A Thriving Spiritual Community

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Annisquam
Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Annisquam
Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

A Thriving Spiritual Community

photo of AVC sanctuary
Sermon: Palm Sunday Sermon: “The Power of Courage in the Work of Love”

Palm Sunday Sermon: “The Power of Courage in the Work of Love”

March 24, 2024

come-share-in-god's-joy

Can you imagine what it would be like to leave behind your whole life as you know it because you truly believe that you have met the person, Jesus, who is going to free your people from suffering and oppression so that you can live as you’ve always longed to?  You’d have to have an immense amount of trust to do something like that.   Or perhaps be desperate.  Or both. 

Then picture that you’ve been walking for three years from village to village with Jesus. You’ve witnessed astounding events – healings, miracles.  You can see that what Jesus is teaching and doing is making a difference. And you’ve picked up that the authorities have some serious problems with him.  

Mark’s gospel, in the chapter before the one we just heard this morning, indicates this: “They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.” 

Next, envision that Jesus tells you this: “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and I am going to be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes,  and they will condemn me to death; then they will hand me over to the gentiles; they will mock me and spit upon me  and flog me  and kill me,   and after three days I will rise again.” 

Wait one minute… You were already feeling afraid and now you hear this? 

Would you want to go with Jesus to Jerusalem?  To his violent death?   How do you think you would feel? Cold feet?  Perhaps a deep sense of dread?  Abject fear?

To accompany Jesus, you would need courage. Great courage. 

In the passage Mary Ann read, Jesus and his followers have arrived at the last stop before entering  Jerusalem.  They have been told what’s ahead.  Somehow they keep going with him. The disciples must have really felt beloved by Jesus and felt love for Jesus  to keep going, to still be together.         

They are courageous. 

Palm Sunday is a celebration of courage – the courage of the disciples and the courage of Jesus – a courage that is grounded in trust and propelled by love,  a courage that can inspire us.

Theirs is not the courage of a superhero.  Instead, it is a courage that grows when people come together  to do what they can  in the face of a monumental task and monumental risk.  The story we are presented with today shows us how we can be courageous  when God calls us to face a cross.

The palms you hold, according to scholars, can be interpreted in three ways – as part of a celebratory parade,  a funeral procession and a political protest.

Standing with Jesus before he enters Jerusalem might feel something like the night before a championship game… If you succeed, you are hero – and crowds will line the streets to celebrate you.  If you don’t succeed,  you could be permanently branded as a failure and disappointment.   How are you going to prepare your heart and spirit to face these stakes?

Standing with Jesus before he enters Jerusalem might also feel like the night before you know your loved one will die.  The hospice nurse has told you that he or she has less than 24 hours to live.  Or it might also feel like the night before you will gather at your loved one’s grave to say goodbye.   How are you going to prepare your heart and spirit to face life without your loved one?

Many scholars suggest that standing with Jesus before he enters Jerusalem is even more like the night before you are getting ready to go to Washington D.C. for a non-violent demonstration regarding a cause you care deeply about and you’ve just heard that counter protesters have been spotted with rifles.  How are you going to prepare your heart and spirit for these stakes?

In each scenario, you are going to need courage for whats ahead. When the two disciples were sent by Jesus to go into the village and untie a colt that’s not theirs, they needed to trust him. It’s not like Jesus said someone will be waiting to give them a colt.   Jesus anticipates that there might be some eyebrows raised, that there may be those who wonder “why are you taking this colt?” Sometimes God asks us to do things that seem to make no sense.

This one detail – that Jesus sent two disciples –  is one to take to heart.  Jesus builds support into the missions he gives us.  He doesn’t send us out alone.  Even he asks for help!

This is a reminder that when you step onto the court or the field you’ve got a team; that as you vigil at loved one’s bedside or prepare to make your final goodbye,  you are not called to face these moments on your own;  that when it comes to dismantling social ills, like racism, the courage we need is bolstered by marching with others. 

When we stand at a precipice, we do not need to go forward alone.  We can consult or partner with others to help us complete our mission, to give us support.  We can turn to God to build our courage.

As difficult as it would be to hear from Jesus what was ahead, can you imagine how difficult it would be – how much courage Jesus would need – to do what he was called to do?

In Mark’s chronology (which is different that John’s), Palm Sunday precedes and is a preparation for Jesus’ dramatic confrontation of overturning the tables.  We are shown  how Jesus  builds  his courage.  

Passover, which is a celebration of the people’s freedom from Pharoah, had also become an occasion for Roman powers to send an unmistakable message of their military might – lest the Jews get any ideas about regaining their freedom.   

To counter Rome’s demonstration of military muscle, Jesus plans another parade to interrupt and expose the Roman narrative, a narrative which includes naming Caesar “son of God.”   Knowing that Pilate would arrive with great pomp and circumstance on horseback from the West, Jesus carefully orchestrates a counter procession from the East.   It is an act of political and religious theater and courage that  highlights the stark differences between Pilate’s kingdom that exploits and presses down on people, and God’s kingdom, exemplified by Jesus on a humble donkey to lift them up. 

There is another layer of meaning. Jesus’ arrival from the Mount of Olives isn’t incidental: this route enacts the prophet Zechariah’s ancient Jewish vision. God was expected to arrive via the Mount of Olives on the “day of the LORD” and become monarch “over all the earth” (Zech 14:4-9). Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem represents the ancient promise: a new era of peace is dawning! (Source: Matthew Myer Boulton)

What a risky, courageous act!

Mark continues the story:  “Then Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”

To bolster his courage, Jesus simply walks alone into the temple and looks around. Seeing the money changers and those selling sacrifices at an unjust profit fuels  the fire of his anger and ignites his courage. He might also have be enjoying a quiet moment, recollecting  himself, in the presence of God, perhaps even having a conversation with God. 

Like Jesus, there are moments in our lives when we need courage – for ourselves and for others.  

31 years and four days ago, single and pregnant, I was set to learn whether or not I carried the gene for Huntington’s Disease    and whether I might have passed on the gene to my unborn child.  It was terrifying.  On the morning before my visit to Mass General to receive the test results, friends gathered for a prayer service to bless and support me.  Two of these friends, Mary Claire and Kevin, went with me to hear the news.  

When Dr. Rick Myers uttered the words, “I am happy to tell you that you do not have the gene for Huntington’s Disease” we laughed, we cried, and we whooped it up together.   We returned to my apartment, where more friends were waiting with champagne.  Later, I took Mary Claire and Kevin, who had gone to every appointment with me, to the best restaurant in Boston to celebrate.  

I know that if the results had gone the other way, these friends would have been there to cry with me, too. My courage was bolstered by the support of friends and time in prayer with God. 

Palm Sunday shows us how to grow our courage.  We begin by turning to our our God in whom we can trust.  We partner with others. We can pause and be thoughtful about next steps.  We can open our eyes and our hearts wide to see those in our lives who need us to step up, to be merciful or just. We can take time by ourselves to be in the presence of God and gain the strength we need to confront the darkness, in whatever form it presents itself to us.  And we can return to a circle of friends (like Jesus did at Bethany with the 12) who will support and surround us with their love, no matter what..  

In what ways do you need courage?  How are you being called to help carry someone’s cross? Or to face darkness in your own life or the world?  

Take heart. Trust.  Christ goes before you.  Christ goes with you. Christ will never leave you to face your challenges alone.  Amen.