02 April 2023
Sermon By: Rev. Dr. Robin A. Reed
Matthew 26:14- 27:66
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Today is Palm Sunday, the first day in Holy Week when we celebrate two liturgies on the same worship stage, the Liturgy of the Palms and the Liturgy of the Passion. The Liturgy of the Palms begins jubilation and celebration as Jesus, the King rides into Jerusalem with his Messianic glory and humility and the Liturgy of the Palms ends on Friday just before Sunset after a drama of rejection, abandonment, and betrayal with Jesus---his crucified body alone in a silent tomb and a lone Roman soldier posted outside.
It is tempting, after riding this liturgical rollercoaster and experiencing excitement and elation, grief and despair and every feeling in between for part of us to want to exit stage left today to
bury our heads in the sand or our busyness miss the suffering and pain of Holy Week wait come back to church for the joy of Easter morning. Certainly many Christian denominations observe this practice. But the rich Episcopal tradition has us walking each day this week with Jesus to open our hearts to the power and poignancy of Christ’s suffering to see his faithfulness to God, us, and his mission
Be obedient in the painful times and trust
that God is up to something more grand
and wonderful than you can imagine
writes author... Susie Larson.
If we fast forward from Palm to Easter Sunday it’s like you and I are at a movie theatre getting settled, watching the opening scenes of a drama only to go to the lobby to take an important phone call or refill our soda or popcorn. The detour keeps us from the opportunity to stop and reflect upon Jesus’ Passion who... how... where... and what shaped the outcome and to imagine and find ourselves among the characters in the Passion.
This week, we will see how Jesus Christ, wounded by our transgressions centered deeply in his relationship with God committed to his mission walks faithfully all the way and endures the Cross. Christ walks with us: Will you and I walk with Him?
As we know from John’s Gospel only a handful of allies; Mary his mother, Mary his aunt, Mary Magdalene and John, his disciples are able to walk with Jesus to the very end. Certainly Jesus’s enemies, but more importantly his followers, those he called his friends took one of three detours rejection, abandonment, and/or betrayal of Jesus to stray off the Holy Week path and we are at risk of taking those detours as well.
The first detour off the Holy Week path is rejection. We reject Jesus when we refuse to accept, approve, or support life in His kingdom. Rejection is a “throw back”, a criticism or denial of someone’s reality. Jesus was no stranger to being rejected for he has been rebuffed in his hometown by his family and at the Temple. On the Mt. of Olives, after hearing Jesus’ proclaiming Zechariah’s 500 year old prophecy; that the disciples would scatter and abandon him after Jesus is struck down Peter throws the prophecy right back at him rejecting Jesus’ prediction I will never desert you Lord.
Peter is partially right he is the only one to follow Jesus at a distance to the High Priest, Caiaphas’ house and to stand in the courtyard during Jesus’ trial but then denying not once but twice and swearing by oath he does not even KNOW Jesus.
While this may seem like a dramatic situation, how many of us, like Peter have high expectations of ourselves and our faith overestimating our ability to know Jesus and follow His way, underestimating our need to rely upon God’s mercy and grace to grow, live and thrive.
How many of us, myself included, in spite of our good intentions have fallen short of our Lenten disciplines and fasting. How many of us, myself included, fear being a disappointment forget our belief is what matters most, overestimate what we can do and then get a big reality check when our bodies, energy, time, and spirit pull up short. The reality is we need and depend upon Jesus. When we feel rejected it can be as if we are punched in the gut or knifed in the heart. Feeling rejected puts us at risk of withdrawing from others stewing in our pain, resentment and anger and at some point, if our anger intensifies becoming aggressive towards others.
When Jesus is rejected he befriends us, he loves us as he did with Peter offering him not once but three times a chance on the beach to amend his life, Peter do you love me? While Peter rejected Jesus even temporarily, Jesus does not reject Peter. He knows and loves him anyway.
Abandonment is the second detour which distracts us from following Christ all the way to the cross. Abandonment is the act of leaving permanently or for a long time in spite of a sense of allegiance or duty. The disciples obediently follow Jesus, participate fully in the Passover meal, climb up the Mt. of Olives only to fall asleep not once, but three times when Jesus ask them to pray for the highpoint of his mission, taking on the sin of the world and being forsaken by God.
The disciples, when the crowd and chief Priests come to arrest Jesus abandon Him. Why? All of us, like the disciples, are at risk of falling asleep in our faith abandoning Jesus from time to time when we are afraid. The disciples who have given up their lives and livelihood to follow Jesus sacrifices most of us have not had to give up are now at risk, as His followers, to be persecuted.
While we don’t often worry about persecution for being Christian in this country our lives have been challenged by loss or illness and I suspect we have wondered if Jesus can still feed us spiritually? In the midst of significant loss, we wonder can Jesus still give us purpose in our world? Like the disciples we can fall asleep to the Gospel message get into a routine, forget to study our Scriptures or attend Bible study and to remember Jesus challenges us to grow even in adversity and will comes to us and loves us as He did in the Upper Room with the disciples.
Lastly we come to the third detour betraying Jesus as Judas did. To betray someone is to act deliberately, to be unfaithful in fulfilling our role with another person or institution whom we love and care for. Betrayal by a friend or spouse or even our church cuts a relationship to the core creating a deep ravine of despair between the two parties.
Why did Judas betray Jesus? Judas a thief, yet chosen by Jesus, hit his last straw when an unnamed woman anointed Jesus with expensive nard at Simons’ house in Bethany just before Jesus rode into Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover. Judas saw Jesus’ focus, opening his arms and heart and proclaiming justice to and for the marginalized as a waste of his time and effort. Judas wanted power and status felt betrayed by Jesus himself whom he has trusted, hoped to re-join with Chief Priests and authorities.
When you and I are betrayed we can feel stunned, caught off guard, our sense of security deeply jolted leading us to distrust others. But Jesus who knows Judas will betray him loves him anyway
offering him the bread and wine, refraining from naming him at the Table, stopping the potential violence at the Garden with his words. Jesus loves all of his disciples Peter and Judas, you and me in spite of their, and our, rejection, abandonment, and betrayal of him. Jesus loved them and loves us to the end.
How do we respond to that offer of love. Peter who knew Jesus loved him weeps bitterly when the cock crowed three times in the courtyard, realizing he had rejected Jesus and abandoned him but is willing after Jesus’ death, to return and seek His Lord and to demonstrate his love and faith to Him.
Judas on the other hand clearly lost his own sense of identity as a disciple, his desire to follow Jesus and seeks to repent, declaring his sins to the Chief Priests and elders who rebuff him, fail to offer him forgiveness, follow the letter of the law by turning the blood money into funds to buy the Potter’s field, a place to bury foreigners. The final tragedy with Judas and with all of us from time to time is we hesitate or delay or avoid bringing our shortcomings, what we have done or left undone to Jesus perhaps for fear of having Jesus respond like the Chief priests did.
Even if we have been unfaithful or disloyal, rejecting, abandoning or even betraying Jesus. Jesus is faithful, Jesus loves us and Jesus will forgive us. Jesus know us and loves us anyway. If Judas had sought out Jesus’ I have no doubt he would have been forgiven, loved, and welcomed back into the fold.
So this week be brave, be courageous, join with us as we walk with Jesus each step of the way and as the great Paul Harvey used to say, come and hear the rest of the story and where you are as the Passion unfolds.