Palm Sunday. Cheering crowds waving palm branches. Cloaks tossed with abandon. Gates flung open wide. Jesus enters Jerusalem with great flourish and fanfare to begin the final week of his earthly life and ministry.
That's, at least, what I was planning to write about. And then the world stopped ... and everything changed.
One headline summed it up well: "The Week That Changed America." Now my mood and my thoughts are drifting away from the pomp and circumstance of Palm Sunday. They go back to a few days before Holy Week, when Jesus was on the Mount of Olives, looking out and mourning over the city he loved.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Matt. 23:37-39)
Along with prophesying what was to come, Jesus is also showing us how to grieve. As St. Paul writes, "we grieve, but not as those who have no hope" (1 Thess. 4:13). Jesus knows what is coming. He knows that soon after he enters the city to loud cheers and hosannas, he will be arrested, tried, beaten, and crucified. He knows that God's wrath will be poured out on him at the cross because of humanity’s rebellion and unbelief. He knows that the beautiful temple and the great city of Jerusalem will be destroyed by the Romans a generation later.
Jesus knows all this, but…
there is still calm in the chaos;
there is still peace in the storm;
there is still an abundance of hope.
Jesus is still the Lord. He has come to save his people from their sins. So when Jesus enters the city on Palm Sunday, even in the midst of the cacophony and confusion, there are still those people who will have faith. The widow who gave all that she had at the temple. Mary Magdalene and the other women who followed Jesus. The thief on the cross next to him who was promised paradise. His mother Mary and his disciple John who grieved and suffered with him as he finally breathed his last. A Roman centurion (of all people!) who proclaimed that this man truly was the Son of God. Even two Pharisees named Joseph and Nicodemus who took his body and wrapped it for burial. Despite everything, they still believed.
Indeed, there is always a remnant of those who believe. And that means there is always hope.
In the midst of our grief and sorrow, there are times when words fail us. When they do, we know that God has given us words that will never fail us. He’s graciously given us his words of hope and comfort from the Psalms.
Words such as these from Psalm 13: “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’ and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.”
Or words such as these from Psalm 91: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, 'He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.' Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday ... ‘Because he loves me’, says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
Through words such as these, and from all over the Psalms, God renews our hope and fills us with comfort.
Yes, of course, this current crisis is jarring and upsetting for our country and the world. This is a time to step back, to consider our priorities, to listen and pray, and to put our faith and trust in Christ alone.
We are preparing not only for the week that changed America, but for the Holy Week that changed the world.
As we grieve with Jesus, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Even though we were not able to gather as congregations for worship on Palm Sunday, Jesus still comes to us humbly and gently with his word and promise. "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." Amen.