Triumph to Tragedy
March 29, 2015
When we come to this place –
we come to worship God
But we also come to question ourselves;
Our beliefs / Our purpose/Our Future
I can only hope that what I have to share
Helps in that endeavor . . .
May we be soothed and challenged.
First Reading: An Excerpt from Surprises Around the Bend: 50 Adventurous Walkers by Richard A. Hasler
“How do you get started — or restarted — on your own road to shalom, or wholeness of life? First, you must prepare. Ardath Rodale, writing in her book Gifts of the Spirit, tells of her daily walk along the ocean path while vacationing on the island of Maui, Hawaii. One morning she looked across the bay and saw ‘a huge, fat, vibrant rainbow!’ She came upon a mother and daughter also out for a walk. The mother, who had her head down while she talked, never noticed the rainbow until Ardath brought it to her attention.
You need to be prepared, always anticipating that there may be gifts all around you, if only you have eyes to see. Preparation begins with a sense of expectancy.”
Second Reading Mark 11:1-11 From The Message by Eugene Peterson
When they were nearing Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany on Mount Olives, he sent off two of the disciples with instructions: “Go to the village across from you. As soon as you enter, you’ll find a colt tethered, one that has never yet been ridden. Untie it and bring it. If anyone asks, ‘What are you doing?’ say, ‘The Master needs him, and will return him right away.'” They went and found a colt tied to a door at the street corner and untied it. Some of those standing there said, “What are you doing untying that colt?” The disciples replied exactly as Jesus had instructed them, and the people let them alone. They brought the colt to Jesus, spread their coats on it, and he mounted. The people gave him a wonderful welcome, some throwing their coats on the street, others spreading out rushes they had cut in the fields. Running ahead and following after, they were calling out, Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in God’s name! Blessed the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in highest heaven! He entered Jerusalem, then entered the Temple. He looked around, taking it all in. But by now it was late, so he went back to Bethany with the Twelve.
Generally speaking, the Palm Sunday story is a pretty familiar story. In fact, the stories for the whole next week are a group of pretty familiar stories. Jesus rides into Jerusalem triumphant. Jesus experiences some frustration and anger through the week. He prays. They gather for the Passover feast. Then they arrest him, try him, and kill him. So to try to glean a message, how do we think about it today?
The people around Jesus are on a super-high one day. But by the end of the week, many of them are turning against him and calling for his execution. Triumph to tragedy for the passive observers who may have been supporters. For many of the people, the everyday citizens, Jesus was seen as their great hope for the future. He was at the peak of expectation for his followers. They were seeing their next great king, their great hope for deliverance! Everybody, from the disciples that were with him to many of the people in the street, saw him as their savior.
But, where was Jesus’ head at the time? What was he thinking and feeling?
Think of Jesus, the man, Jesus the guy who had to struggle with feelings and reality and … his purpose. Where was Jesus’ mind as he rode into town on a donkey with shouts of “Hosanna” all around? After his exciting entry into town, he goes to the temple, the place where all the preparations for the biggest feast day of the year, just six days away, were being made.
How do you think he was feeling?
The story, as we read it, was written thirty or forty years after the fact. The authors of the Gospels are telling it as they saw it, but with the advantage of hindsight, well after Jesus had been made one with God in their minds. But this week, marching into Jerusalem sensing (maybe even knowing) not from any actual foreknowledge but just from being smart, that his death was imminent; what was he feeling?
Tension . . . fear . . . anxiety . . . resolve?
Was he aware of triumph, or focusing on the tragedy?
In every war there are hero stories. Stories of men in combat who knowingly or seemingly without concern for their own lives, put themselves calmly and determinedly into harm’s way and risk, or give up their lives, for the sake of others. These are stories of men who intentionally, with a split second decision often, give up their lives so another person or group of people can live. We have all heard those stories. Occasionally the stories are so impressive that the Medal of Honor is given, even posthumously, for bravery.
The tragic end to this week was not one of those kinds of decisions. Jesus knew what was coming. He knew it because he had been the one out there making everyone angry and leading a band of radicals who were opposing the government and the established institutional religious organization. We know he knew he was making the establishment people angry because he told his followers at least three times over that week that he was going to be killed. I don’t believe he was a fortune teller or the Mentalist, or had “godly” foreknowledge of the event. I think (and you don’t have to agree with me) he was fully aware of what he was doing and the ire it raised in the minds of the powers in control.
So in the moment, what was he feeling?
Resolve . . . determination . . . purpose?
My mom has had the misfortune of being widowed twice. Oddly, each marriage ended within just a few weeks of exactly seventeen years. The first was sudden. My dad was killed in a car accident on a beautiful Tuesday morning, the sixteenth of July, 1968. He was a healthy, vibrant salesman at the age of 49, on his way to help another salesman with a few pointers to learn the business. My stepfather Pat, on the other hand, had several years to consider his impending death. Pat died slowly, suffering from emphysema. He had time to think about what was happening and what was coming and he, like many others who face the awareness of their own impending death, was more concerned with those around him than he was for himself. In fact, he was more concerned with the care and feeding of his grapefruit and avocado trees than he was for himself!
In the last months of Pat’s life, my siblings and I took turns traveling to Florida to spend time with my mom and Pat to help with yard work; give my mom a bit of a break and just be present with them. I thought that, perhaps, he would be worried or anxious about dying and want to talk about it. I thought he would be, maybe even a little, reluctant to face the reality of his death. That was not the case. We would arrive and he’d have a list of chores, things we should do to help my mom, as well as fertilizer schedules, spraying concerns and notes that he felt compelled to pass along so that we could make sure that the trees and shrubs that he had so lovingly cared for would be appropriately maintained since he no longer could see to their health.
What do you think Jesus was feeling as he looked ahead to his death?
Compassion . . . love . . . faithfulness?
Jesus had been a man on a mission. He had been purposefully driven to offer a message of care and compassion, acceptance and justice, as well as freedom from the tyrannical laws that tied the people to the temple for their connections with the sacred. He had focus, spiritual maturity and an ability to stay immersed in a message of love as the source and purpose of the law. Love that gave freedom from an obsessive adherence to the law, and love that set people free rather than bound in slavery to authority.
The Palm Sunday story is a very familiar story, so what I want to do is not just offer a teaching moment about what I think Jesus was thinking and feeling. I want to make this into a lesson for each of us that we can think about with the full awareness of life. We know that we will one day die. How will we choose to face that?
I hope we will do so with steadfast purpose and maturity.
And, I hope and pray, that we can choose to face the tragedies in life with compassion, love and faithfulness.
I hope, also, that we can face the certain future of our own eventual passing from this life with the calm and persevering attitude that gives hope to those we love. I hope that we can all be as true to ourselves as Jesus was. And that we can always be ready for the next turn in the sidewalk, the next surprise that might come our way, and the next gift of love that is ours to share. There are gifts at every turn. Gifts of confidence, gift of expectancy, gifts of triumph and even gifts that tragedy leaves in its wake! We can (and ought to!) persevere at every turn to prepare ourselves for those opportunities to be the gift of love for another.
Blessings to you friend!