Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd Palm/Passion Sunday
April 5, 2020
Jesus very carefully planned his entrance into Jerusalem. The prophets wrote that the Messiah would come riding on a young donkey. By choosing to ride on a donkey as he entered Jerusalem, he was giving the people two messages. The first was to let the people to know that their Messiah had come. He was proclaiming himself as the Messiah. Jesus knew that such a message would be considered treasonous, deserving of a Roman crucifixion. He was intentionally setting up a confrontation with the authorities and he knew the outcome. His second message was that the Messiah was coming humbly, peaceably, on a gentle donkey. He was not ushering in the Realm of God through force and armed revolution. Rather, he was ushering in God’s Reign with healing and forgiving love.
I have heard a few people who have lived through conflict comparing our current pandemic with a war zone. Store shelves and streets are empty, fear is rampant and emergency measures are being enforced. Our world is constantly readying itself for war. Canada is the 7th largest supplier of military arms to Third World countries. There are over 1 billion small arms in the world, 85% of which are in civilian hands. We’re ready to fight. But this time, our enemy is immune to armament.
We are learning that the only defense that will bring us through this global war zone is compassion. Countries that have been sworn enemies are helping each other out with medical supplies. People are risking their own health by placing themselves on the medical front lines. A doctor has placed herself in quarantine because she is working in the ICU. She can only wave at her children through the window. Another doctor, who is the daughter-in-law of one of our congregants said that she expects all of the medical staff working in her ICU to contract COVID at some point. Knowing this, they are still reporting for their shift.
This is the realm of God for which Jesus gave his life. Jesus was, first and foremost, a healer of bodies and souls. And this is the realm of God that continues to break through the shadows of hopelessness with love bearing healing on its wings.
As Jesus entered the city, the people understood the first message in which Jesus was declaring himself the Messiah. They called out him, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Hosanna, in Hebrew, means “save us”. The people addressed Jesus as the Son of David, meaning that they recognized his royal blood in the familial line of King David, and praised him as the Messiah who would save them. Later in the week, they would begin to turn against him, when they realized that he was not going to mount a military campaign to save them from their Roman oppressors. They did not understand Jesus’ second message that he was coming to usher in the peaceable kin-dom of God that would save everyone from our selfish ways.
Matthew 26:17-19, 26-29
A few days after his memorable entrance into Jerusalem, Jesus sent his disciples to find a place for them to celebrate the Seder meal, a Jewish meal that recounts how the angel of death passed over the Hebrew people. Ironically, this same meal also celebrated the last supper before the angel of death took Jesus. On the eve of his death, Jesus had a difficult, frank conversation with his disciples about faithfulness and betrayal. And it wasn’t just Judas who betrayed Jesus. Matthew tells us that all of the disciples abandoned Jesus after his arrest and each betrayed Jesus in their own way.
Who, among us, does not betray our faith and the trust others place in us? When we ignore the homeless, we are betraying our faith. When we utter sharp words of judgement, we are betraying our love. When we hurt one another, even without intent, we betray their trust. We are entering Holy Week when we look towards Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. In this last week of Lent, may we each have the courage to have frank and difficult conversations with those we love about how we may have betrayed each other’s confidence. This is the week for internal examination, for admitting how we each have betrayed one another no matter how insignificant that betrayal. As we are forced into close contact with our families and roommates, we may find unresolved issues begin to bubble up. This is the week to look at them and not try to stuff them back down. We now have the luxury of time to deal with them, but do we have the strength of will? This is the week to be vulnerable with one another and seek forgiveness. This is the week for healing.
Immediately after Jesus confronted Judas, he then broke bread with them and poured the cup of the covenant he made with them. As they ate the bread and drank the wine, Jesus offered all of them forgiveness—even Judas in Matthew’s version. Forgiveness is the cornerstone of healing. Mark Twain wrote “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
While betrayal may break trust, an inability to forgive holds our hearts captive to past hurts. Forgiveness is a conscious act of the will that may need daily refreshing. We may only be able to pray, “God, help me forgive.” But even if we just pray this over and over, we will find the suffocating grip of bitterness begin to ease. As we forgive others over and over, so God forgives us over and over. Thanks be to God. Amen.