3.29.2015 Preaching Text: “And being found in human form, [Christ Jesus] humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7b-8)
Palm Sunday signals the climax of Lent. From Jesus’ fateful entry into the pilgrim-filled city of Jerusalem, events now move quickly, culminating in his arrest, trial, and execution.
In one short, dramatic week, we shall celebrate with Christians all over the world the miracle of the Resurrection.
At the outset of Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday, we embarked upon a personal, spiritual journey. Everything that has transpired since has been directed to the life-changing reality of the Cross.
But though our entire Christian life is premised on the Cross and the Resurrection, its everyday form often betrays having lost sight of both. We get bogged down in the midst of our daily challenges and struggles.
We see a world in chaos and wonder where Christ can be found. We face illnesses or experience loss through the death of friends and loved ones – and we are left to wonder. We see certain things improve in our life or world, but then encounter other circumstances that leave our future uncertain.
I recently saw a TV commercial for a financial services company in which a crowd of people are asked to characterize, using colored stickers, past events, both good and bad. One color signifies the good while the other the bad. The same crowd is then asked to do the same for the future.
The results are fascinating. Regarding the past, the overall “map” of colored stickers shows a mixture of colors, of both good and bad, in other words. But the future is almost entirely good!
My takeaway from this is that though we hope for the best going forward, life has a way of bringing a mixture of both joy and sorrow. That’s just the way life is, and, perhaps more to the point, the way it’s always been.
We Americans, however, are trained to think of the future as moving inexorably toward perfection (or we think it should). Yet our biblical faith cautions us about sin and evil as part of all life, past and present. But because we largely ignore the Bible’s realism, we are constantly seduced by utopian schemes that promise perfection here on earth, the same schemes upon which our biblical faith casts a decidedly wary eye!
Which is not to say that biblical faith is cynical or defeatist. Just the opposite. Rather, the issue boils down to what it is we’re optimistic about.
Biblical faith, while admittedly skeptical of human schemes, is very confident of God’s. It places its trust in God, the transcendent One, not the prophecies of a broken and godless world.
Christian hope instead is based on the Resurrection, which comes solely from God, and not on the various man-made, tower of Babel systems we would build to ascend to heaven. God alone shall rescue us, not our self-regarding fantasies, no matter how well-intended.
As Jesus enters Jerusalem amid shouts of “Hosanna,” we the readers know that the optimism of the crowd will soon give way to the horrors of his betrayal, arrest, and brutal execution. Yet the Christian, rather than despairing, is sustained in the knowledge of what God will do next.
Lent is a time we are invited to get in touch with the very real brokenness of our lives and world, while searching out Christ’s life-affirming, salvific vision. It is a time to acknowledging our shortcomings, not that we might despair of ourselves, or life, but that we might wait ever more patiently for God’s promised intervention. In so doing we seek to live in greater accord with God’s divine purposes.
In Bible Study this past week, I referred to the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 8:22. “We know,” he writes, “that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”
To state the obvious, the allusion is to a mother in labor, about to give birth. She suffers greatly, but never loses hope, for she understands that the eventual outcome of her sufferings is new life.
It is precisely in this same awareness that we Christians experience not just Lent but life as a whole. We will indeed experience our share of pain and sorrow in this world, but we are confident, hope-filled, that it shall lead to a new life not as yet fully known, not yet revealed.
As Jesus walks to his certain death, and the end of his earthly life, he trusts God, confident that this new life awaits.
And as we too pass through this life, through its many valleys shadowed by death, we shall remember this fact, that what we are experiencing is not the pointless suffering of an insensate animal, knowing neither meaning nor purpose, but a hope-filled readying for the resurrected life to come. Amen