In case you missed it, this Sunday we made a great point of entering in: entering into Holy Week, entering with Jesus into Jerusalem to face the events of his passion and resurrection. Marking a threshold as we pass from the ordinary events of our lives into this sacred week of concentrated prayer and liturgical participation. Most of us will be living our ordinary lives as we always do this week, with doctors’ appointments and deadlines and errands, our workdays and our commutes, but we will also be conscious that we are living Jesus’s week: a triumphal entry into the city, an intimate last supper with his friends on Maundy Thursday, a harrowing night of prayer and a brutal crucifixion at noon on Good Friday. There will be a period of mysterious silence and a bursting forth from the tomb as the darkness of Saturday evening becomes the great light of Easter Sunday.
We will be living with two calendars this week, and feeling that odd sensation of moving back and forth between them. Many of us will dash home from work on Thursday, catching the train just in time to attend the last supper. We will be a little groggy at the office the next morning because we were praying with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane late into the night. Try explaining that to your coworkers. We may have to offer our regrets about not being able to attend that mid-day meeting on Friday so we can instead gather at the foot of the cross. Saturday morning may find us pulled toward the usual round of errands and sports events even while we are haunted by a sense that our Lord has gone to be among the dead and will be risen from the grave in a short while. We are living in two realities.
However we work to set aside these days, however firmly we mark the threshold between Holy Week and our ordinary lives, we will move between worlds with an unusual level of awareness this coming week. We may feel that we are in two cities at once: Philadelphia and Jerusalem. And crossing the threshold between them may be no small feat.
Then too, we may notice, as we cross the threshold into Jerusalem with Jesus this morning, that the situation here in this heavenly city is distinctly unsettling. We’ve started off with a glorious procession, but it’s hard to tell exactly why the crowds are cheering. Do they really understand who Jesus is? And how is it that, here at the start of Holy Week, we are already going to be calling out “Crucify him!” How is it both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday? Where did the week go?
It doesn’t get any simpler as the week goes on. Glorious Maundy Thursday has its distinctly funereal aspects, and on Good Friday we may know resurrection joy despite our focus on the crucifixion. The Easter Vigil takes us back through the whole sweep of salvation history, from the creation to the flood of Noah to the Passover and the exile. We may be moving in time through the events of the crucifixion and resurrection, but the time we keep in the beautiful liturgy of Holy Week is strangely unstable. It goes forward and backward at once. It pulls us along in both directions.
Nor is our location stable. We speak of the Resurrection as a new creation, and some speak of the entry into Jerusalem as a re-entry into the Garden of Eden. We say that the cross on which Jesus dies is the tree of life. We hear this week that we are experiencing a new Passover, crossing the Red Sea out of Egypt. Crossing the Jordan River into the Holy Land. Standing at the same time at that holy banquet in the New Jerusalem, at the Supper of the Lamb.
We mark a threshold, entering with our palms this morning, but it’s a threshold that brings us to the edge of all times, all places. Where Jesus is. At the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega.
Love calls us here. Love breaks us open, again and again, as we rush to the Last Supper from our workstations. Love opens our hearts as we carry home our palms this afternoon, finding a place for them on a high shelf that the cats can’t get to. As we stumble out into the dark night of Maundy Thursday, aware of Jesus in all the altars of repose all over the city and across the world. Knowing that our fellow Christians are silently keeping vigil with us.
We are offered the grace this week to let our world break open so there will be room for God who knows no limitations. God who is able to live a human life. God who is able to bear humiliation and rejection and failure. God who bears pain and death. God whose response is never to save himself but always to save us. Always to forgive us. Always to receive our least gesture of willingness as a pledge of relationship.
This week is our chance, awkward as we are, to meet that God in the person of Jesus. Our small gestures, our divided attention, our shyness about removing a shoe to have our feet washed, our hesitation as we approach the cross, our sleepiness as we sit in the dark church at the Easter vigil, hearing prophecy after prophecy after prophecy, that strange warming of our hearts as the resurrection is proclaimed--these are the moments God gives us for crossing over into new life in which our limitations are not the last word. Our sin is not the final reality. Our fear is not the force that rules the world.
Our times are in God’s hands, and this week of all weeks we may have the grace to know it. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. The beginning and the end.
Lift up, lift up your heads oh ye gates. Lift them up you everlasting doors, that the King of Glory may come in.
Preached by Mother Nora Johnson
Palm Sunday, 29 March 2015
Saint Mark's, Philadelphia