Palm/Passion Sunday

In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. AMEN

It is overwhelming.
It is exhausting.
Stress levels are understandably through the roof.
Fear is rife.
Grief everywhere, all engulfing.

We are justifiably in shock.
The foundations are shaken. Our world has become unglued.
That I can say these things
& that they apply equally well to both the COVID-19 pandemic we find ourselves in/under
& the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ we have just heard/proclaimed,reveals just how relevant/pertinent the resources of our faith tradition are to this moment.

The Psalmist is familiar with our experience expressing words that could very well be our own:
“Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
and my bones waste away.
I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
a horror to my neighbours,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
For I hear the whispering of many– terror all around!– as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.”…today’s Psalm (31:9-13) in our mouths.

But Our Lord,
the self identifying Suffering Servant of today’s Isaiah 50 first reading
does not balk, but willing enters into His Passion…”Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)

We can hear His voice,this Jesus, who we well know prays the Psalms;
(Jesus quotes the Psalms more than any other scriptures:

We can hear His voice through this distress declaring,
“But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand;
deliver me.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.” (-Psalm 31:14-16)

Throughout the whole disturbing Passion narrative
Jesus consistently/faithfully bears witness to His confidence in His Father(Matthew 26:39 “My Father…not what I want but what you want.” 26:42 Again he …prayed, “My Father… your will be done.” 26:44 he prayed for the third time, saying the same words.).

In the midst of His Passion Jesus focuses & firmly grounds Himself in prayer.
& we are invited to “have this same mind amongst ourselves” (Philippians 2:5)To, in the midst of our crises,
in the midst of the overwhelming pandemic,
yes even in the very face of DEATH itself,
confess, “YHWH you are my God! I trust in You.Our times, this extraordinary time, is in Your hand. Only You are able to deliver us.
We rely upon Your faithful/unwavering/dependable love.”

We are exhausted. It is easy to panic, it is easy to surrender to the frenzy of fear.To flail about trying to do something, anything.
But that only contributes to the growing threatening darkness!Let us pause & drink deeply of the resources of faith.
Let us be a people who in this time join our voices to the Lord’s in prayer & by our lives profess:
“But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand;
deliver me.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.”

“Let us go to meet Christ on the Mount of Olives”… says St. Andrew of Crete in an ancient sermon for this day…Let us run to accompany him as he hastens towards his passion, …not by covering his path with garments, olive branches or palms, but by doing all we can to prostrate ourselves before him by being humble and by trying to live as he would wish. (Trusting in God’s hesed Cf. Psalm 136. It occurs 248 times in the Hebrew Bible!)…”let us spread before his feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him. We who have been baptized into Christ must ourselves be the garments that we spread before him. Now that the crimson stains of our sins have been washed away in the saving waters of baptism and we have become white as pure wool, …let us present the conqueror of death, not with mere branches of palms but with the real rewards of his victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches as we join today in the children’s holy song: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.“Instead of our garments, let us spread our hearts before him.”
“Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love, deliver me.”
Let us say, “You are my God. My times are in your hand.”

I often observe that we don’t recognize what we ask when we pray. Today Mother Church begins the Palm Sunday processional by inviting us to pray; “Mercifully assist us with your help, O Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

In the midst of the chaos & frenzy of our world & the Holy Week we are embarking upon, the Church beckons us to pray, to contemplate. Traditionally Christianity has considered contemplation the opposite of action. “Be still!” (Psalm 46:10). STOP! “Cease striving” says another translation. Now I recognize that many of us, social creatures that we are, are already frustrated by the isolation of “shelter-in-place”, the “social distancing”, quarantine & “Stay home!” lock downs. But how many of us have actually heeded & done as directed by our Lord on Ash Wednesday? Go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). This is an opportunity to pray. Multitudes of christians throughout these millennia have intentionally chosen the enclosure to specifically focus on contemplation. Today’s Passion Narrative beckons us (Matthew 26:41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”). Instead we do anything & everything but listen/contemplate. We prefer to procrastinate. We binge on Netflix. We fall down a Youtube K hole. Sometimes our distractions can be good things too: We read those books we never got around to reading before. We catchup upon all those accumulated chores that we never got done before. We reach out to others using the very devices & mediums we were ensnared by before COVID-19. Mediums & devices that actually isolated & alienated us from from each other in real time. Self induced social isolation! We avoid & are afraid of the quiet. We want to do something, anything that will divert us from listening in silence.

It is because we fear we will be exposed. Palm/Passion Sundays exposes that we who so readily cry “hosanna!” are the very same voices who cry out “Crucify him!” It has been revealing & shocking to me how much blaming this pandemic has evoked. It is the Chinese fault. Sue them. The WHO didn’t act fast enough. The general Secretary should resign. Our leaders & government have acted too slowly. The President & his allies blame the Democrats (COVID-19 is a hoax to unseat him) the previous administration & the state Governors. We judge those who wear protective facemasks, or those who haven’t. We want to blame somebody. “Crucify!” If we dared to be still for a moment we might recognize that the blame is not someone else’s. Each of us must own that I am to blame. The fault is not external. The fault is internal. I am to blame for COVID-19. My unconstrained consuming privileged lifestye has wrought this plague. It causes me to flinch but is it too audacious to say that perhaps it is we who are the virus? We are the parasitic virus, we have infected the planet, aggressively consumed her, poisoned the water, land & air; unrelentingly penetrated its most far flung reaches, replicated unchecked often at the expense of the most vulnerable amongst us & our host mother earth & destroyed not only our own habitat but remorselessly murdered to point of extinction many other species. Now it is us ,the infection, that is being eliminated to save the whole ecology.

I am to blame…
“Ah Holy Jesus…Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.” 
-a beloved Passion Chorale reminds us.

Instead of our garments, let us spread our hearts before him.

And through the loss, confusion & chaos the Jesus of the Passion invites us to pray,”But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand;
deliver me.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.”

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Reverend Brian Heinrich