Mass and Sermon for Palm Sunday 2020
Sermon begins at 23:50
I imagine that many of you are probably over this by now. I’m not even sure what week we are in anymore of this crisis and all of this social distancing, but it is getting old and we all know we have much further to go before this is over.
Maybe you used to think: oh how easy and great it would be to work from home all the time! How nice to just roll out of bed in sweatpants, grab your coffee and go to work. No need to shave, no trains, no commuting…just doing whatever it is you do in the comfort of your own home. Once upon a time that may have seemed like a dream situation to you, but now that that is what so many are being forced to do, it may not look quite as much like easy street as it once did. I think by now we have rubbed the shine off that dream.
This stay at home life, may not be quite as easy as we once imagined. You start to miss things. Like hugs. Or chance encounters with strangers. Or the random sights and smells you get walking through the city. Maybe you miss seeing people’s faces now that so many are covered up by masks. Maybe you miss your routine or your coworkers. This way of life that we thought would be easy, turns out to be not so easy after all. It’s hard.
Comfort and convenience can be false friends, they lure us in with the promise of rest and peace, but in the long run, do they ever really deliver on that promise? Pragmatism is a very appealing idea: just do whatever works; take the path of least resistance; achieve your goal by whatever means necessary.
If you think back to the beginning of Lent, what seems like a year ago at this point because so much has changed, but if you remember the first Sunday in Lent then you will remember that Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert, and what was Jesus tempted to do: he was tempted to take the easy way. Turn stones into bread to satisfy your hunger; throw yourself off the temple to demonstrate your power; worship me to take control of the world. Three times Jesus was tempted to take the easy way and three times he chose the harder path. I say three times, but that was just the temptation in the desert, the truth is that throughout his life Jesus was continually tempted to take the easy path and time and time again he chose to do what was hard.
Jesus didn’t have to go to Jerusalem. He had a nice life in Galilee. He had a thriving ministry; Galilee is beautiful, plenty of fish, plenty of followers to fund his ministry. Why would he go to Jerusalem? Jerusalem was always dangerous. It has always been a center of conflict. Why should Jesus take that risk?
When he got to Jerusalem and the crowds welcomed him as the messiah, he could have armed them and mobilized them to fight the Romans. They would have done anything he asked. It would have been so easy. Why didn’t he give them weapons to fight the oppression? Why did he go out of his way to annoy the temple authorities? Wouldn’t it have been easier just to work with them against their common enemy?
If Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him, then why didn’t he just stop him? It would have been so easy. When Pilate asked Jesus to defend himself, why didn’t he speak up? Pilate had no love for the Jews. He was not allied with the Temple police; he wasn’t even friends with Herod at this point. All Jesus had to do was say a few simple words and he would have been free…it would have been so easy. But he said almost nothing. No defense.
Every step of the way there was an easier path Jesus could have taken, and every time he chose the harder way. That’s a clue you know that there is something special about this man. Look at all the other characters in this story: How many of them chose to take the hard path? Not many. The disciples didn’t want Jesus to go to Jerusalem, they knew he would get arrested. Peter was happy to claim Jesus as the messiah, but he didn’t want to see Jesus get killed, much less carry a cross of his own. When it came down to taking the risk of even claiming that he knew Jesus, Peter found that too hard. So much easier to lie, so much easier just to deny him.
Judas? All it took was a few pieces of silver to get him to chose the easy way of betraying his friend.
Pilate? He could have followed his conscience. He could have listened to his wife. But then, there might be a riot. So much easier to just give the crowd what they want.
What about the crowd? There must have been some people in the crowd that were still hanging on to their affection for Jesus that they had proclaimed with shouts and palm branches just a few days before. Surely there must have been some people there that would have chosen Jesus over Barabbas. But when the shouting started, maybe it was just easier to go along with those shouting the loudest. Why rock the boat? Just let these agitators have the man they want and they will be appeased. After all, it’s just one life for the sake of the many, right? So much easier to just go along with the crowd.
The soldiers? They had a hard job. They had orders to follow to kill this man. They could have chosen to give him dignity in his death, but that would just make their jobs that much harder. So much easier to humiliate him, that way killing him won’t seem so inhuman.
The disciples could have chosen to stand by their man, but most of them didn’t. Too hard to watch him die, too hard to admit that they had been followers of this man now condemned to die on a cross.
And you know, it would be easy to sit or stand in judgement against all these characters in this story, but the truth is, most of us would have probably made the same decisions they did. Because most of the time, that’s what we humans do. We choose the easy way. We choose comfort and convenience. We choose what is expedient over what is right. We do it all the time, everyday. The gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, Jesus said, and there are many who take it. The road is hard that leads to life.
In then end the only ones that were able to follow Jesus all the way to the cross and do the hard thing of witnessing his death, were a few women. What gave them the strength to choose the hard path when so many others found it so irresistible to take the easy road?
Well, I think it was the same power that led Jesus to take the hard path every step of the way: love.
It was love that kept those women at the foot of the cross. It was a love that was so deep that they could not turn away from his suffering and pain, no matter how hard it was. It wasn’t greeting card, gushy romantic love. I’m not talking about love as the emotion that makes us feel good; I’m talking about the kind of love that makes us heart sick. I’m talking about love that makes us stare death and suffering in the face. Love that will not let me go. Love that causes people to do unimaginably hard things. That kind of love is what kept those women at the foot of the cross when so many others found it easier to turn away.
And it was that kind of love that led Jesus to walk the hard way of the cross from the very beginning. It would have been so easy for God to just turn away from humans. God could have just said: well, they screwed it up, let them suffer. Let them work it out. Doesn’t matter to me, I’m eternal. They can’t do anything to me. God could have just walked away from this sinful race, but that isn’t what we believe. He doesn’t do that, but choses to do something supremely hard. He chooses to suffer and die as one of us. Why does he do that? What was so powerful that he willingly choose the cross? Love. It was love that led God to choose the hard path.
We have a long road ahead of us, and I’m not just talking about this crisis we are all living in, I’m talking about life in general. There is a long road ahead of us, and as we go down it there are going to signs all along the way, everyday that say bypass, and detour, the easy way is this way. Don’t be fooled. Ease and comfort aren’t all they are cracked up to be. You might enjoy it for a minute, but that kind of joy doesn’t last. It’s the hard road that leads to life.