “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Do you see what I mean?
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