Sermon
April 8, 2001
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Luke 19:28-40
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount
of Olives, he sent two of the disciples,
saying, "Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will
find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it
here.
If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' just say this, 'The Lord
needs it.' "
So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them.
As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying
the colt?"
They said, "The Lord needs it."
Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the
colt, they set Jesus on it.
As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.
As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the
whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud
voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen,
saying, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in
heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!"
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your
disciples to stop."
He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout
out." (NRSV)

Philippians 2:5-11
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
  who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
  but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human
likeness. And being found in human form,
  he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even
death on a cross.
  Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above
every name,
  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on
earth and under the earth,
  and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory
of God the Father. (NRSV)

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Sermon

I would like you to imagine something with me for a minute.  Let's suppose
that we are making a movie about the Savior of the world.  How would it be
if the events we celebrate today became the climatic last scene of our film.
Let's edit this Gospel narrative and make Palm Sunday the end of our story,
the last scene of the movie, the final word on the word made flesh.

Here comes the unexpected Jewish messiah, riding into the Holy City of his
people on a donkey, and the people recognize him and welcome him and honor
him and crown him as King of Kings, and from there his fame as a healer and
a teacher spread until all the world, Gentile and Jew, recognize him as the
revelation of the heart of God in the soul of humanity.

Then the words of the prophet Zechariah would be fulfilled:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

There might be a little footnote to our film: We'd show how the course of
history was forever altered for the good by this moment; how humanity turned
from division and greed and self-exaltation and embraced this example of
humble service, forgiveness, and reconciliation.  We'd show how Jesus lived
many years as a revered saint and scholar in Jerusalem until one day he is
seen no more; he is simply gone, vanished, taken from sight by the power of
God into the heavenly realm where he awaits his spiritual sons and daughters
to reward them with eternal life.

Why can't this day, the day of entry into Jerusalem, be the high point of
our story, the day of recognition, of revelation, of coronation, when all
people bend their knees before him and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

But, as God is my editor, that is not the way it is to be.  As we all know,
this is the not last scene of the drama, but just the opening scene of the
last act.  And it is a scene that serves not so much as a sign of what is to
come, but more as an ironic prelude, a contrasting context - for the hope it
raises makes the disappointment that will follow all the more tragic.

Against the background of the welcome of the crowds and the shouts of joy
and the waving of palms, we know that other scenes are yet to unfold: the
betrayal in the garden, the desertion of the disciples, the denial of his
most loyal follower, the isolation of his arrest, the injustice of his
trial, the humiliation of his torture, the suffering of his execution.

Today we are ready for the coronation, but God is not, for it seems we
cannot skip the cross.

Why in the world is the cross so important to this story?  Why didn't the
divine designer of all things simply snip it out of the show, and let Christ
reign without the pain, let Christ be crowed king without carrying the
cross?

I'm not sure that after 30 years of preaching Palm Sunday and Good Friday
and Easter morning sermons I still don't fell a little like Peter did the
first time Jesus let his disciples in on the secret of what was going to
become of him when they reached the end of their journey and entered
Jerusalem:

It happened in Caesarea Philippi , and let me refresh your memory of the
scene as it is recorded in the gospel of Mark
8:27-36 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea
Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I
am?" And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still
others, one of the prophets." He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah."  And he sternly ordered them not
to tell anyone about him. Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man
must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief
priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke
him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said,
"Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things
but on human things."

Pete, I'm with you!  You are the Messiah, Jesus, let us crown you king of
kings right here, right now.  Why go up to Jerusalem at all?  Why walk the
Via Dolorosa., the street of sorrow? Why the suffering? Why  the cross?
Why? Why? Why?
And suddenly, in the honest asking, something becomes clear.  The presence
of God did not enter into the world simply to be crowned its King, but to
enter into the all the "whys" of our existence?

Why do the innocent suffer?  Why does sickness strike those we love?  Why do
accidents put our loved ones in the grave?  Why do children threaten
children?  Why? Why? Why?

Perhaps there are no satisfactory answers to these questions, Why?  Answers
may be given, but answers do not lift the weight of sorrow off our
shoulders.  That weight is like the heaviness of a cross we must bear.  And
the cross that Jesus bore is not an answer to them either, but it is a sign
that God meets us in the questions, God is with us on the street of sorrow,
God does not betray or desert or abandon, but God remains God with us even
in the "whys" that weigh us down.

Perhaps the most important teachings of scripture cannot help us until the
moment we need them most.  I've heard that the Rabbis ask the question, Why
does scripture command us to write the words of the law on our hearts rather
than in our hearts?  And the answer is that so that when the heart is
broken, the words are there to enter in.

Palm Sunday and Easter, they may be fairly easy holy days to enter into -
the grand music, the symbols of brightness, new life, joy and triumph - but
between them are the other observances of Holy week with their stark symbols
and somber music.

On Maundy Thursday we recall the last supper, the new commandment (or
mandate, which in Latin brings us the word Maundy), the new commandment to
love one another as I have loved you, the prayer of agony in the garden and
then Jesus' betrayal and arrest.

On Good Friday we recall the terror of his crucifixion as he cries out: My
God, my God, why have you forsaken me; his death and burial.

These holy days do not lend themselves to easy comprehension.  Let's admit
it.  We are working with an ending to the story that is as much mystery as
resolution.  We go through this drama year after year and perhaps its
purpose and power remain unclear to us for quite a long time.

But then the moment may arise, and if we live long enough it surely will
arise, when the story and scenes speak to us.  We may never feel closer to
Christ than when we too are ready to say those words: My God, why have you
forsaken me; and, mysteriously enough, in speaking them we find God has
drawn near.

It is interesting to note that one of the first persons to acknowledge
Christ as King was the thief hanging next to him on his own cross.  The
thief was ready to grasp hold of the Gospel hope and confess Jesus as King
of Kings and Lord of Lords.

The thief on the cross cried out to the King on the cross:  "Jesus, remember
me when you come into your kingdom." And the King replied, "Truly I tell
you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

Do Lord, O do Lord, O do remember me.

There is another verse to that song we sang with the children this morning.
I didn't teach it to them because it's kind of an R-rated verse, meant for
adults who are ready to handle what it says.  It goes: If you can't bear no
crosses you can't wear no crown.

If you can't bear no crosses you can't wear no crown.

If you can't bear no crosses you can't wear no crown - Way beyond the blue.

Today would be a wonderful day for a coronation, a wonderful way to end the
story of God with us, acknowledged as King of Kings with waving palms at the
gate of the great city, embraced by the people as Savior, "Blessed is he
that comes in the name of the Lord," and followed as the Prince of Peace for
generation after generation.  But it was not to be.  Christ could not skip
the cross, and neither can we.  It is there we shall meet him and recognize
him and understand him and ask him: Lord, remember me when you come into
your kingdom.

Amen.