Monday, May 9, 2011

Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion, Year A, April 17, 2011

Matthew 26:14--27:66
Preached by Rev. jason Haddox

“Woe to the one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

In a moment of utter despair, George Bailey, the protagonist in Frank Capra’s movie It’s A Wonderful Life, wishes just that thing—that he had never been born. And his prayer is heard and answered. He is allowed the privilege of seeing his hometown as it would have been if he had never existed. And it is a dreadful sight.

His brother Harry is dead—because George was not there to rescue him when he fell through thin ice, out skating one winter day. His mother is living in poverty and bitterness, widowed and utterly alone. His three children do not exist, for he himself was never born. The neighborhood of Bailey Park, a pleasant community of homes for hardworking families, is no home for anyone except the dead—it is a cemetery. “Potter’s Field”—a not-so-subtle allusion to another verse in the Passion narrative we have just heard.

To say, even in desperation, that “it would be better not to have been born” is a dreadful thing indeed.

But what if it had been so? What if Judas Iscariot had not been born, or not been around that day to do what he did?
What if Pontius Pilate had heeded the advice of his wife, and let Jesus go free?
What if the story had been different?

From the moment that Jesus prays in the garden, with the disciples sleeping in the background, “Father…your will be done,” it is all already finished. There is ironic truth in the taunt later, “He saved others; he cannot save himself.” The drama that has been set in motion will be played out to its appointed end. It will not—it cannot—be otherwise.

We move from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify” with terrible swiftness—it cannot be otherwise, for we are fickle, we human beings. Idolatry is our natural condition, and the higher the pedestals we place beneath our idols, the farther and more swiftly they fall when we find our own plans and agendas disappointed or confounded.

We hope, as Christians, as followers of Jesus, that we would have done otherwise. We would like to imagine that we would, at least, have been there with Mary and Magdelena and Mrs. Zebedee, with Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus, to watch and wait—and not to run away. Perhaps we would have. Perhaps.

All that they—and we—can do now is watch, and wait, and keep faith by so doing.

Watching and waiting leads to perception. And although perception is closely linked to reality, it is not necessarily the same thing. What we perceive is our working reality, but there is often more to it than just our perception at a given moment.

Jesus groans from the cross, “My God…why have you forsaken me?” He speaks from what he feels—ultimate abandonment and betrayal.
But the story does not end there.

Mary and Magdelena and Mrs. Zebedee sit near the place of burial, as Joseph and Nicodemus heave the stone into place across the mouth of the tomb, shrouding themselves in loss and grief and sorrow.
But the story does not end there.

The disciples are hiding, behind locked doors, in fear and despair and shame. Perhaps feeling that it would have been better if they themselves had never been born.
But the story does not end there either.

Abandonment, grief, shame and despair, fear of loss and loss itself—all these things, and more—Jesus and his followers knew, in all their fullness and terror.
But the story does not end there.

Come back again, and see—for there is more. Even in the very heart of despair and grief and death itself, God is doing a new thing. Wait, and watch; come, and see…

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