Sunday, April 13, 2014

Palm Sunday - Apr 13, 2014

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY 
Br. James Rostron, n/OHC
Year A - Palm Sunday - April 13, 2014

Isaiah 50:4-9a 
Matthew 21:1-11 
Jesus enters Jerusalem
And so today we begin Holy Week, the most sacred week of the Christian year. It is a
week of profound contrasts and great tension, for us, here and now in the present, just as it was for Jesus and his followers and the citizens of Jerusalem. The week begins with the triumphal and provocative entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, with a crowd of people laying their cloaks and palms before him, shouting “Hosanna!” Yet within days, Jesus is hanging, virtually abandoned, dead on a cross. A few days later, though, he is gloriously risen and the world knows that indeed he was, and is, God’s son. His deliberately humble entry on a donkey through an eastern gate into the city contrasts greatly with the grand and militaristic entry, on horses, that some say was made by Roman troops through a western gate on the same day. We see Jesus himself experiencing a wide range of emotions throughout the week, from dramatic anger at the money changers in the Temple on Monday, to a poignant and loving Passover meal on Thursday, to despair and doubt in the garden at Gethsemane early Friday morning. And most extreme of all, and really, I think, impossible for us to fathom, are, on the one hand, the wrenching agony Jesus must have felt being tortured and crucified, and, on the other hand, the ecstatic, otherworldly joy
of resurrection and union with God, the one he called Abba.

I find that this week can be quite overwhelming. I can try to make some meaningful sense
of the great swirl of political, social, and religious issues and events from Jesus’s day all mixed together with the theological, liturgical, and spiritual implications that reverberate into the present. But it’s almost as if Matthew’s description of turmoil in the city applies to my own mind, also. It’s difficult for me to know how I want to receive, and “be in,” this week. How do I balance the extreme sadness and joy of this week? How do I take in and process the stream of events of this week while avoiding sensory overload? The conclusion I’ve come to is that I don’t, I can’t. There is too much for the “planner, achiever” me to organize and interpret and understand. I am reminded of a practice I learned while studying engineering in college. When faced with a complex problem, go back to the beginning and walk through the sequence of fundamental concepts that leads up to the current scenario, no matter how rudimentary those steps seem and how well you think you know them.

So, as I’ve been thinking about the notion of going back to the beginning, I find myself
being drawn to a recent turning point in my life, the beginning of my monastic call. About seven years ago, while I was teaching high school in Washington, DC, I began to sense that some kind of big change was coming, and I was trying to figure out what that change might be. I was also getting deeply involved in parish life at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church. One aspect of that was participation in a very rich offering of adult formation classes on topics such as forgiveness, wisdom literature in the Bible, and forms of prayer. It was in that class on prayer that I learned, or perhaps finally understood, that prayer is more about listening than about talking. Now, I don’t believe that I hadn’t heard God before, but I did become a better listener. I learned to listen to God in prayer and in nature, in other people, and in events happening around me and in the world. Being a better listener ultimately brought me into this community at Holy Cross.

And now here, as I begin to absorb the wisdom of the Rule of St. Benedict, which, by the
way, begins with the word “listen,” I am becoming aware of an equally important practice, or state of being: humility. It is the starting point for a life in Christ. Humility means knowing and accepting and being true to who you are, good and bad, as a child of God and as a child of the earth, or humus. It means letting go of all falseness and pretense and defensiveness in order to be fully open to Christ. It means acknowledging your mistakes and knowing that you can’t save yourself; only Christ can do that. It means following God’s will for you, not your own will. Without humility, there is no room for Christ.

So, if I apply this principle to Holy Week it means I might try just to humbly listen. Good
things have already come from doing so, and perhaps they will again. This message echoes in the readings we heard today. Isaiah told us, “Morning by morning [the Lord God] wakens my ear ... to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear.” Matthew’s description of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the backs of a donkey and a colt quotes the prophet Zechariah: “Look, your king is approaching ... humble and riding on a donkey.” And Jesus himself speaks to us, too, through his actions. His humble ride on a donkey did not happen by chance. He arranged for the animals to be available, and he coordinated a password for them to be released. He prepared an entry into the city that would be a humble protest of Roman imperialism. He is reminding us of his own humble birth, on the road to poor parents, and then being raised in a dusty nowhere town, and earning a living as a skilled laborer.

This week is, in a way, a concentrated microcosm of Jesus’s life, and we are being
prompted in words and actions and symbols to listen to Christ’s message of justice and peace and to humbly walk in his way, even if it leads to suffering and death, but knowing that it ultimately leads to resurrected life. As the week unfolds then, my advice to myself, and to you if you think it might be helpful, is to try not to think too much, or expect too much, or plan too much, or be too overwhelmed. Simply be present. Lay palms on the road in front of Jesus, shouting “Hosanna!” Share a final meal with Jesus as he bids farewell and washes your feet. Sit with him for an hour in the garden late into the night. Stand by him in his suffering on the cross. Be greeted by him at the tomb on Sunday morning. Let these things happen, let them sink in, and let yourself respond. Let go of your own will and listen to God’s will for you. Accompany Jesus on his journey. There is indeed a lot going during these tumultuous eight days, but let us simply and humbly listen – and have a blessed Holy Week. Amen.

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