Palm Sunday – April 5, 2020
Rev. Nancy Talbot at Mount Seymour United Church
To view this online worship service, click here: https://youtu.be/pPEZyqi2_Qs
Over the years I’ve watched many in our community of faith take very seriously the invitation the season of Lent offers us to give something up or take something on so that we might direct our attention more fully towards the deep teachings of this time in the Christian calendar. I have literally seen lives transformed through Lenten disciplines.
My own commitments during this season have varied from being more intentional about my daily spiritual practice, to giving up things like alcohol and sweets. This year on the first Sunday in lent I committed myself to reading the core findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
But today, those things feel like a walk in the park compared to what we are being asked to give up and take on now. This, this not knowing how or when it’s all going to end, every day bringing a new challenge or change, this disorientation, total disruption, this loss of jobs, loss of income, loss of freedom, loss of life. This is Lent.
In the final chapter of her book Entering the Passion of Jesus, A.J. Levine talks about the biblical accounts of the night before Jesus is handed over to be crucified, when he goes out to the garden of Gethsemane to pray asking his disciples to stay awake with him a little while. In an eerily prophetic paragraph about that story she says this:
“I don’t want to die” is a very good prayer. Who might pray words like this? Firefighters, police, members of the military, those who work with victims of infectious diseases. Every day they might say, “Let this cup pass away from me. I don’t want to do this, but I know this is my vocation. I know this is what I have to do.” We pray to let the cup pass. We pray, “Let your will be done.” That’s Gethsemane.
I don’t want to suggest in any way that this pandemic we are going through is God’s will for our lives being done. God’s will is that we find a way to trust that we will be given what we need to go through this time of trial. God’s will is that we will let go of our need to know when this will be over and how we will get through it. God’s will is that we be gentle with ourselves when we don’t know what we are doing and when we don’t want to go where we are being led. God’s will is that we tend one another. God’s will is that we will weep at our losses and lament our mistakes, and down our cup of bitter tears until we can hold out our hands and say “come fill us up again.”
God’s will is always for our good. It’s just that giving ourselves over into the goodness of God’s will can be so very hard when we are so used to living by our own willfulness.
I don’t know about you, but I have been very aware of my need for control this last week. I’ve been aware of it when I’ve found myself searching the internet for an answer to the question “how long will we be sheltering in place. I’ve been aware of it when I find myself clinging to Dr. Bonnie’s prediction that we will be doing this at least until the summer and telling myself that as long as I have an inkling of when this will end, I will be able to manage. I’ve been aware of it when I lay out a daily schedule for my kids, even when I know there’s not a hope they will actually follow it.
All of these things help me to feel like I am in control. Mental health experts actually tell us that to control what we can control in these times, like what time we intend to go to bed tonight, will help us to cope with the uncertainty in which we find ourselves.
I recognize this need for control and this grasping at it in whatever tiny way I can from other times in my life when things were not going the way that I had planned.
But in the end of the day, it is this very lack of control that releases us into what Richard Rohr says is the universal starting point for a serious spiritual walk towards wisdom and truth.
So I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the place Jesus goes to pray the night before he dies. We know it as the garden of Gethsemane but it’s actually only John’s gospel that refers to it as a garden. Regardless, the notion that the place Jesus chooses tto pray, to beg of God that if it at all be possible, this cup be taken from him; this notion that the place he goes to pray that if at all possible he not have to endure torture, insults, suffering and death is a garden, a place that speaks of life, renewal, beauty and peace is profound. It suggests to me that when we are in the place where the answer to our prayer to be released from what we are facing is a resounding “no” and we find ourselves with no other alternative than to respond by saying then not my will but yours, we are in the very place where transformation, where new life, where hope will some day emerge again.
The season of Lent begins with a parade, with great bravado and great conviction. As Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a humble donkey, singing and pot clanging ring out a hero’s welcome uplifting and uniting the spirits of all who gather. But by the end of the week, the hosannas fade like a distant dream, replaced instead by the sounds of anguished cries and the thud of angry nails.
I’ve heard that the people of Italy no longer gather on their balconies to sing to one another each evening. I’ve heard they no longer greet one another in the street the way they once did when this all started. I wonder if it’s just too painful for them and like the disciples in our story if they are just too fatigued.
I do not know when people of Italy will find the voice to sing again. I do not know if the day is coming our way when our 7pm pots and pans and jubilant voices will go also silent. I hope that day will never come but I do not know for certain.
This is the crux of the season of Lent and the crux of Holy Week, this lack of control, this not knowing how and when it will end but that it will and when it does that God’s hand, the fingerprints of grace and love and miraculous renewal will be all over it.
This is the only true pathway to Easter. It is the only true pathway to discovering who we really and what God can do with our broken and wounded world.
Blessings on this painful and often frightening journey. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.