Matt 26: 14-27: 66; Palm Sun; 04092017
Perhaps you’ve heard the story about a mother mouse who felt it was time to introduce her children to the larger world. So, she gathered her brood of little mice together and set out for a walk through the house they lived in.
They scurried down the hall and made a turn to the right. They went down a little further and made another turn to the right. Then, quite by surprise, they came upon the family’s cat, dozing in the sunlight. The mother mouse was scared, but she didn’t give in to her fright. She crept forward ever so slowly. Just as she was about to get past the cat, however, the cat’s eyes popped open and she raised her paw. What would the mother mouse do?
Well, right before the cat’s paw came down, the mother mouse looked the cat right in the face and began barking like a dog. The cat was so frightened that it jumped to its feet and ran away! Then the mother mouse gave her kids an important lesson. “Children,” she said, “sometimes it’s good to know a second language!”[i]
Christianity over the centuries has, in many ways, become a second language. Scripture tells us elsewhere, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Jesus. Because there were no adequate words to describe such mystical truths as the Trinity and such, early Christians had to develop a second language. The more fluent we become in the Christian language, the more we come to understand what theology is and how it applies to us. Holy Week came to be because the everyday words of people were inadequate to describe the mysteries taking place. One of the first books I purchased when I went to seminary was a book of theological definitions because I didn’t speak the Christian language.
Palm Sunday is the traditional entry into Holy Week. On the face of things, it’s seems a rather pedestrian story. A man is considered dangerous by the ruling authorities, is rounded up and eliminated. Those words are easily understood in practically any language. Indeed, it is a common story line in the history of humanity.
But this man is different. He’s a man, but he’s also something else. And that something else cannot be easily defined by the words of our common language. The words can only point us to mysteries we cannot see.
In our story, Jesus is on the most difficult of missions. He knows exactly what it is he’ll be facing. He’s told his disciples more than once what was going to happen. Jesus hadn’t minced words as the scriptures tell us, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Whether the disciples understood all that is of course, another story. But Jesus surely knew, and he carried that weight of knowing until his brutal death.
Jesus knew exactly where he was going. Perhaps you’ve had that feeling of knowing that you must do something extremely difficult in your life. Something you were deathly afraid of and didn’t want to do. Jesus was in that moment and he sought the solace of his disciples. But they didn’t quite speak the language yet, and of course they fell asleep. They likely figured he’d just do a miracle or two. Jesus would do exactly that, but not in the way the disciples expected him to do.
Jesus, knowing what awaited him, was having trouble sleeping. His humanity was telling him to get up and run away. He was human, after all, and had emotions, just like you and me. But he was also faithful to his Father, and he knew he couldn’t flee.
As a Jew living under Roman rule, Jesus would have surely had a very vivid imagination. He knew what awaited him, there upon the Cross. It was common practice that the Romans crucified people upon wooden crosses, and displayed them along the busy roads as a warning against rebellion.
No doubt, Jesus had probably known someone who had died upon a cross. He knew what awaited him, and yet he prayed in the dark of night, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”
“Your will be done.” Where have we heard those words before, I wonder? Ah, yes, the Lord’s Prayer. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, your kingdom come, your will be done. Your will be done. Yikes. What about our will be done? Are we not the masters of our fate, made in his sacred image?
Perhaps you get the gist of what it is that I am speaking. Could it be that he is asking you to do something you fear to do? The language of Christianity is the story of broken humans. Broken people, who somehow rose to the occasion. Souls who understood the Christian language and who both felt the fear and pain of suffering. Through the many centuries, many men and women have heard God’s insistent call. Often, it kept them up at night, mastering the language that they might learn to do God’s will.
And so, the story goes, as we each learn that ancient lingo. Each of us has been expertly woven by our Lord into the sacred story. Each of us has been infused with a share of God’s glory.
And so, it now comes down to us on this day we call Palm Sunday. As we wield our palms, let us be aware we’ve all been woven into the wondrous story. Whatever it is we are asked to do, let us do it for God’s glory. And as we journey through Holy Week, let us hear again the story. It is in that sacred telling that we learn to speak, and come to understand the language of God’s glory.