April 5, 2020
Prayer of the Day
Sovereign God, you have established your rule in the human heart through the servanthood of Jesus Christ. By your Spirit, keep us in the joyful procession of those who with their tongues confess Jesus as Lord and with their lives praise him as Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
Gathering Gospel Matthew 21:1-11
First Reading Isaiah 50:4-9a
Second Reading Philippians 2:5-11
Gospel Matthew 21:12-17
Dismissal Gospel Matthew 26:1-5
Title: Welcome, Invading Jesus
Most likely we hear the word invasion and we think of war and violence. We think of destruction and loss. There are invading armies, home invasions. In this country we get very concerned about invasion of privacy. Of course, the invasion of the day is COVID-19. Perhaps the worst kind of invader because it is an invisible invader. We only see its devastating effects on family members, friends, and neighbors. Perhaps even ourselves. And the attempts to stop it have provided us with yet another invasion to face – the invasion into our daily lives and our beloved normalcy that we have been forced to surrender. We are accepting one invasion so as to stop the other.
As for our life together as a community of faith, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ that joins billions around the globe, in this week ahead there is much to surrender and mourn as all the necessary actions that are being taken are invading and disrupting the most important week of our year. It is a week that does not only lift up and celebrate what God in Jesus Christ has done for us as revealed in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, but it also is a week the informs and instructs us more deeply about what it means to be disciples of Jesus. For we are called to walk with Jesus in the way of the cross each and every day. We are called to be little Christ’s to others following Jesus’ example. We are called to die each day to self and rise to new life in Christ for the sake of the world.
And all of this is there in the days of Holy Week for us to hear and learn again, embrace and embody anew in our lives, presented and engaging us in some of the most beautiful liturgies of the Church year. I dare say that some of us look forward to this week with all the eagerness that a child will look forward to the ritual of unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning. And why not, for the most precious gift is revealed in the midst of these Holy Days. So much is lost to this invasion. It is understandable if we find ourselves sad or angry or longing or any combination of these and more. Invasion robs the invaded. And this week, we may feel the present loss even more deeply.
But there is another invasion going on. And quite contrary to all those examples I mentioned and the one we are living, this invasion does not seek to rob or destroy life. This invasion brings life. Jesus, the invader, has come to the city. Has come to town. Has come to the church. Has come to your home, to your life.
The story we tell today, of his invasion that we call Palm Sunday, is an exploration-worthy metaphor for his continuing invasion into our worlds and our lives. Jerusalem was a jewel of a city. Beautiful and filled with all that can make a person, a nation, a people proud of their accomplishments. Palaces, stately homes, a fortress, strong wall and gates, and most important, a Temple. A place where the Almighty God was said to dwell.
But, Jerusalem in Jesus’ day was also an occupied city. Foreign invaders had once again come and occupied what was most precious. Ruling the city and the land with an iron fist. Robbing the people of living out their full identity of God’s people. And to make matters worse, that temple – the center of faith – was now the symbol and center of the religious leaders who had sold out to the dominating secular powers, so that those who once held great power through religious fear, might again have, or appear to have, a share, have a role, have some authority over the humble faithful by collaborating with these fear-inducing invaders. For some, like the Essenes living out by the Dead Sea, the invasion had been so complete in its annihilation, and the temple leaders so complete in capitulating to the invaders, that for them to keep the faith that they so cherished they chose to isolate in a small community. Quarantining themselves from the corruption of their faith.
But fully knowing what he would face by invading this invaded city, Jesus comes, riding on a donkey. And to even more fully mock the powers that be, he invades not with an army bearing weapons, but flanked by harmless peasants bearing branches from palm trees. The mighty occupiers and the collaborating occupied don’t know what to make of this guy. Who is he? They ask.
Isaiah and Paul answer the question for them and us this morning. This gentle invader is a teacher who empowers teachers, those how echo his teaching know how to sustain the weary with a word. And Paul, writing from prison, echoes a hymn of the early church to remind his readers that Jesus humbled himself and invaded our world. Not in a show of military, dominating power, but in the humility of a servant. God turns even the idea of invasion upside down. For when the creator invades, the creature benefits. The only loss experienced is welcomed (like refined gold that losses its dross). And all that is needed for life is gained.
Of course, there is that one scene we just read of Jesus invading with destructive power – it is unleashed on the money changers and sellers in the temple. But take note, what is destroyed is that which humans have created that stands as obstacle to free and complete access to God.
And ultimately, that is what our blessed invader has accomplished in total – destroying all obstacles that stand between us and God – even the final obstacle: death.
Jesus the gentle, life-bringing invader is at the gate. What must he break through to invade our lives? Especially now, while our doors are barracked to prevent all those dangerous invasions. Now, while our despair and disappointment build walls blocking out what our experience has told us is life. Now, while fear and anxiety rule the day. Now, while we are isolated from loved ones and community and all that relationships fulfill in us. What must the invading Jesus break through? And by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, he does break through. He is present.
So, welcome Jesus the Christ, the merciful invader, the live-bringing intruder, the peace-working raider. Welcome him and the story he is not only telling, but that he will be living throughout the days of this Holy Week. Welcome him whose love does not allow him to live quarantined in heaven, nor isolated in his divinity.
And, (having welcomed him with our own symbols of peace), through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are most blessed to walk with him who walks with us. We walk, with Jesus in the way of the cross. The cross and any tool of terror used by earth’s mightiest invaders in their vain attempts to stop God’s invasion that desires to bring all of creation to new life in Christ. Welcome the invader who is our liberator.
The Rev. Mark Erson,