Sermon for Sunday, March 28, 2021 || Palm/Passion Sunday B || Mark 14-15
We have arrived at our second Holy Week of the pandemic, with people participating in this service from home instead of the pews of this church building. At this time last year, we were all holding our collective breath and waiting for the surge of COVID-19 cases that the experts said was sure to come. It hit a few weeks later and then more surges followed until the baseline of cases was orders of magnitude greater than that first surge. Thankfully, over 3 million doses of vaccine are being administered each day right now. Thankfully, there is a new beginning in sight. But for today, and for a little while longer, we remain put.
A couple weeks ago, I talked about how Noah and his family remained in the ark for just over a year. We are at that exact mark now, a mark we could not fathom on Palm Sunday last year. I spoke about the spiritual posture of lamentation and how necessary it is in times like these. But I had no idea just how much cause for lament was before us. And here we come, once again, to the reading of the Passion Gospel, in which lamentation collides with hope as we remember Jesus dying on the cross. And as we try not to forget the promise he made to his friends about what would happen three days later.
I think about our year apart, our year cooped up in our own houses for much of the time, which we have done out of love for family, friend, neighbor, and stranger alike. And I think about what I usually say in my sermons on this holy day. And I find myself not wanting to say any of it. I don’t want to speak. I want to show. So this year, I’m going to take you on a virtual field trip so we can all orient ourselves in the place where the Passion Gospel happens.
In 2019, I was blessed with the opportunity to go to Jerusalem as part of my sabbatical. A group of about 30 folks from the Episcopal Church in Connecticut went on this pilgrimage together, and on one of our last days there, we visited the garden of Gethsemane. We climbed the Mount of Olives. We looked out at the magnificent vista of the old city spread before us. And suddenly, Jesus’ Passion took on a new depth of reality for me. It was no longer just words on the page of my Bible. I could see in my mind’s eye Jesus walking into the Kidron Valley to cross back to Bethany by way of the garden. I could see the places where he stood before the high priest and Pontius Pilate. I could walk the way of the cross towards Golgotha.
I smelled dust in the air. I heard people hawking their wares nearby. Surely these smells and sounds were the same today as they were back then. I felt transported back in time to when the city was smaller than it is now, back when the place of the cross was outside the city. (Now it’s ensconced in an enormous Christian Church.) Being there in Jerusalem heightened my biblical imagination. I know a video is a poor substitute, but I hope what I am about to show you might heighten your imagination as well, as we prepare to hear eleven of our church’s teens present the Passion Gospel.
In this video, I am standing on the Mount of Olives and tracing Jesus’ movements on those last fateful days. I know some of you have seen this video before, but please watch it again. I have done my best to clean up the audio.
With the image of Jerusalem floating in your imaginations, I now turn the service over to our teens for the Passion Gospel. As you listen, imagine your way onto the worn cobbles of the city. Smell the dusty air. Hear the street vendors getting drowned out by the crowds. And witness Jesus take his last steps in fulfillment of his desire to love the world to the end. And to love it into a new beginning.
Season 3 3/4, Episode 2:
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
We’re posting a mini-season in between Seasons 3 and 4 in order to jump from Harry Potter 3 to Harry Potter 7. We’ll deep dive into Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when we get to season 4. For now, in Season 3 and 3/4, we’re spending one episode each chatting about the really long, middle year Harry Potter novels. Today is #5, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.