Navigating Hope & Horror

On March 26, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Navigating Hope & Horror Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Palm/Passion Sunday 2018 May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, holy One, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen. Our first reading from John’s gospel shows exuberance. There would have been Passover celebrations in the city…official, permitted celebrations. Government […]

Navigating Hope & Horror
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Palm/Passion Sunday 2018

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, holy One, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Our first reading from John’s gospel shows exuberance. There would have been Passover celebrations in the city…official, permitted celebrations. Government officials would have participated. It was a way of keeping the people happy and also keeping an eye on them. Controlling the celebrations meant controlling the people. So, the parades and block parties would have been carefully choreographed and closely supervised.

But in the back part of the city, Jesus comes riding into town. He’s not an invited guest, not an honored speaker or parade participant. But he and his friends and his admirers and few curious onlookers have created their own unofficial parade. Nothing grand. Just a donkey, a couple dozen folk, a few palm branches. But this ragtag group break into a bit of street theatre. They are acting as if they are having a parade, and their parade isn’t sanctioned. Indeed, it is making fun of the government and imagining the government being somehow toppled.

They wave branches like Pom poms, like weapons, like battle flags, and they pretend Jesus is a conquering hero who might set up his own government in exile. And they cry out, “Save us! Hosanna!” As if a peasant from out of town riding on a donkey was going to topple the Roman Empire. It’s almost farcical.

It was all cathartic and subversive. It was a protest really, a protest against colonization, against domination, against military might that had seized their land and coopted their culture. And it felt good to express themselves, to dream out loud, to imagine a day when God’s kin-dom of mercy and justice and goodwill and shared prosperity and peace would replace earthly empire and world super powers.

But standing up, speaking out, even in creative, artistic, theatrical ways, can have consequences. That impromptu guerrilla theatre experience, that pretend parade with a ridiculous donkey and some leaves, was followed by a more in your face protest at the Temple when Jesus acted up in ways that got him noticed and probably sealed his fate.

Other confrontations, betrayal, denial, arrest, trial, and conviction all led to Jesus being sentenced to death. Capital punishment. Death by torture. The unspeakably brutal and barbaric form of execution known as crucifixion.

In what was probably the span of only several days, Jesus has gone from performing in the streets to disturbing the peace at the Temple, to being betrayed and abandoned by his dearest friends, to be tortured to death.

What a crazy weak, full of hope and horror, catharsis and catastrophe, purpose and pathos, moments of moral victory and desperate defeat.

Life is full of such ups and downs. My friend Martha is a dear lady in East Texas. She has a smile that could melt a glacier. And she’s never said an unkind word in my hearing. A year or two ago she was diagnosed with cancer. And she went through treatment and never complained. In fact, she made her daily chemo treatments sort of a party. She’d lead the celebration when someone finished their treatment. She’d wish people well when they began their treatment. She’d laugh and chat with everyone in the clinic…making each day more like a social event at a beauty parlor instead of an energy draining, nauseating fight for survival.

At the end of her treatment cycle, the news wasn’t that good. So, they decided to give her a bit of a break then start all over again. She enjoyed the break, and re-entered treatment with the same amazing attitude that she had the first go round. Her hair fell out, and she was rocking beautiful scarves and posting her pics of Facebook, and later, when her hair returned, she who had for years sported long, thick silver locks now featured with utter glee a very smart and fetching short do. Also, she experienced, finally, remission.

But that joy was short lived. After only a few months, the dis-ease has returned and spread. They are trying a new medicine which in some people has had miraculous results. She’s agreed to the treatment, but she also knows that it isn’t guaranteed to work. How is she handling that?

She’s planning a party at her favorite restaurant. No date set yet…it’s to take place within days of her death…whenever that might be. She’s thankful for her partner, a sweet many she’s been with for several years now. She’s thankful for her countless friends. She’s thankful that many of those friends will one day have a dinner party in her memory. She’s thankful that spirit never dies.

I hope the new treatment provides her a cure that we can celebrate in grand fashion, but whether it does or not, she has shown the world what healing looks like. She’s chosen love over fear, gratitude over regret. Martha is living the famous prayer that Franciscan nun Sister Thea Bowman prayed when she was fighting cancer…her prayer was, “Lord let me live until I die.” Martha has been living with, not dying from, dis-ease. And she’s going to keep on living every day that she has life.

She’s had Palm Sunday defiance, and Good Friday disappointment, and Easter joy.

That’s what this season offers us…a reminder that life is full of ups and downs, but nothing can keep our spirits down. Resurrection power is at hand.

Yeah though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death we will fear no evil for God is with us, and the tools God has given us comfort us. Surely, goodness and mercy will attend us all the days of our lives and we will dwell in God’s presence forever.

We are on the way to Golgotha this week, but Golgotha isn’t the end of the story. There’s more hope, more joy, more life even beyond the darkest night. There may be tears, but there are also parties to celebrate precious memories and undying resilience.

Join us on Good Friday as we commemorate Jesus’ death, and join us again on Easter Sunday as we celebrate the Truth that not even death ends the story…not Jesus’, and not ours. This is the good news. Amen.

Dear God,
Please help us,
And those dear to us,
In whatever ways are needed most.
Amen.

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