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Palm Sunday and Holy Week: “Your Kingdom Come”

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  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 fulfill 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.’    Matthew 21:1-11

Your kingdom come, we pray.   We pray this often.  Sometimes we think about it when we pray it; other times we just say the words.  But every time we pray it, we pray to God,  “God, we ask and hope that your rule and your power come—into our world, into each of our lives.”   Today’s time of worship is like so many worship times, when much of our worship is dedicated to this petition, “your kingdom come” and dedicated to a lot of the propositions that come along with that petition.   There’s the proposition and the hope that God’s kingdom will come in ways that bring good, meaningful and lasting changes in our lives and in our world.   We know that we live in a time when there is a lot of wounding that is being inflicted; wounding of our planet, wounding of people caught up in war and wounding of people caught up in poverty.  There is a woundedness that we find even in our own lives and in our relationships with one another.  Yet we’re also aware,  deep down,  that life is also an extremely beautiful proposition, that the Creation we’re part of, is powerfully beautiful.  We thrive in that beauty, whether it’s the majestic summit reached by climbing a mountain peak, or the majestic summit reached by an orchestra and choir joining together to carry an audience on the ascent of Handel’s Messiah.

There’s the striking beauty of a Colorado mountain sunset, and there’s the equally striking beauty found in the face of a baby smiling up at you.   We strive for beauty, for peace, for justice, for joy, for happiness, for light in all its rainbow colors.  But we’re also caught in an existence where these things are too often in short supply.  The color and joy of our Christmas celebrations soon give way to the reality that there’s a dead tree in the living room that needs to be taken down and taken out to the curb because it has become a fire hazard.   The beautiful newborn baby resting peacefully in the hospital maternity ward may soon be sent home with parents who can’t seem to solve their own problems.  The child will be raised in a society that can’t seem to solve its problems, no matter how hard it tries, and no matter how hard it tries to deny them.  If we do this…. if we achieve this…. if we change this…. if we locate the problem, isolate it and resolve it….then we’ll be fine.  One of the best days seen by people in my parents’ generation was the day the United States dropped the second of two atomic bombs on Japan.  That day and that bomb brought a quick end to the Second World War, and for a while it seemed that the people of the world would be headed in a much better direction once they rebuilt from the ravages of that war.   Yet we entered this new century with a few additional wars under our belts; the beginning of the new millennium became indelibly marked by the airplanes-turned-to-bombs that were dropped on us.

As I think of all the history that has unfolded since VJ Day in 1945;  as I think about the history that we’ve lived out since 9-11; as I think about the different ways our lives are framed by light and shadow; and as I ponder our overall condition as human beings who can both plant and poison; I find myself zeroing in on scenes in my own life that seem to best sum up our situation.   There’s the scene in the hospital birth room in Austin, just before 5 o’clock in the morning, and I’m staring at the miracle that is my newborn daughter; in that moment I can already feel my life changing through the power of this immense love I felt for her, a love I didn’t know I had.  This new life was a life that had come from me and through me, and that new life was to be treasured and nurtured.  That experience led me to a greater awareness that other children are special treasures and that each of us is a valued person and that we’re all part of a larger human family.  Since that hospital room moment when I looked upon the pink little face of my newborn daughter, I’ve wondered about the feelings that God experiences for everything and everyone given birth in the Creation.  But there is a shadow side too.  I’ve also wondered about the ways in which I’ve de-valued people through my own biases and insecurities, whether I knew it or not.

Another scene took place in a small town at the home of a member of the church I was pastoring.  We were talking about the events of the day, and he updated me on recent events surrounding one of the town’s children who had grown up and moved away, and then had recently come back to town as a grown up to attend her mother’s funeral.  The daughter had come back to her mother’s home, and in settling her affairs, decided that she really liked that little town and would like to keep the house as her own, and settle down to make a life.  There was just one hitch.  It seemed this woman had moved out to California and had struck up a relationship with another woman, and she had brought her partner along with her.  Well, he said, it took about six weeks before they put the house on the market and moved back to California, where that sort of lifestyle is permitted.  She found out that we just don’t tolerate things like that around here, he said, rocking back in his recliner.  And he said it with a certain degree of what I’d call community pride.

The next scene is at a large funeral home in Milwaukee.   It was the day of the funeral for a 94-year-old woman who had died after a long illness.  Her body had been prepared for the ceremony and placed in an expensive casket, opened for viewing.  Everyone came to look upon the person they knew as Grammy for one last time.  The body had been dressed and made up so well that Grammy looked like she was just taking a nap.  The track lights over the coffin had a flesh-colored tint, enhancing the effect.

But finally the service was over, the casket was closed over the body and then wheeled out to the hearse, with the family processing behind.  And that’s when a little 6-year-old  girl, her stuffed animal in tow, was overcome by the powerful forces at work that day.   Why did they close the box on Grammy?  Where are they taking her?  When is she coming back?  A couple of the adults stopped to kneel down and do their best to console this little girl who was just beginning to experience the traumatic separation that only death can bring.

That brings us to the scene that played out some 2000 years ago, on the other side of the world; the somewhat bizarre scene of the itinerant preacher and teacher from Galilee riding into Jerusalem to begin Passover week.  He rode into a powder keg of expectations that a Messiah would soon come to rescue the Judeans from the yoke of Roman occupation.  The hope for an apocalyptic battle between good and evil was so thick you could almost cut it with an assassin’s knife.  Hosanna!  Save us!  Unleash the heavenly hosts and nuke the Romans!  And drop one on the Egyptians while you’re at it!    Bring us the kingdom, Jesus, and bring it soon!

They probably didn’t know it, but their prayers had been answered, just not with the answers they expected.  The one foretold by the prophets had indeed arrived and was approaching the nexus of power—religious, political and economic– found in the Jewish temple and in the Roman Governor’s palace.

We remember that as Jesus entered Jerusalem, so also lambs were being brought in by the hundreds for the ritual Passover meal coming later that week.  We remember that Jesus didn’t come as the warrior son of David, attempting to reclaim the throne with sword and chariot.  Instead he fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah, who foretold a king who would come to bring peace into the world and to banish the war-horse.   In a way he also was fulfilling his own prophecy, given in the Beatitudes at the outset of his ministry: Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.   Jesus did ride into Jerusalem as a conqueror, but it would take a while for people to see the victory he won and the true oppressors he defeated.  As I think about it, here we are some 2 millennia later and we’re still looking through a darkened glass, unable to fully realize the victory Jesus won against the destructive forces at work in our world and in our lives. The Gospel played out in Holy Week once again reveals the battle engaged by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to set us free to be the people God created us to become.    Your kingdom come, we pray.  And yes, it does come.  In humility and love, it comes.  Often it comes in ways as surprising as the sight of an intenerate country preacher riding a little donkey up the road to Jerusalem.  As we move through Holy week might we take time to consider the surprising, peaceful and just ways God continues to bring in the kingdom we pray for, the kingdom ruled by the little donkey’s rider.

Your kingdom come, O Lord.

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