April 5, 2020
Scripture: Matthew 21:1-11
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’
Link to Video of Service: https://www.facebook.com/marylandpresbyterianchurch/videos/621166725103250/
Bruce Feiler was recently interviewed by Robin Young on Here and Now on NPR, describing how we can find new meaning and lives in the midst of this Pandemic. He describes how we are living through a Life Quake. A life quake as an experience where the bedrock truths we have built our lives upon, suddenly becomes unstable. These truths, our sense of security, our trust in institutions, the functions of government, social & healthcare institutions, suddenly are in flux.
There is the initial shock, then grief. But with life quakes, there is a chance to re-prioritize. There are parts of who we are, tasks we do, work, relationships, maybe guilt or self-criticism that we discover we can set down. We enter a period of time where we need to shed what no longer works.
Bruce Feiler shares, from his own experience with surviving cancer, and from hundreds of interviews he has conducted while writing about these kinds of experiences, that after the shock, after we shed, there is a need for Sabbath, of having time where we can lay fallow, where we take stock of the time, energy, and resources we have, and wait. During this fallow time, he recommends that folks engage in rituals, to create meaning so that we can begin to rebuild our lives. It can be as simple as having dinner together as a family, or having time alone in nature, even religious rituals and observances. These rituals ground us so that we can begin to write a new narrative about our lives, now that we find ourselves in a new reality.
We’re having one hell of a life quake friends, aren’t we? Collectively, as families, individuals, our congregation, state, nation and world, the ground has moved and is continuing to move under us. And I don’t know about you, but I have been shedding like a Siberian husky who has relocated to the Florida Keys. Last week, when the Stay at Home order went into effect, I found that it was incredibly easy for our elders and me to quickly change our plans for worship today and Easter. I was disappointed about not doing drive in services, but also, in the past few weeks I’ve become pretty comfortable with changing everything in a moment. I’ve also found that I’m learning to be gracious to myself, and let go of what I no longer need to carry. I’ve shared with you all in the past that I always want to get in A in whatever it is I’m doing, but these past few weeks, I’m discovering that there is grace is doing work that is “good enough.” I’m realizing how true it is that we need to rely on one another, and that it’s not all up to me. These truths have a new foundational feel to them during these changing times.
I have felt myself making space for our new reality, while not knowing what it will be. Some folks are sharing that they suddenly have a lot of free time with all the cancelations that have happened, and I’m envious honestly. I’d love to get to a place of feeling bored, and I know I’m not the only one. Hey Leigh, do you feel like you’ve suddenly got a lot of free time? Eric, how’s your writing workload going? It’s been wild for those of us with children at home. I’ve seen many of you have to take on new responsibilities and tasks, from adapting to caring for dying parents without being able to visit them in their nursing home, to learning new technologies to stay connected to the people you love, and to do the community work you engage in to move the world towards God’s dreams. Teachers, how’s it going learning how to teach remotely? Our Financial services workers…it’s just been eating bon-bons, right?
No! It’s been wild. I didn’t think it was possible for many of us to work more, but here we are. And yet…I wonder if it’s possible for a sabbatical for those of us who have been stretched to new limits. There is a slowing down that just might be starting to creep in. I pray for us all that we can have a time of shedding what no longer serves us, of making some space in our lives for us to lay fallow. That’s when ritual and creation can begin for us. For many of you who are retired, you’ve got a jump on those of us who have been running around like wild. Ritual can ground us so that new creations can begin to emerge, sinking roots into even deeper foundations, now that the ground under our lives has turned into sand.
Jesus, his disciples, and the people of Jerusalem have their fair share of life quakes. The foundations their lives have been built upon don’t feel as stable as they once did. The institution of the Temple has been shaken by the Roman Empire’s insistence that the leaders be accountable to them. What once was an independent and central part of people’s lives is now being influenced by those outside of the tradition. There was a budding movement of Rabbi’s, from outside of the temple authorities, who have begun to look at what else could be foundational to the lives of the Jewish people. While religious observances at the Temple were still seen as important, folks were seeing the emergence of local synagogues, local communities, encountering God through the Torah, and shaping their daily lives through encounters with God’s Spirit closer to home. And there was a sense that God was about to do something new in the midst of all this unease. And folks have had time to reflect, and decide for themselves what they want to build new lives upon. So when Jesus and his followers realize it’s time to head into Jerusalem, they are entering a creative moment that even they can’t predict. Our scripture passage doesn’t share whose idea it was, but an old tradition, a ritual, emerges in a new way. At the beginning of the month, and at times of celebration, there is a prayer that is lifted up to God, using the word Hosanna. It’s a cry out to God to save us. It feels right for this prayer to ring out as Jesus enters the Holy City. Save us God! Come Messiah. This old tradition suddenly speaks a new truth in this context. Then, someone has the idea to run to a tree and cut off some branches, to wave palms, and lay them down on the street with folk’s cloaks, as Jesus’ parade makes its way in. This was a Roman symbol, the branches and cloaks, to glorify Roman military heroes. Here was Jesus, being seen as having conquered the Roman occupiers. And while a Roman general would ride a white war horse, here’s Jesus on a lowly work animal. The effect was stunning; the people are crying out for God to save them, not through the systems of violence and capitol and military might, but through the subversive power of God’s Spirit, that is reminding the Empire, hey, you’re on shifting sand too. Your power is not forever or ultimate. God is up to something new.
Beloved, we are entering Holy Week, as we approach Easter. Our old traditions suddenly are in a very new context. I wonder how sitting at home with a meal this Maundy Thursday, when we remember Jesus’ call to love one another, will feel different this year, what new truth might emerge with all of us at our own tables, realizing that it is Jesus’ table as well. I’d invite you this week to make space in your life, to let go of the markets demands on your time, the expectations that you now be a teacher, as well as a parent, and just let yourself have some space to encounter this ritual in a new way. What if we allow ourselves to experience rest, just a little, this week, to make space for something new? Because when we do, the Holy Spirit has a way of bringing about new life.
When we closed our building a few weeks ago, I was filled with a deep grief. This past week, I packed up these supplies from our Church, lovingly wrapped up our communion plate and cups, and brought it all to our apartment. It felt odd to be leaving the building, suddenly empty of people. But while our building has been experiencing a Sabbath, something new has emerged. Leigh and I have been in conversation with a group of small church pastors, church planters, and Rabbi Ariana, supporting one another during this life quake. Our ministries have all shifted to being online, we are providing care for our people, but there has been space that has emerged, in our case physical space, for all of our congregations. Each of us in our small cohort are trained community organizers, and we know that when we are in a crisis, you need to reach out to your friends, care for one another, and listen to the people you already know well. And so we did, and we started to hear of people’s needs in new ways. We talked with folks who are living on the street, elderly neighbors who live independently, youth who live at the YES center who are experiencing homelessness, the adults who live in Woodbourne-McCabe, especially seniors. We quickly started to hear that there was a need that our food banks and meal distribution centers can’t meet; the need for fresh fruit and vegetables, toiletries, and groceries to be delivered to people who are under medical advisement not to leave their homes. For folks with compromised immune systems, or because of their age are at high risk from the effects of COVID-19, food banks and food distribution sites are not an option. We reached out to the Maryland Food Bank to see if they were hearing the same thing, and they shared that we were on to something. While our friends at the Assistance Center of Towson Churches and the CARES pantry are doing an incredible job of providing food for folks who can drive, or are in walking distance of their location, or can risk riding public transportation and while local food pantries like CARES are doing an incredible job, they are seeing an increasing need for new food banks to be established to deliver food. Suddenly, our social hall, where we gathered for hospitality after Worship, sitting unused, held new possibilities. So over the past few weeks, we’ve had a refrigerator arrive, and on Wednesday a thousand pounds of food will be delivered to our church. We are now an emergency location for the Maryland Food Bank. And youth and young adults from Rev. Emily Scott’s congregation, Dreams and Visions, will be gathering with protective gear, and being safely distanced, to create food bags that can be delivered to folks who cannot leave their homes. The Flanigan’s have offered to drive their truck and trailer, so that we can get food to those who need it. While we are gathering virtually at home, we are enabling over 200 individuals to get the food they need. Beloved, this is what God can do when we make space, when we engage in the rituals of listening to others, of being in relationship, while being distanced. The ground under us has shifted, but Jesus is showing up. Let us, this Palm Sunday, cry out with our ancestors who cried out Hosanna, SAVE US, on the path down from the mount of Olives, and up into the city of Jerusalem. Let us hear the voices of our neighbors crying out, and be in solidarity as our world turns upside down. And may we make space in our hearts, our homes, our minds, and even our empty church building to be a part of the Reign of God that is breaking into our world, with gentle revolutions of the new story we are writing together. Amen.