Palm/Passion Sunday 2020
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
In a normal season of Lent, we would be at the last week of Lent. In a normal season of Lent, in one week’s time we would go from lament to joy, death to resurrection. But this year, we will be asked to stay in lament and death for a little while longer.
And here is the thing, we don’t know, really, how long this will last. This time of Lent and lament and shadow of death that we find ourselves in. While the earth wakes up from the dead of winter around us, as if in mockery, our life is lived in the shadow of death.
I don’t want to sound too stark here, but it is true isn’t it? If we take seriously what we are doing right now, how we are living, we are all waiting to find out how deadly this virus will be.
Even as we feel the warmth of the turning of the earth as the sun comes closer. Even as we see the earth waking from the deep sleep of winter.
But, even with that, there is a shadow of death about the place.
And we are not used to this. We usually only tolerate this shadow for a short time. We usually want to get up from the vigil we keep over death and wipe our hands of it and say, let’s get on with life!
Even the most horrific thing we have ever experienced, the attack on 9/11, didn’t keep us so entrenched in grieve and fear as long as this will.
We will need to learn to live with this shadow for a long time, I’m afraid.
As Christians, we have tools to help us live with this fear and shadow. Because we have ancestors who spoke to their God, to our God, out of the shadows that hovered over their own lives.
We have ancestors who lived under the fear of the shadow of death and didn’t let God off the hook for it. They didn’t let God off the hook for it. So we don’t have to. WE don’t have to put on a happy face in the midst of this time of unrelenting messages of death and dying.
Today, I want to turn to the words of the Psalm that is to be read on Passion Sunday. We usually don’t read this Psalm during the service because we have so many other words to hear. But this Palm/Passion Sunday I think these are the words we need to hear. These are the words that can bring us the word of God today.
From the Psalms number 31:
Now take pity on me, YAHWEH,
for I’m in trouble again. I am depressed. I have cried so much that I’m exhausted—
and not only my eyes, but my mind and body as well.
My life is consumed by sorrow;
my years are worn out with my sighs;
my strength fails me because of my despair;
my bones are getting weaker.
Because of all my oppressors
I’m held in utter contempt, even by my neighbors;
my friends are afraid of me,
and people who see me on the street hurry past me.
I am forgotten, as good as dead in their hearts,
like something that has outlived its usefulness.
I hear their endless slanders,
and threats from every quarter
as they conspire against me,
plotting to take my life.
These words that were written generations before Jesus and hundreds of years before our time, before a coronavirus was ever discovered sound very, very contemporary.
“Even my neighbors and friends are afraid of me. And people who see me on the street hurry past me.”
I heard this snippet the other day: We used to say to people who sneeze, God Bless You. Now we look at them as if they are threatening us. Isn’t that so true?
I find it comforting to know that generations ago, a psalmist wrote these words of lament to God. Laying out before God all this distress and anger and fear.
I find it comforting to know that these words have been preserved for us, for this time.
To give us permission to say out loud,” God this time we are in, it is not good. I feel like there is something fundamentally unclean about me. I am a threat to my neighbors, my neighbors are a threat to me, and I don’t like it.”
When often forget that on the way to the cross, Jesus told God he didn’t want to actually die. He certainly didn’t want to die on a cross. It was a cruel and awful way to die.
We often breeze over that part of the story because it is uncomfortable and we want to get to the resurrection part.
But this year, let us rest in it for a while.
Jesus didn’t want to go through grief. Jesus didn’t want to live in the shadow of death. And Jesus told God about it. As his ancestors did before him, He told God I don’t like this.
We don’t need to be afraid to tell God that this whole thing, is awful and we don’t like doing it. Generations of God’s people before us have done it and God still loved them.
Jesus did it and God certainly still loved him.
During this season of spring and Easter, we will not move into the resurrection within a week.
We will live in the shadow of death for many weeks more.
It is ok to feel the deep sorrow of this.
It is ok to tell God how much this is difficult
It is ok not to pretend that it is all ok.
Because God has gone through this with others before.
God went through this with God’s only Son our Savior.
The grief, the fear, the pain, the shadow.
And God did not abandon Jesus. God will not abandon us.