Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Things Will Work Out; They Always Do"

Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday – Year A
Isaiah 50.4-9a; Psalm 31.9-16; Philippians 2.5-11; Matthew 26.14-27.54
Sunday, April 17, 2011 – Trinity, Redlands

When I was growing up, and even now as an adult, whenever I have found myself in a difficult situation – one where there just seemed no way out, when you feel like there is no hope – my mother would always say to me, “things will work out; they always do.” I never told her, but that always annoyed me. It always struck me as being trite, merely a platitude to try to make me feel better. She was right, things did always work out, but it still annoyed me.

As I got older, I realized that “things will work out; they always do” was so much more than a mere platitude. That one simple and seemingly simplistic phrase was shorthand for a much greater message. In it, Mom was saying that she thought I had the skills and talents to get myself out of, or work through, whatever situation happened to be plaguing me. In it, Mom was saying that she had faith in me and knew that no matter what I might be feeling at the moment, I would be able to work things out. In it, Mom was saying that no matter how dark things might seem, I needed to trust that things would get better, and not let the darkness give way to despair. And most importantly, in it, Mom was saying don’t give up hope.

Truth be told, even though hearing those words sometimes annoyed me, it really was, and still is, comforting to have Mom say them. I have even found that when there are times where I am struggling with some sort of seemingly hopeless problem, and when Mom isn’t around, there’s that little voice in the back of my head that sounds just like Mom, and it says, “things will work out; they always do.” Because I still need to hear those words. And because they are true.

On this, the Sunday of the Passion, we watch the events of Jesus’ final days unfold, starting off great guns with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem with shouts of “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” But then things go downhill from there. Within a few days, Jesus turns his attention to celebrating the Passover meal with his dearest friends – knowing this would be the last Passover meal with them, that it would be his last meal period. The meal is not as pleasant as one would hope, for this is where the tatters begin to show, where things start to unravel. Later that evening, while Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas betrays his Master, bringing the Temple authorities to arrest him. Despite protestations of faithfulness, all the disciples desert Jesus in his time of trouble. Shortly thereafter, Peter, Jesus’ right-hand man, denies even knowing Jesus.

Jesus is brought to trial before the high priest, on trumped up charges, and found guilty of blasphemy. He is then spat on, struck, and mocked. Not able to exact the punishment they want, the Temple authorities send Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the civil authority. Here he is brought up on what amount to charges of treason against the Roman Empire. Found guilty according to the letter of the law, Pilate is not comfortable with the outcome, so attempts to free Jesus using a local Passover custom. But the crowd will have no part of it. They turn against Jesus, issuing cries of “Let him be crucified!” Pilate has no choice but to condemn Jesus to death, the punishment the Temple authorities were seeking. Before exacting the final punishment, he is flogged and mocked – “Hail King of the Jews.” And finally, he is sent to his death, nailed to a cross. As he hangs dying, he is further mocked by soldiers, passers-by, and fellow prisoners alike, while the soldiers gamble for the few pieces of clothing he had been wearing.

Jesus’ life is spiraling out of control. Yet there are commentators who write about how every step of the way, the Matthian Jesus is in control of the situation, that he knew what he was doing, making it sound like he was calm, cool, and collected under the pressure of his final days and hours. But this denies the very humanity of Jesus. Even thought he knew what had to be done, that doesn’t mean he didn’t feel a sense of darkness, a sense of hopelessness. After all, in the Garden, he prays not once, not twice, but three times, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” And on the cross, as he hung there dying, he cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If that isn’t despair and hopelessness I don’t know what is. In this final week of his life, Jesus knew what it feels like to have life slip away, spiraling out of control, as shouts of “Hosanna” turn to calls of “Let him be crucified!”; as a ticker tape parade ends on death row.

How many of us, when confronted with a difficult situation, have not ourselves prayed “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me?” How many of us in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation, have not cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In our own human experience, we at times travel the path from Palm Sunday to Good Friday. But what this week shows us, what the culmination of this week in the Easter event shows us is that we do not travel this path alone. Our faith is founded on a God who has traveled the same path with us. Our Savior has walked this path before us, suffering and enduring far worse than we ever will. Jesus walked this path before us, suffering and enduring far worse so that we never have to.

Even in the midst of very human feelings of darkness, despair, and hopelessness that the human Jesus would have undoubtedly experienced, the divine Christ would have known the truth. On this side of the resurrection, we who travel this path laid out before us this coming week see and know the truth. Even as we approach the darkness of Maundy Thursday night, stripped bare of the presence of our Lord, we know the truth. Even as we approach Good Friday, kneeling at the foot of the cross on which our Lord and Master was crucified, we know the truth. Things will work out; they always do.

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