Sermon: Palm Sunday Year A, April 5, 2020
The Rev. Eileen Weglarz
Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:14-27:54
This year as we begin Holy Week, many of us can probably relate more than we ever have, to Jesus’ suffering as he makes his way to Jerusalem, and ultimately to the cross. Today we are with him as he makes his triumphal entrance into Jerusalem amid the loud Hosannas.
Thursday, we will participate in the Holy Eucharist, remembering his last Passover supper with his disciples, when he gives the bread and wine of Passover a whole new meaning, and it becomes Holy Sacrament—his very body and blood. This year we might relate to his Passion with much more depth of understanding, and with a more painful sense of his suffering, as he prays in the garden Thursday evening.
He knows what will befall him the next day. He is full of fear, anxiety, and dread. Fear, anxiety, and dread—the same emotions and terrifying thoughts we are dealing with right now. We try to live our lives victoriously and fruitfully as we separate ourselves from loved ones—from everyone for that matter. We are stuck at home. Most people can’t go to work. Many are losing income and can’t pay their bills. We can’t gather as the community of faith in our churches and receive communion.
We can’t visit our children or grandchildren, nor can they visit us. We can’t go to the gym, the movies, or the library. No meetings of social groups and benevolent associations. Society as we know it is at a standstill. Time is seemingly standing still. Some, the valiant men and women who are what we call essential services—health care workers, policemen, firemen, bank tellers, drug store, food market, and gas station employees—live in daily fear of contracting this coronavirus, Covid 19, as they put their lives on the line to keep the rest of us functioning at the most basic level.
Will I contract this deadly virus? If I do, will I live through it? What if my great-granddaughter gets it? My son? Heaven forbid my parents or grandparents get it! It’s so much worry and stress. Yes, perhaps more than ever, this year we can relate just a bit more to Jesus’ torment as he willingly rides into Jerusalem, knowing what befalls him there. And we will pray with him as he prays in the garden in torment Thursday evening, asking the Father to remove this cup of sacrifice and torture. Yes, we can relate a bit more than usual.
Oh God, help me! Oh God, protect us! We cry out as we do all we can to stay healthy. We listen to the daily updates from our state and federal government officials and medical teams, and we do our best to obey their instructions. And then we wait it out.
For Jesus, there were no instructions or enforced restrictions as to how he could prevent what was to come. No updates or paraphernalia to keep him safe. No actions at this point to avoid his fate. What Jesus had was faith in Almighty God, and in God’s ultimate purpose for him and for all humanity through him. This is what gave him courage to endure what was to come.
And then, the unbelievable, unimaginable happens! He defeats death! He rises to new life! And the faith he had to get through this most dreadful, disgusting, inhumane treatment, the most tortuous way to die—on a cross—this faith and God’s redeeming power bring about the impossible! The unbelievable! An event that made history and transformed the fate of every human being who believes in him for all eternity.
As we strive to work through this dread time in our nation’s history, and indeed, in the world, may we remember the faith that Jesus had to not only endure suffering and death. Psalm 31, which we read this morning, could have been prayed by Jesus himself. Seeing the virus as our enemy, it can also be our prayer to God. May we remember to give to God all of our angst, fear, and heaven forbid, disease if it should come to us.
May we be strengthened and emboldened to trust in God’s grace, healing, mercy, forgiveness, and Holy Spirit power to not only survive in these days we are in, but to reach out to others and be encouragers, prayer partners, and loving friends.
Throughout the years of my priesthood, I’ve learned something about a huge difference between feeling defeated and depressed, and feeling victorious or at least at peace. If we dwell on ourselves and all that is wrong with how the world or my family or how our friends treat us, or we dwell on what we are lacking or what we have lost or can’t do, we are miserable indeed. We fall into depression, and when we are depressed we cut ourselves off from those we love and those who love us. It is a downhill slide to misery.
But when we intentionally, with love, no matter how bad we ourselves feel, reach out to serve others, we receive as much emotional encouragement and “lift” as do those to whom we reach out. It’s the way God made us.
For example, if we see someone trying to pull a fast maneuver on the road, instead of getting mad and shaking our fists at him or her, but instead we give them space to get out of the jam they created for themselves and others, they receive a shot of feel good endorphins. The one who gives the favor receives a feel good shot of endorphin, and if someone on the sidewalk observes your good deed, he or she receives a shot of endorphin.
This is not an idea or theory. This phenomenon has been reported on by scientists who study the brain’s function and power. The person doing the act of grace can be in a depressed funk, but the action of doing good beyond what is expected is actually sending out healing and blessed spiritual blessing to themselves as well as to others.
I experimented with this and found it to be so. Granted this example is trite in comparison to what we are dealing with now, but it proves the point. In 2008 I moved to Mount Kisco, NY, Westchester County. Never in my life had I encountered such aggressive driving. Red lights and stop signs were suggestions in that area. The first six months I lived there my car was hit three times. I became afraid to get into the car. So I tried an experiment.
Every day when I pulled out of the rectory driveway, I vowed to spread healing and God’s loving spirit no matter what! Well, if you promise to do something good, you can be sure you will be tested. Like the guy in the left lane waiting to turn left, but when the light changed, instead he charged in front of me in the lane to turn right or go straight. I waited patiently and let him go. And I intentionally felt good—not angry or defensive.
For several weeks I did this, spreading generosity of spirit to whoever was being a jerk, or maybe some poor soul who simply made a mistake, the way we all do from time to time.. And guess what! My car was never hit again for the rest of the years I lived there.
Once I let the Holy Spirit give me the strength of love to give up the need to be angry at someone else’s wrong doing, I saw this same spirit in others on the road. After awhile, I was no longer afraid to drive in Westchester County. The practice I engaged was contagious!
Yes, coronavirus is contagious, horribly contagious! A driving mishap is no comparison, for the most part. But my friends, Love is contagious! Generosity is contagious! The power to heal by upholding each other in prayer is contagious! And you benefit first and foremost as you seemingly make a sacrifice for others. This is a very small call on our lives and can in no way compare to what Jesus did for us. How can we not get out of ourselves and give ourselves to others at this time in our lives?
I propose a challenge for all of us. In this Holy Week, in our services, prayers, and readings for Holy Week, look for the ways that Jesus was sacrificial. In his loving action, in his refusal to react with hurt or anger, in his refusal to think only of himself, in his sacrificial love as he calls out from the Cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do!”
The benefit of Jesus’ sacrifice to all others? Much more than feel good hormones. The result from Jesus’ sacrifice in his life and in his death on the cross was Redemption and Eternal Life and Peace. The result for all of us? We do not have to endure the cross. We are called to simply follow his example of willingness to sacrifice for the good of others. Amen.