Have you ever found yourself someplace on the Internet and been like I don’t know how I got here. Sometimes it’s because you put words into your search and you weren’t very careful with them and you really didn’t want to end up where you ended up it’s a choice not to click on whatever comes up. But technically I have a Pinterest and I will search for pictures of things that sometimes I find interesting and save them away for a rainy day and then it comes through when it says you might be interested in. Somehow I ended up getting helps on novel writing. And here we have several ways in which one might end a story. We like these kinds of endings where it circles back around the beginning or it ends with reflection or a moral that we can decide if we can agree on.
This particular list is a little tougher for us with these tragic endings and unhappy resolutions and ambiguous endings, but they are options.
I think when we read the Gospels, when we come to these stories we often read them with an eye to the plot twist at the end. But this year, as we have been working through the gospel of John, we have been invited to do something a little different. In what is called the revised common lectionary used by most of your mainline protestant churches, the readings that we have looked at from Jesus is arrest to trial to his execution by the state are all read on Good Friday. That is to say, these two-ish chapters worth of biblical texts already are read in one service that tends to have more of a reflection rather than a sermon. This might not be a distinction to you but to me, A reflection is about 800 to 1000 words and a sermon is about 1500 to 3000 words so putting them out how the day went. And I can only find that I have preached at 1 Good Friday and all of the years that I have been working in ministry for a lot of reasons. This means, because we have spent several weeks on these texts, I have had I have devoted significantly more time trying to reflect and to reflect and be creative and tell this story in detailed and personal and With a different message every week. And it’s all there. There are volumes of books written on just these texts because this is kinda a big deal. It has been a lot, it has tried my confidence.
And maybe you were really looking forward to Palm Sunday. You thought this is a day of celebration. This is the day when we get to wave our palms and have a parade. And it’s true, it’s just that where we are in the story this Sunday is looking back to where we started.
If you have been following with us throughout the season of Lent, our reading today comes after the raising of Lazarus but 4 days before the last time Jesus and his disciples sit for a meal together. In the context of the story it’s about a week ago and the context of our reading together it’s 6 weeks ago. And we really like Palm Sunday we love a good celebration. Over the years there has become this pattern in churches it’s not anyone’s fault it just is. There have been fewer and fewer people who come and attend services during the week. Services like Holy Thursday and Good Friday. And what that has meant is that if you are a Sunday morning attending person and you come in on Palm Sunday it is A-day of celebration and when you get here on Easter morning it’s A-day of celebration and we miss all of the part in-between. So they started to be a movement to not just call it poem Sunday but Palm Passion Sunday so you don’t miss those parts in between.
Now we have been living here for 6 weeks, in what was probably less than 24 hours have taken us weeks. But I imagine those 24 hours probably felt like weeks while the disciples were experiencing it. Lifetimes had passed from the beginning of the week when they gathered and celebrated and waved palms to this moment where they were dragging Jesus out to be executed. They had called Jesus king and they were certain they knew what that meant and yet they had been watching from a distance or from up close the slow condemnation of their teacher, their friend, their would-be king.
No doubt they had expectations for their king. Hosanna translates into save us which sounds like it should be Proclaimed as an exclamation of anguish or pain, Here it seems to be said in praise and celebration which Does seem a little confusing. And in this gospel it doesn’t seem like Jesus has already figured out this donkey situation but they just kind of run across it during this whole parade and celebration and it’s long after the whole events have reached their conclusion that the disciples associate with happening with Jesus with the prophet Zachariah who said she behold your king rides in on a humble donkey and then describes the establishment of peace of the destruction of the means of war for the purposes of peace. Jesus has an idea of what kind of king he would be.
And Jesus is just coming off the raising of Lazarus. One of the reasons there are so many people around is because they had heard what Jesus had done for Lazarus and for Mary and Martha. The reasons the religious leaders are giving up to want Jesus dead it’s because he raised Lazarus. We talked about this that the one who wields life is incredibly dangerous when they have literally dangerous when the powerful and the world weaponizes and wheels violence and death and fear of violence and death. And so the king comes in in humility wielding the power of life over and against the power of death and ultimately Jesus is killed for it’s just killed for it and I imagine living in that moment, imagine being one of Jesus’ disciples in that moment where this looks like the end of the story.
The Empire is very clear about what it means to win and to lose. For the Empire, the one who can wield death is the winner and the one who dies loses. This is how they controlled the world around them, this is how they controlled rebellions and revolutions they killed it, killed the leaders, and caused it to fail.
I even think the sign in pilot size was designed to just add more fear of death. As if to say to the religious leaders at the time and to anyone else who might rebel you want a king this is what we Do to them they will die and you will fail.
The Empire had an understanding of what it was to fail and to succeed. To succeed as to produce results. Jesus’ life is looking like a failure because it did not produce the results of the rebellion. Of course, it’s successful to the Empire because for at least the time the rebellion is quashed and the people remain controlled.
Our world has a clear understanding of what it is to succeed and what it is to succeed and what it is to fail. Success looks like production. Success looks like climbing The social, employment, corporate, and political ladder. Success looks like being busy and having something to show for that busyness.
Because well I think the idea of Jesus is call upon our life is really popular. But the reality is that it is incredibly difficult. The call on our lives is not success. The call on our lives is not accumulation. The call on our lives not blind ambition. The call on our life is to love one another as Jesus has loved us. Revealed in these moments when Jesus chose To wield love in a way that looks like failure instead of wielding death. Rome thought that this was success the Empire thought that this was how they were going to maintain the world and the way of life and living that they had come to expect. But it becomes very clear you cannot wheel death in order to bring Life, you’re really just revealing yourself as being on the side of death.
I think it’s hard to look at all of this and see ourselves. We can see the systems of the world. We can look at modern nations that have inflicted to maintain autocratic rulership or to gain land and resources. We’ve seen it through centuries and we have seen it the last several months. We see it in large corporations that choose profits over people. We can name it in our own nation’s history with colonization, slavery, lynching, internment camps… and we could go on and on.
And sometimes I think we do it to ourselves. We choose success in the eyes of the world–the world whose values are production and busyness and accomplishment at any cost and we do so at the sacrifice of our own well-being. There’s a famous large church pastor who recently got up in front of his church and used his own life as an example saying that he has never taken a sick day in his whole life, in 26 years of ministry he’s never called in sick. I’m not sure what his point was because he also said he hasn’t called out gay, which, who knew you could do that? But also that when his father died he was back to work the next day. My favorite thing about that was the version of the video I saw was the comment section that just wasn’t sure that he was proving the point he thought he was proving. I mean this looks like success excess in the eyes of the world but the world a big church influence but at what cost, what is he sacrificing, and is it abundant living?
Because loving our neighbors ourselves means loving ourselves. Taking care of ourselves our bodies and our minds And our spirits. And maybe that means it won’t look like this our lives won’t look like this success the world expects But maybe it means we’re choosing love.
This isn’t easy but as Christians these are the things we’re called to live a life In the way and the kingdom and the example of Jesus that might look like to the world as Failure. Because part of what we do for Lent and Easter looks with anticipation To the return of Christ to the full embodiment of the kin-dom of God a kin-dom that has centered on Radical love, abundant life, and beloved community.
And we live between that between the promise of it and the full embodiment of it in our world and we live in between what is and what is to come and sometimes in there doesn’t feel like winning.. Sometimes it feels like we have spent 6 weeks at the cross at the cross or years sometimes it feels like failure We are not living The fulfillment of what is to come. We’re living in the space between.
Jesus on the cross isn’t failure. Choosing love isn’t failure. This is life is a not failure. It is living fully into the love.
Success as the world sees it asks things of you but it does ask you to sacrifice and that sacrifice might be in your time and in your energy and in your resources. Worse the world is gonna ask you to participate in how the world functions because it’s easy and it skips the hard parts. But we aren’t promised easy. And the hard parts are how we grow. The hard parts are part of life. But they aren’t failure. They are what make us human.
There is an episode of the TV show friends which I had to come to at a later time because my parents didn’t really like it and I was a little young for it. But anyway there was an episode in the 2nd season where several of the characters were sitting on the sofa watching Old Yeller, Because sometimes you want to make the people you love watch sad movies with you, My go-to movie is My Girl, and we watched it last year. And Phoebe comes in looks at what they’re watching and comments on how it’s such a great happy movie. Of course, the other character is sitting on the couch crying as the movie reaches its ending. And Phoebe realizes she hasn’t seen these scenes in Old Yeller. Before movies would reach their tragic conclusion, her mother would stop them and say “The End,” keeping Love Story or Rudy or Old Yeller just happy stories. Phoebe watched all of these movies, saw their true endings, and Came to the conclusion that the world is full of tragedy and trauma. She becomes a bit of a nihilist so Monica gives her it’s a wonderful life and says that this will restore Phoebe’s faith in humanity. She only makes halfway through it, she watches all the parts where things get bad, and then get worse, and then terrible. So she turns it off because she doesn’t want to see the ending. Monica keeps telling her, “Phoebe, you have to keep watching.”
We don’t get to skip the hard parts, the parts that hurt or make us cry, the parts that look like or feel like failure. This is life, and this is the life that chooses to live in a different way than the empires of our day. It’s why we spent so long in these texts, because sometimes life is like this. But it isn’t the end, and it isn’t failure. And hope isn’t lost. Keep watching.