Tag Archives: Holy Week

We finally understand the Hosannas

GOSPEL: Matthew 21:1-11

…8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, 

 “Hosanna to the Son of David!… (Read the whole passage)

There is something somewhat alien about the gospel lesson today. 

Crowds. Big gatherings of people. Mobs and masses lining the road that leads into the Jerusalem. People touching each other, jostling for a better view, putting their clothes down on the road. Our COVID-19 captivity is only a few weeks old, but this scene from the triumphal entry does not match the world that we know. 

I am still preaching to a camera in an empty building. You are all not sitting in your normal pew, but gathered around screens big and small to worship. And people closer to home are joining us for worship from across the country and across international boarders. 

And likely none of us have seen a group of people standing close together if we have seen a group at all. 

Today we enter into Holy Week, the most important week of our liturgical year and in our life of faith as the Body of Christ. It is also one of the most ritualized times for the church. We usually gather with palm branches and process into the sanctuary, and we hear the passion story from Matthew to begin our Holy Week observance. On Thursday we usually gather to remember the Last Supper by sharing meal together. On Good Friday we usually go to Golgatha with the same hymns and readings each year. And on Sunday, we usually welcome the news of the risen Christ with the same easter breakfasts, sunrises services, trumpets and celebratory Easter hymns that we have sung for lifetime. 

Except it won’t exactly be like that this year. 

This year we will do some of those things, adapt others, and postpone more until we can meet again in person. 

Yet, despite out isolation and our inability to congregate, despite the lack of crowds, there is also something about Palm Sunday that is more familiar and understood than ever before. 

I think today we get the Hosannas. 

So often we mistake the Hosannas for Alleluias. Exclamations of Praise and Thanksgiving. But Hosanna does not mean “praise the Lord” or something similar. Hosanna instead means something very different. 

Hosanna means save now. 

Salvation Now. 

Save me now. 

Hosanna. 

And doesn’t that change the whole moment?

Crowds lining the road, calling out to the one riding into Jerusalem, and asking for, begging for salvation. Hoping that this Messiah, this saviour is the one who will come and fix their problems, end their troubles, defeat their enemies, take away their helplessness. 

Even as we are relegated to our homes, to physical distancing and isolation, we know what it is like to cry out next to our neighbour for healing, hope or salvation. We have been crying Hosanna online, in emails, in phone calls and texts. Crying Hosanna because we feel helpless, because the thing that we have been told to do fight this pandemic is nothing. Stay home, stay small, pull back from regular life. A helpless, small feeling indeed. 

Before this pandemic moment, I had always assumed that everyone lining that road into the city knew what each other meant. It always seemed that those crowds were asking for salvation from the same thing. 

But if there is anything that the anxiety, worry, fear and uncertainty that this COVID-19 global health pandemic has revealed, it is that we can all be calling for salvation at the same time, while having very different and varied ideas about salvation means and looks like. 

In fact, the thing that brings us together, that probably brought those crowds together on that road, is the collective action of calling out as one body. Even as what salvation looks like for each voice may mean very different things.

In a helpless situation – COVID-19 today, oppression by a foreign and powerful empire 2000 years ago – we all search for something to hold on to, something that we can do to stop feeling helpless, something that gives us even the smallest sense of control. 

For us these days, it is calling for masks, finding loopholes to leave our homes, demanding the government act to protect jobs and businesses and economic sectors. 

For more COVID-19 testing, for more data and projections, for closing borders. 

For keeping borders open, for more health care staff and beds, for places other than hospitals for COVID-19 patients to be sent to. 

For flights home for Canadians abroad, exceptions to disembark quarantined cruise ships, exceptions to visit the elderly in care home.  

For closures, lock downs and shelter-at-home orders to keep everyone everywhere physically distanced. 

And on and on and on. 

We are all crying out for something, all shouting Hosanna these days. But Hosanna from or for what? Well, that depends on who you ask. 

And those crowds with palm branches lining the road into Jerusalem had equally chaotic and contradictory reasons to shout Hosanna, expecting salvation for different reasons and to come in different ways. 

So today, we get the Hosannas maybe more than we ever have before. We get something now that most people throughout history understood and felt every day of their lives… that the world is more dangerous and more precarious place than we have known for the past 70 years in North America. 

A world were most people feel pretty helpless against the dangers of the world. 

And today, Jesus just rides a donkey right into the middle of it all. Jesus just rolls on in to the chaotic, unsafe, and terrifying world that God’s people seem to be living in, that we seem to have fallen into like a bad dream. 

Just as Jesus rolled up to the river Jordan. 

Was driven on into the desert.

Met Nicodemus in the middle of existential crisis. 

Strolled up to the Samaritan woman at the well. 

Happened upon the blindman. 

Walked the road to Bethany with Mary, Martha and eventually Lazarus. 

Just like he has always done, today Jesus is entering straight into the middle of human messiness and suffering, chaos and loaded expectations, desperation and struggle, sin and death. 

Just just rides right into the middle of it, with a mob wanting him to fix it. Fix it all. 

Hosanna – save now. 

And Jesus heads right on in to do that. 

Right to the middle of the pandemic of sin and death. Right to the middle of the mobs demanding action from the leaders and rulers, right to the leaders and rulers brushing their problems under the carpet or on to the cross. 

Just heads right on in. 

Even as we brace ourselves for the worst weeks of this crisis ahead of us. 

Jesus is riding right into the middle of our pandemic. 

Jesus is crossing borders in trucks loaded down with much needed medical supplies and equipment. 

Jesus is standing at grocery store check outs for hours on end, even as angry customers refuse to physical distance properly.

Jesus is teaching students from virtual classrooms, meeting with patients over the phone, giving concerts on Facebook live, taping messages of hope to windows, ringing bells at shift change. 

Jesus is rolling into a quarantined hospital rooms with a reused N95 mask on.  

Jesus is keeping vigil in an outbreak ridden personal care home. 

Jesus sitting at the bedside of the dying, when no one else is allowed to be present. 

Jesus is heading into the middle of pandemic and chaos, straight to betrayal, arrest and trial. 

And Jesus is on his way to the cross. 

To the thing that no one had in mind when they cried Hosanna. That none of us has in mind when we cry Hosanna. 

No one but God. 

And there in the middle of our Hosannas, Jesus will confront the thing that fuels all our fears, the thing that puts us one edge, the thing that we are utterly helpless to prevent. 

Death. 

Jesus takes our Hosannas right to death. 

And the thing that we fear, the thing that is underneath all our varied Hosannas. 

Well Jesus will deal with that thing.

Jesus will confront and transform death into something new. 

Something unexpected. 

Something found in empty tombs, in upper rooms, and long walks between cities. 

Something that that we cannot see yet from Palm Sundays on crowded streets, or crowded Facebook pages and live streams.

Jesus will transform death itself into the answer for our Hosannas.

Jesus is riding into the middle of Jerusalem, into the middle of pandemic, right into death itself.

And will bring our Hosannas and us with him.

And will bring all of it and us to new life. 

* This sermon was prepared in collaboration with my partner in life, ministry, and parenting, The Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker

Hearing the Holy Week story anew… again.

GOSPEL: Mark 14:1–15:47 (Read the whole passion text here)

 

Today, we enter into Holy Week.

We step out of the wilderness into the chaos.

Don’t mistake the palms for some kind of party or excuse to celebrate. This is the tension filled moment of at the beginning of a thriller. Every detail, every action, every face in the story should be sign that things are not as they seem. This coronation moment on the road in the Holy City will not last, the crowds will not see the one riding a donkey as a king who will save for much longer.

Humanity puts Christ on the throne today…. a human throne of power.

But the throne at the end of the week, the throne of suffering and death is where Christ will end up is the opposite moment of today.

Today, we begin the story. The story we have told so many times, the story that has been imprinted on our foreheads in baptism, the story that our bodies take in when we eat of the bread and drink of the cup… this story is one that we cannot help but tell. A story told each Sunday in the words of scripture, in our worship, in our gathering as a community.

And yet, this week, this passion week, this holy week, the story is told anew. The story of Christ’s passion and crucifixion is told as though we have not heard it before. It is told in old and ancient ways to new ears.

It is new because we still need salvation from sin and death, it is new because God continues to come into our world saving us from sin and death.

No, we do not relive the story, and Christ is not nailed to cross again and again… yet we continually die to sin. We die each day, deaths in a million small ways, the deaths of failures and brokenness, deaths because of the things we have done to ourselves and others, and the things others do to us.

The story is new because we keep experiencing death in this world.

But the story is also new because of what God is doing with us.

God keeps showing us the empty tomb. God keeps pulling up and out of the waters, breathing new air, a new spirit, a new life into our lungs.

The story is new because even with all the death in the world around us, God is meeting and confronting all those millions of ways we die. And God promising us resurrection, God is pulling us up out of the tomb.

The story is new, because God is making us new.

God is making us new creations in the risen one, in the Christ whose exit from the grave becomes our way out too.

So let us begin this week anew, this passion week, the holy week. Let us hear the story that we know so well as if it is new.

Because it is new.

Because God is making us new… again.

When the Old Thing was Finished

John 18:1-19:42

The journey to this moment, began with those first stories of Advent. The angels that told Mary and Joseph that they would have a son. We don’t think much about Good Friday while singing Christmas carols.

But we began to clue in to where Jesus was headed when he went down the mountain of transfiguration into the valley of Lent.

From temptation in the wilderness, to secret meetings with the Pharisee Nicodemus as night, to Jacob’s well and the woman who had had 5 husbands, to the blind man who didn’t know who had healed him, to Mary and Martha’s grief on the road to Bethany… as Jesus uncovered our fears and anxieties in intimate encounters week after week… there were signs, signs that something bigger than just our issues and personal sufferings was being confronted. Jesus was passing by the particularities of our humanity. Jesus passed by because he was headed somewhere else.

Jesus was going to contend with something much bigger, something that was not about us individually… but something that is about us collectively.

And by the time we stood with the crowds waving palm branches, singing “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”…singing “Save us now,  Son of David” there was no doubt that we would find ourselves here.

There was no doubt that the disciples would betray and deny him.
There was no doubt that the mobs would demand crucifixion
There was no doubt political and religious leaders would use the outrage for their own benefit.
There was no doubt that the empire would coldly and ruthlessly order execution.

There was no doubt that the place Jesus was going to was the cross.

We could see that today was where Jesus was going because Good Friday we have seen before.

We have seen the betrayals and denials of friends and family.
We watch the angry mobs crying out for vengeance on cable news.
We witness daily political and religious and business leaders use our outrage to turn a profit or gain a political win or entrench the power of religious institutions.
We see an empire that treats people coldly and ruthlessly even as we live and thrive because of that same empire.

We have no doubt that Jesus could end up on cross, because people like Jesus always do.

The ones who speak out.
The ones who risk themselves for others.
The ones who fight for goodness over self-benefit, justice over victory, compassion over power.
The ones who show warmth amidst coldness, who show love over ruthlessness.

We know today, we know Good Friday well, because in our world, there is also Good Monday, Good Tuesday, Good Wednesday and Thursday, Good Saturday, and Sunday.

Jesus’ journey to Good Friday is a common journey.

And it isn’t.

Because we remember the angels of Advent and Christmas, because we remember the voice of God thundering over the waters of Baptism and on the mountain of Transfiguration.

And then even though we have seen this story often enough, of betray and denial, of outraged mobs, and manipulative leaders, and cold uncaring Empires… beneath the cross we finally see the thing that Jesus has been pulling us towards all along.

The truth that Jesus tried to remind the tempter of.
The questions that Jesus explained to Nicodemus
The living water that Jesus gave to the woman at the well.
The sight that Jesus revealed to the blindman.
The buried  mercy that Jesus opened up for Martha, Mary and Lazarus.

Today Jesus reveals to us not another person doomed to die on a cross.

Today, Jesus reveals God, willing to die on a cross.

For us.

And thus begins the new thing that God is doing.

The new thing in oldest of stories.

In oh so common of human deaths for the sake our failing humanity, our sinfulness exposed in every way imaginable…. in the ultimate hubris, our belief if we just killed God we could be God.

God shows us life by dying.

Jesus shows us the beginning accomplished through the end.

Jesus shows us mercy given by a God who simply won’t be pushed away any longer.

Jesus shows us the love and grace that will be born, and live and pass by and come close and be just like us. How this love and grace ties humanity and all creation together on the cross.

Jesus shows us the completion of the journey where God does the thing that we have refused to do since Adam and Eve left the garden….

God joins the fallen to the divine, joins the sinful to the forgiven, joins the finite to the infinite, permanence of death to constant renewal of life.

Jesus shows us a God that dies just like us.

A God comes to us and finds us in every place we can possibly go, even in death.

So that we will live, and death will not be our end anymore.

No… we don’t think about Good Friday while we sing Christmas carols.

But God does.

The cross was where the incarnation, where God come in flesh, was going from the beginning.

The cross is the place where God was going to redeem creation all along.
The cross is the place and Good Friday is the day when the old thing – the power of sin and death –

When the old thing was finished.

And Jesus made all things new.

Why did Jesus have to die? – Why God didn’t kill Jesus on Good Friday

We are on the doorstep of Holy Week.

Clergy types will soon be setting out to write and preach sermons that somehow make sense of the passion story, from Triumphant Entry, to Last Supper, to Trial and Crucifixion and finally Resurrection.

Along the way, it will be important to say something about how the death of a wandering preacher, teacher and healer on a cross is the means of our salvation… and what exactly we are being saved from.

This is a tricky endeavour because the story of the passion doesn’t explain the reasons. Instead we are left to fill in the gaps, and Christians have been trying to make sense of Christ’s death since St. Paul was writing letters.

And so often on Good Friday, a strange and convoluted theory of the reasons for Christ’s death is presented… one that makes God seem merciless, if not plain incoherent.

Often, God is presented as the ultimate source of Christ’s condemnation, the one who kills Jesus on Good Friday.

And this is absurd.

It is my contention that Good Friday is the day of the most important facet of the Good News and it is not because God killed Jesus.

Satisfaction Atonement

One of the most common ways that Christians tend to explain the atonement is with Bishop Anselm’s satisfaction atonement theory. The cole’s notes version is that the punishment for human sin is our death. And the satisfaction, the making things right is Christ’s death (since he was without sin).

What is rarely stated is that Anselm used medieval legal practice to formulate his theory. In medieval law, a fine was the punishment for most crimes. Anselm saw then that death was the fine for sin. But that wasn’t the end of the matter. In order to compensate the victim, satisfaction was paid. An additional amount that would make things right.

Anselm figured that since death was the most human beings could pay, an additional payment to make satisfaction with God was needed. Christ’s death becomes the satisfaction for our sin.

Now, beyond the fact that his medieval legal system is flawed and very human like any other system, there are a number of problems with Anselm’s theory:

God requires blood in order to show mercy… which is not mercy.

God is bound by human laws… which means God isn’t free.

And finally God and Jesus split apart by the cross… which is trinitarian heresy.

Anselm’s atonement theory is certainly not the only one out there (Christus Victor/ Ransom theory, Moral influence theory, scapegoat theory etc…). But it shows a common problem that most explanations of what was going on on the cross seem to have – they undo the trinity.

The Cross and Trinity

For some reason preachers tend to get uncomfortable with God being too close to the cross of Good Friday. When I was a neophyte theology student, still two years from starting seminary I was asked to give a short reflection on Good Friday on one of the 7 last words of the cross. My words were “I thirst.” And I pontificated eloquently on how Jesus experienced the human condition fully on the cross. Sounds lovely. And I then expounded on how Jesus was fully separated from God, just like we were. Almost sounds legitimate… except for that whole trinity thing.

The doctrine of the trinity reminds us that the persons of the trinity are never separate because they are one God. They are distinct, but one. So the experiences of one are shared by all. The Father and the Son could not be separated, even on the cross.

And this the heart of the problem. We don’t like the idea of God suffering, the Father suffering. We would rather make God the killer than the sufferer.

But the Trinity necessitates that God the Father experienced the cross just as much the Son did. God was crucified and died on that cross.

So who killed God?

We did.

Humanity. Our religion. Our government. Our authorities. Our mobs.

Yes, I do think that God knew the cross was in store of Jesus even before that angel visited Mary to tell her she was pregnant.

But it was not because God was perversely and cruelly looking to punish someone for our sin. It is not because God needed blood to be merciful.

God knew the the cross was in store because God knew us. God knew that humanity couldn’t let God come close in the incarnation. God’s coming close threatened our godship. We cannot be god if God is God. We could not be god if Jesus is God.

And here is where the Good News of Good Friday meets us.

Even though God knew the consequence of incarnation – of coming close to creation, of coming in flesh – God followed through to the end. God was born, God lived, God died. God did all the human things. Good Friday was the completion. God declared that God is going to a part of all of created life. There is no part of human existence that would be apart from God.

So why did Jesus have to die? Because we said so.

And why do we get to live? Because God said so.

So this Holy Week, whether you are preaching or hearing the preaching, listen… listen for the good news of Good Friday.

Listen and know that it is not that God killed God’s son in order to show us mercy. The good news is never a demand for blood. That is sin.

The good news is that God chooses life. God chose to live. Chose to live all of created life, including death.

And because God lived it all, that whole resurrection thing that happens on Sunday becomes part of our story. Because God chose to live and die with us, we get to die and live with God.


What good news do you hear on Good Friday? Share in the comments, or on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

It is Friday – God’s Friday

It is Friday.

Today we live in Darkness. Today we sit and worship in the shadow of cross.

We have heard Christ’s story of passion.

We have heard of humanity’s betrayal.

We have heard of his suffering and death.

But we have not come to kill Jesus again.

We have not come to grieve and mourn his death again.

We are not reliving the crucifixion again,

We are not nailing Jesus to the cross again.

Today we remember.

We remember our part in the story.  Our shame and our pride.

We remember that when faced with God in flesh, when faced with God with us,

we put God to death.

We remember that humanity at its best, humanity’s finest minds, finest scholars, finest religious authorities, finest soldiers…. our best and finest understanding of the divine,

led us to kill God.

This is Good Friday.

It tells us who we are.

It tells us who try to be.

It tells us what happens when we try to be God in God’s place.

We are threatened by anything that would take away

our control

our power

our strength.

We couldn’t stand the idea of being able to see God face to face.

We couldn’t stand the idea of God telling us that we were wrong, that were are not God

We couldn’t stand the idea that we didn’t control what God wanted, what God said, what God did, what God thinks.

How could we not be in control?

We believe we are God,

we know what WE want,

what WE say,

what WE do,

what WE think.

So when we met God face to face,

When Jesus  healed, preached, taught, fed, exorcized demons and raised the dead to life

When Jesus let us see God, and that we are not God.

We plotted, planned, schemed and betrayed.

When we met God face to face,

We said no.

We used our greatest tool. Our strongest statement. Our godlike power.

Death. We put Jesus to death.

When God came to us face to face,

God said yes.

God took our greatest tool, our strongest statement, our godlike power

God accepted our death

And then God did what he had come to do.

And then God said what he had come to say.

And then God gave us his greatest tool, his greatest statement, his real godlike power.

God gave us himself.

God gave us his life.

God gives us New Life.

And the cross which stands so tall,

no longer stands for death.

The cross which stands so tall

now stands for life.

We tried to make the cross say no

But God has made it say yes.

We have tried to be like God

But God has come to be like us.

We tried to control God with death

But God will not be controlled

Life will not be controlled

Love will not be controlled

Forgiveness will not controlled

Grace will not be controlled.

God will not be controlled.

God has come to love us

God has come to forgive us

God has come to show us grace

God has come to give us life.

It is Friday.

It is Good Friday.

It is God’s Friday.