March 28, 2021

“From the Thrill to the Agony”

(From Mark 11 and Mark 14)

From Mark 11

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

From Mark 14

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then everyone deserted him and fled.

Several months ago, Jack shared a book he had read with me, called Holy Envy, written by Episcopal priest, teacher and author Barbara Brown Taylor. It took me some time to be able to read through the chapters of this book. I have planned to return it to Jack several times, and somehow it would still wound up in my possession. Now I know why. Taylor, in her discussion of Buddhism, shares about a field trip she made with one of her classes to hear the lecture of a Buddhist priest on “Cultivating Happiness.” Sipping his tea and clearing his throat, the priest began his lecture. “Have we ever noticed how soon our unhappiness with not having a job turns into our unhappiness with the job we finally get?” Tapping his temple with the fingers of his right hand, he tells us that our unhappiness is a product of our own minds, as we persist in locating the source of all our problems “out there” instead is “in here.” “While we spin our wheels trying to control things beyond our control, we ignore the one thing that is within our power to change: our way of seeing things,” he concludes. Editorializing on the priest’s discussion, Taylor summarizes by sharing that the priest has made his point that our unhappiness is not dependent on our circumstances, which are always changing. We very often cannot change our circumstances, but what we can alter is our own perception of them and the power we give them to determine our happiness and sense of self-worth.

Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest! So the crowd that had gathered to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem chanted as they spread their cloaks and leafy branches down before his path. Hosanna means “save us now,, and the crowds anticipated nothing less as Jesus made his triumphal entry into the Jerusalem, a city abustle with activity in preparation for the upcoming celebration of Passover. This compassionate Rabbi, who had healed the sick, exorcized demons, and even raised his friend Lazarus from death, would surely save the people from the oppression of Roman authority and rule. He would become their loving and merciful king, and they his loyal servants. Life would now be good again. The excitement created such a ruckus, that some of the Pharisees came and asked Jesus to order his Disciples and followers to stop. Jesus answered them, “If these were silent the stones would shout out.” (Luke 19: 40, NRSV).

Among the crowd excited for the bright new future Jesus was expected to usher in was Judas, one of Jesus’ chosen twelve Disciples. Judas had seen Jesus as a Rabbi, a religious leader teacher and healer. He was now hopeful of Jesus taking political power over the Roman Empire and ruling with authority. And, if Jesus became king, Judas would surely have an important role in the new Empire that Jesus would create. What a win-win situation for an expectant Judas. He could not wait for the day he had envisioned to come, and Jerusalem was the perfect venue.

As each day progressed, it became more and more clear that assuming a seat of political power was not Jesus’ plan for coming to Jerusalem. Instead, Jesus continued to spend his time in the temple focusing on the very teaching and compassionate ministry he had begun with his disciples and followers. This disappointed many of the followers that had hailed him as king only days before. It also angered the chief priests, scribes and elders of the temple, for Jesus spoke with an authority that threatened them. Among the disenchanted was Judas, who watched his hopes and aspirations fade further with each passing day. Finally, in an attempt to force Jesus into confrontation, Judas approached the chief priests and offered to betray Jesus to them for thirty pieces of silver. They were looking for a way to capture Jesus to put an end to the reign of his blasphemous ministry. If anything would force Jesus to wield his power against the authorities, this would do it. And so, while Jesus was in the garden praying with his Disciples, Judas approached them with an armed contingent from among the chief priests and elders of the synagogue. They seized Jesus for a trial, and his Disciples all deserted him, fleeing for their own safety. Jesus did not use his power to save himself, nor did he strike out against the angry crowd, who came armed with weapons to seize him. As the favorite Lenten Hymn goes, “He could have called ten thousand angels, but he died alone, for you and me.”

And so, church, we have come full circle. From the thrill of Palm Sunday to the agony of Jesus’ arrest, trial and ultimate death by crucifixion. The unfolding of events during Holy Week confirm for us the damage that is caused when we tie our happiness to that which is beyond our control, and then seek with all we can muster to coerce and control it into compliance anyway. Thank God that our God is an awesome God. God’s plan for our salvation understood and accounted for our human condition of sin and need. God used our human sin and selfishness to show us that these cannot separate us from God’s infinite and unconditional love for us. When the world had done its best to end the rule of Jesus, God showed the world that nothing, even death itself, is more powerful than God’s love. The story is not yet complete. Let us now await the miracle of love that God will show to us in Jesus. Amen—and let it be so.

Hymn: “What Wondrous Love Is This?” (words and music -US Folk Hymn)

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul, what wondrous love is this, O my soul! What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of life to lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul, to lay aside his crown for my soul.

Mission for Easter Giving:

Bishop Tracy Malone is promoting a capital campaign called Teach, Reach, Bless to build a dormitory on the campus of Africa University for women students to give them an opportunity to focus on their studies and keep them safe from often dangerous commutes.

More information can be found at www.EOCUMC.com/teachreachbless/. Contributions can be made to PUMC with “Africa” in the memo line.