Joy and Tragedy

Posted on 07 Apr 2020, Pastor: Adam
  • Matthew 21:1-11

    When Jesus and his disciples had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, `The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

    “Tell the daughter of Zion,
    Look, your king is coming to you,
    humble, and mounted on a donkey,
    and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

    The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

    “Hosanna to the Son of David!
    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
    Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

    When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

     

     

Truth be told my friends; I’ve always struggled with the scripture readings for Palm Sunday. On one hand, we have the actual story for which this day gets its name, the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem for the last time, riding on the back of a young donkey, while exuberant onlookers shout hosannas as they throw branches onto the ground before him. And the whole city was in turmoil as he entered, asking, “who is this?” and the crowds answered, “this is Jesus!”

“The Entry of Christ into Jerusalem” – Wilhelm Morgner, 1912

This is Jesus! This is the messiah! This is the one for whom we have waited! For so long, Jesus asked his followers, “who do people say that I am?” And now the crowds shout from the rooftops what had been previously hidden—that God’s promise was being fulfilled! It was as exciting a proclamation to the people back then, who had waited and watched and longed for God’s promised salvation as it is to us now, who strive and labor to be Jesus’ disciples.

But on the other hand, we have the Passion, the story of Jesus’ betrayal by those who were closest to him and the story of his trial, crucifixion, and death. In the span of fifteen minutes, we go from the story of the crowds welcoming Jesus into the city with shouts of hosanna to the same crowds shouting for his crucifixion. It’s enough to make our heads spin!

I’ve always felt that combining these two stories on this day makes the Palm Sunday story into a brief, joyful blip in the midst of a greater tragedy. It just doesn’t do it justice. It has never made sense to me.

It never made sense to me, until this year.

The juxtaposition between joy and tragedy on Palm Sunday always seemed to be too sudden, to stark for us to make sense of before. Now, it is our daily reality.

I hear stories on the news about the amazing and selfless work of nurses and doctors caring for the sick, often at great danger to their own wellbeing, and I hear stories of how we are unable to provide those same nurses and doctors with the safety equipment needed to protect them from infection. We receive the hopeful news of the tide beginning to turn in China and life starting to return to normal, and the same news tells us that as many as two-hundred thousand people, maybe even more, will die in our own country before this is all over, a number that stretches our ability to comprehend, much less accept. This week I watched as my niece, who turns three this month, danced in her living room down in Virginia, and I received news that a former parishioner of mine from another church passed away from COVID-19.

It is too much. Joy and tragedy come in such fast succession that it makes our heads spin. They come in such fast succession that our hearts become numb. They come in such fast succession that, exhausted, we cry out, “Where are you God?”

But this year, this year I hear the Palm Sunday story differently. This year I’m realizing that it is not a joyful story in the midst of a larger, tragic one. I’m realizing that it is a tragic story in the midst of a much larger, joyful narrative. This year, as I hear the Passion narrative, I remember the bigger story that God created all things for the joy of it and declared that it was good! I remember that God chooses God’s people, God chooses us, so that we might be a blessing to all the world. I remember that even when we have fallen short and have been less than faithful, God remains loyal to us, that God chooses mercy time and again. I remember that God’s love for the world is so great that God would send Jesus, the only son of God, to come among us, to walk alongside us, and to lead us back into relationship with our God.

And I remember that even in our lowest hour, when we reject Jesus, when our lips call for his crucifixion rather than offering him praise, when our tongues lash out bitter insults as he hangs dying upon the cross, even then God does not forsake us. Even our betrayal cannot stop God and God’s love for us.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

The point is that this year the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is a reminder. It is a reminder that as descend into the tragedy of Holy Week, as we descend into the loss and grief and fear of a world wracked by pandemic, that there is a much bigger story at work: the story of God’s love for us. It is a reminder that when we at last cry out, “Where are you God?” the answer is, always has been, and will always be that God is with us.

Preached by Adam Yates