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Ominous Parade

“As [Jesus] rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.  As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to Praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen.”  (Luke 19:35-36)

For many years I would cram the Palms liturgy which is more joyful and upbeat with the Passion narrative which takes us downhill quickly as Jesus entered Jerusalem, was arrested, tried and crucified.  I read somewhere this year that maybe it’s assuming people don’t really “get” the sacrifice Jesus made and the suffering he endured for us.  But maybe people actually “get it” much better than I think.  We often don’t see a great turn-out for the Holy Week services, and, as Christians, it always seemed like we, as pastors, need to “drive home” the point of Jesus suffering and death.  Anyway, I decided to do just the Palm and hope and pray that folks really paid attention to the events of Holy Week and maybe participate.

So I started out thinking this would be a joyful parade and celebration during worship, and yet I find myself feeling a sense of dread even as the parade runs through my mind.  Of course, we know the whole story, and Jesus’ disciples certainly didn’t at that point.  They probably believed that he was finally entering Jerusalem to gather his army and finally take over.  That was the idea of what the true Messiah would do, so it must have been exciting for them.  But this is an ominous parade.  There is our understanding of dreadful events to come, events that include betrayal, denial, humiliation, excruciating pain, unbelievable suffering for Jesus.

Somehow, the thought of setting up Easter/Spring flowers on the Saturday before Easter seems almost too happy if we think about what the disciples would have experienced following Jesus’ death and burial.  In most households the day after a death is quiet and reflective, trying to let things settle in a little.  Not so with us in the Christian Church – we are busy preparing to celebrate once again the joyful news that Jesus has been raised from the dead.  Again, foreknowledge of the events helps us to know that in the midst of the darkest week of Jesus’ life, there is light, hope, life, reconciliation, forgiveness at the end of the week – more about that next week.

This Sunday we will wave our palm leaves and sing songs of “Hosanna to the King” or Son of David, but the cloud will hang over us.  The cloud will threaten our joy and lead us once again through the week that reminds us of God’s great love for us and the gift we have been given through Jesus, the Christ.  Sometimes we know that we have to go through tough experiences, such as surgery or loss or a medical procedure.  We don’t look forward to it, but we know we have to go through it in order to be healthier on the other side.  Maybe that’s a little like Palm Sunday with joyful entry into Jerusalem.  It’s an ominous parade, isn’t it?

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Mountaintop Experiences

On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met [Jesus].” Luke 9:36 (NRSV)

Have you ever had a mountaintop experience?  If so, it may have been a spiritual retreat week-end, your marriage, receiving special recognition, having children, literally hiking a mountain to the top, walking the beach, a sudden revelation about something, a musical or dramatic performance with lots of applause, a good performance in some sporting event, or any number of times when your life was lifted up and in a really wonderful place.  What did it feel like?  How did you respond?  Then, what happened as you settled back into every day life and routines?  Let down?  Depression?  Disappointment that it hadn’t lasted?

Three of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, John, and James, went with Jesus up a mountain to pray.  While they were there, Jesus was transfigured before their very eyes – a dazzling, bright light coming from his clothes blinded him, and Moses and Elijah appeared in the midst of it to talk with Jesus.  Then a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (v. 35).  The three disciples were speechless at first, and they probably stumbled around inside their heads as to what to do next.  Peter eventually found his voice and suggested that they build booths to commemorate the event – much like we do when we take pictures of special events in our lives.

But Jesus didn’t want that, and God had clearly said to “listen!”  It was an amazing, awesome and awe-filled experience for those three mere mortals!  And as they came down the mountain from this magnificent, indescribable event in their lives, Jesus says, “Don’t tell anyone!”  Excuse me?  Don’t tell anyone?  But . . . Jesus, come on, we just saw something fantastic here, and you don’t want us to share it with anyone?  Really?

Jesus knew they couldn’t comprehend the event until after his death and resurrection.  The entire experience was one of affirming Jesus’ identity as God’s Son – as God in the flesh.  So, they needed to see the whole picture before they could begin to share it with some understanding.

And then look at what happened after their mountaintop experience:  they came down the mountain to the same old thing – crowds pushing around Jesus and asking for healing.  It was the same dusty street, the same old, same old work, the same pressures, the same expectations and demands.  What a let-down!  Jesus jumped right into the routine without even missing a beat.  The disciples really DIDN’T get it!

We are like that too at times.  We go on vacation and have a great time, playing, eating, laughing, visiting family and friends, and we come back refreshed and renewed, rejuvenated and restored only to find that the same pile of work awaits us on our desk, the same problems are in our lives, the world is the same (or maybe even worse) than when we took a week or two off.  Rats!  Ugh!

Mountaintop experience, I think, are there for us to appreciate the opportunities we have in all of life.  When we experience God in a new way, we are transformed into new beings although the same on the outside and with our daily routines, we begin to discover the joys in all of life, in our every day, ordinary events and circumstances.  Vacations, mountaintop experiences, times when things are different can help us find ways to better live out our lives as God’s children.

If everything seems drab and tends to drag us down after some kind of wonderful event, maybe it’s worth our while to stop to think about what we learned and how we can bring it with us into our work, at home, in the marketplace, with our families and friends.  What can we take from the experience to make our lives better?  And then how can we help others to make a difference with them?  The mountain top prepares us for the valleys and we need both in our lives in order to live fully.  May you cherish the mountaintops and live in “shalom” in the valleys!  God bless.

Uh-Oh!

Do you see these great buildings?  Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”  Mark 13:2

In 1998, I was privileged to go to Israel with a group of pastors on a tour called “Where Jesus walked.”  Actually, our guide informed us that we ran where Jesus walked because it was a ten-day tour crammed into seven days!  However, the impact of being in the Holy Land, seeing the places where Jesus lived and taught and interacted was powerful.  I have to admit that I was a little angry and resentful of all the churches that had been built on the traditional sites of nearly every significant Biblical story, but eventually I realized that it didn’t matter.  I was still in the place where our Savior had been.

Although I had many moving experiences there, including being on the top of Masada and traveling across the Galilean Lake on a replica boat, the experience that moved me to tears was placing my prayer request in the West Wall of the Temple which is the only part of the Temple that still stands.  It is clearly a very holy place, and we saw many people praying long, ardent prayers at that Wall.  I can’t even remember what I wrote on my tiny piece of paper, but touching the wall and cramming it into a small crevice of the stone structure felt as if I was in the presence of God.

That is what the Hebrews believed – that God lived in the Temple.  As Christians we believe that Jesus broke open the idea of God being in one place and made it clear that God’s presence was everywhere – even with Gentiles like me.  In Mark 13:1-8, Jesus’ disciples were talking about the magnificence of the Temple.  Herod the Great (who does not live up to his name!) was a great builder.  He rebuilt the Temple with gold and marble and beautiful, large stones.  If Herod hadn’t been such a “stinker” we could give him lots of credit for bringing back something precious to the Hebrew people.  Unfortunately, Herod’s intentions always were to glorify Herod, not God.

And then Jesus makes the point that it is just a building that won’t last forever, as is clearly evident today.  The Temple didn’t last forever, just as the buildings and possessions and “things” of this world don’t last.  The many things that do last are relationships, love, compassion, kindness, caring, and most of all, the presence of God with us.  Jesus’ words are to be prepared.  They remind his disciples – that includes us – that we have no idea when we will encounter the presence of God.  Even though we believe that God is with us always, we often need something to make us more aware of those times when we encounter the power of the Spirit with us.  I believe that day as I stood at the Temple wall, I felt the overpowering presence of God with me.

While we can’t always feel those powerful moments, we can live our lives ready for them.  Living prepared for God to act in the world is a challenge and a process of practicing the presence of Christ.  As we draw closer to God, we begin to see the face of Christ on others and experience nudges that are certainly from the Holy Spirit:  nudges that tell us to call someone who needs a kind word, nudges that send ideas and thoughts into our minds and hearts that will make a difference to others, valuing others the way Christ would value them.  We don’t know when we are entertaining angels unaware as Hebrews reminds us.

Living prepared for Christ to come is living each day as if it was your last.  Of course, that’s not easy.  But it’s a goal.  It’s something at which we can work.  I often think of this on the anniversary of 9/11.  Most of the people who went to the twin towers of the World Trade Center that day thought it was an ordinary work day, but so many saw the face of Christ that day.  How will we live prepared?  How will we put the “things” of earth on a lower priority level and place God higher?  Keep working at it – in your own way and with the support of your church family.  May God bless your day!

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