Sunday, April 09, 2017

In God's Time

Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday
Matthew 21.1-11; Matthew 26.14—27.66
St. Gregory’s, Long Beach

How do we make sense out of what we have just witnessed this morning? Throughout Lent we have talked about being on a journey. The journey we make with Jesus to Jerusalem. Today, we have arrived at the gates of Jerusalem. And suddenly, we find ourselves in the midst of a disorienting time warp. We find that time is suddenly compressed. We have traveled the span of five days, from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, in the space of a half hour. In this brief time, we have gone from shouting “Hosanna!” to shouting “Crucify him!” We have gone from raising palm branches to raising Jesus on the cross.

The events of these five days are clearly defined. Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He celebrates his last meal with his disciples on Maundy Thursday. After supper, Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying. He is then betrayed by Judas, one of the Twelve, whereupon he is immediately arrested by the temple soldiers. He is taken to the house of the high priest, where he is put on trial. As the trial is ending Friday morning, Peter denies Jesus three times. Jesus is then taken to Pontus Pilate, the Roman governor, for a second trial. Being found guilty, Jesus is tortured, and then led away to be crucified at Golgotha.

These are the chronological events. A matter of record. These are the events, horrendous though they may be, that we commemorate on this day. The events we will repeat in more detail, in the coming week. Such is the flow of events in our reckoning of time. What the Greeks termed chronos – the linear movement of time from past to present to future. The way we all experience time, chronologically. From where we sit today, on April 9, 2017, this is all in the past. But is it really in the past?

As Christians, we are also subject to a different flow of time – an alternative experience of time. In the events we have witnessed in the last half hour, we have moved out of chronos into the mystery of what is known as kairos. Another concept borrowed from the Greeks and imbued with Christian significance, kairos means “the appointed time in the purpose of God.” Kairos is God’s time. Eternal time. What Peter, in his second letter, describes when he says “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Peter 3.8). That God experiences all moments at the same time. Past, present, and future occur simultaneously in God’s perception of time.

Theologically speaking, whenever we worship, we enter into that sense of kairos. When we worship, we, in our present, enter into the events of salvation history and participate in how those events are played out in the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God – played out in what we perceive to be some future time. In our worship, all time comes together – past, present, and future – into one moment.

Nowhere – or maybe no-when – is this more evident than in Holy Week. Particularly so in our commemoration of Palm Sunday [slash] Passion Sunday. While we are not readily able to experience kairos other than as a momentary gift from God, we can at least get an idea of it through the compressed sense of time we experience on this particular day. Approximating that all the events of this coming week are happening at once in God’s time.

In our participation in kairos, we have a different experience of the events we heard recounted today. Again, the Greeks have a concept for this – anamnesis, which literally means “remembering.” This is a key concept in our theology of worship. In worship we recall God's saving deeds. This is not simply a passive process of recalling the events we commemorate, but rather is one in which we actually enter into the Paschal mystery – specifically, the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In short, we don’t just recall the events of Holy Week. We are participating in them. We are re-membering them. Made a member of, a part of, what is going on. In God’s time, we are actually there, witnessing the events of Holy Week, alongside Jesus.

In God’s time, we are actually there, at the gates of Jerusalem, as Jesus makes his triumphal entry. We are there in the crowd, waving palm branches as we follow him through the city streets – just as we did during our procession from the garden into the church. We are there with the crowd shouting “Hosanna!”

In God’s time, we are actually there in the Upper Room, as Jesus celebrates the Passover meal with his disciples – and with us. The Last Supper. Just as we are there every time we celebrate the Eucharist. We are there at the table as he takes the loaf of bread, blesses is, breaks it, and gives it to us, saying, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Mt 26.26). We are there as he takes a cup of wine, gives thanks, and gives it to us saying “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26.27-28).

In God’s time, we are actually there in the Garden of Gethsemane, after supper, as Jesus goes off to pray. We are there with Peter, James, and John – like them, unable to stay awake for just one hour as our Lord asks.

In God’s time, we are awakened as Judas, accompanied by temple soldiers, comes into the Garden. We look on as Judas goes to Jesus, greets him, kisses him, and in so doing betrays him. We stand by helplessly as Jesus is arrested and taken away.

In God’s time, we are there outside the house of Caiaphas, the high priest, where Jesus is on trial before the scribes and elders of the Temple. All the rest of the disciples, except for Peter, have fled into the night. Maybe we wanted to go with them. But we are here, waiting. And then we hear Peter, confronted by onlookers, deny three times that he knows Jesus. We look on shocked that Peter, the de facto leader of the disciples, would do that. Particulalry after saying he would go to his death for Jesus. But would we have done any differently?

In God’s time, we stand helpless as Jesus is taken to Pontus Pilate. Standing in the courtyard we are dismayed, even offended, by the shouts from the crowd – “Crucify him!” In the aftermath of those frenzied cries, we watch in disbelief as our teacher, our friend, is sentenced to death. We look on helplessly, as he is beaten, mocked, humiliated, unable to do anything.

In God’s time, we follow Jesus as he carries a cross to Golgotha, the garbage dump outside the city. We watch in horror as Jesus is stripped naked and nailed to the cross, then lifted up for all who pass by to see.

In God’s time, we stand at a distance, with Mary Magdalene and the other women, watching Jesus die a slow, agonizing death.


This is what it means to be Christian. Particularly as we begin Holy Week. To be willing to enter into kairos – God’s time. To experience the joys that come with shouts of “Hosanna!!” And to experience the pain and sorrow that come with shouts of “Crucify him!” For it is only by entering into the fullness of this Holy Week experience that, one week from now, we may similarly enter into the fullness of the Easter experience.

May this Holy Week be for you a rich and blessed experience of life lived in God’s time, as you re-member first-hand what this journey is all about, and where it will ultimately lead you. In God’s time.

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