March 16, 2008

"Celebrating Too Soon"
Scriptures: Matthew 21:1-11; Matthew 27:11-54
Sermon by Rev. Kathleen Groff
Dundee United Methodist Church

  Helping our daughter look for a house to buy was quite an experience. We looked in all areas of Lansing. We looked at houses in a certain relatively low price range and were becoming quite disappointed in what was available. Finally we found a small house that was in a decent area. When we entered the house it looked very good. The windows were new. The upstairs was in almost perfect condition there was a small detached garage, the yard was completely fenced in, and the windows all had brand new blinds. Granted the upstairs bedroom was a tad small, but there were two more potential bedrooms in the basement. The house was move in ready. So after many discouraging trips up stairs and through doors of dilapidated houses, this one looked perfect. So Penny made an offer and within a day we learned it was accepted. Boy did we celebrate! It looked like life was taking a good turn for her. But several days before closing we learned that the owner had died, a new will had been found and the whole estate was handed over to the courts to decide who had the right to sign the papers. Not seeing that potential, we had celebrated too soon. Wondering if we would get the house at all, we started the search again with dismaying results.

  It must have been a grand day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem. The celebration must have lent itself to the already festive atmosphere of the Passover. I wonder if the disciples got caught up in the frenzy. Perhaps they too believed the new king was riding into the city. Perhaps they too wanted to crown him king. Caught up in the excitement it would have been easy to forget the hints Jesus had given them about the danger that lay ahead, about his death. They may have forgotten their fear about Jesus even going into that city where he had plenty of enemies, plenty who wanted to be rid of him.

  Or, they could have wanted to silence the crowds, knowing that it would be better for their teacher to enter the city quietly and anonymously. Too late for that however. Jesus was simply too well known. Recently he had raised Lazarus from the dead. A story like that would have been hot news and all it would take is one person to recognize Jesus, the miracle worker and begin the contagious proclamations and hallelujahs. The celebration came too soon. Later that week events would take a quite different turn and Jesus would be on the receiving end of the jeers and scorn of the crowds. Jesus’ would be crown would be one of thorns, his throne a cross and his greatest act would be to willingly die the death of a criminal. The crowd had celebrated too soon!

  Every year we look forward to the Easter celebration singing rousing and lively resurrection hymns, gathering with church family and our own families, watching children participate in rich family tradition such as egg hunts, Easter baskets and gifts, feasting on well prepared dinners, and when coming to church anticipating a hope filled message that Jesus is risen. We want to go from Jesus celebrative ride into Jerusalem right to the glorious celebration Easter morning. We want to gloss over those events that took place during that most holy of weeks. Let’s get right to the celebration. But without those in between events, there would be no celebration. We don’t want to remember that Jesus felt intense anxiety and pain as he prayed that God would take his cup of death away. We want to forget that the capacity for evil of humans reared its ugly head in hatred and violence in the desire to eliminate Jesus. We want to forget the agony of those hours on the cross and the terrible sense of aloneness and abandonment Jesus experienced in those few hours of trial and sentence. Without those events, Jesus death would be just a clean way of making it possible for Jesus to be resurrected. Without those events resurrection would be just another miracle, with little purpose. But resurrection and the hope of the world came in a dirty act of jealousy, rage, damaged ego, and fear. Humanity was seen at its worst. All that we are capable of doing and becoming was summed up in those acts of violence, those horrible acts done before that wonderful sunrise morning.

  We cannot truly celebrate the resurrection without first searching ourselves and finding our own capacity to condemn and crucify, to watch with satisfaction the ruin and downfall of those who oppose or threaten our ways of doing life, those who appear to stand in the way of our happiness or sense of well being. We must look at those times we want to see certain others out of our lives because they challenge us and present a problem to us. We experience times when we want to shout “crucify him” in our hearts. How many times have we gotten that little “dig” in or felt a sense of satisfaction when we have said something that shows our own sense of superiority over another?

  It doesn’t take nails and a cross to crucify another. When we understand and see our own ways of crucifying others we might be better able to see and understand what happened to Jesus and why his sacrifice has so much meaning. Jesus endured intense pain and death, not only to show that he had power over death, but to show us who we really are and our need for salvation from sin and death. We see in that holy week the worst of who we can be, the distance we can travel from God thinking we are doing right. Jesus showed us how to live in tune with God’s purposes in his own life, but most especially in that final week when obedience to God meant pain, suffering and death. It is when we see the extent of Jesus’ sacrifice that we can truly begin to celebrate that sunrise morning.

  For me it used to be that Easter was the time to get up on that Sunday morning, find our Easter baskets, gorge ourselves with candy, sometimes go to church and then travel 70 miles to Grandma’s house for dinner. I was quite prone to car sickness, so it was one Easter morning that I found myself being let out of the car not too far from Grandma’s farm when the results of the winding road and the consumption of too much candy took its toll. I was left to walk the rest of the way by myself. I was always embarrassed about this and I knew that when I arrived at Grandma’s house my brothers and sisters would tease me mercilessly and Easter would be ruined. I had no reason to believe that they would act any differently and I ruminated on how I was always getting blamed for things and began to plot how I would get back at them when the teasing began. Hatred and fearful anticipation certainly stirred in me with each step. I would give anything to find a way to get back at them.

  As I walked I noticed a couple of squirrels that seemed to be fighting and scrapping at one another. It dawned on me that my life with my brothers and sisters often seemed to be just like that. We did a lot of fighting and scrapping together. And I also realized that I did just as much as anyone in that department. I saw one of my sisters heading back down the road toward me and braced myself for her teasing and immediately began thinking of ways to retaliate. But, to my amazement that was not what happened. She told me to hurry up because the Easter egg hunt was about to begin. As we walked back together she told me that the others had begun to mock my always getting car sick. She said she had told them to shut up and what she got back from them was teasing about taking my side. By the time we arrived at the farm, there was no teasing and I realized that my sister had carried the brunt of their need to pick at someone. I heard not one word about my car sickness. The rest of the day seemed pretty good to me.

  Jesus had taken on the brunt of the anger of the religious leaders. He had taken on the brunt of the world’s sin seen in the events of that Holy week. The culmination of sin was death, but Jesus overcame death itself so that we might live free from sin’s tyranny and power over us. No longer are we bound by sin and death, but free to live in right and good relationship with God. Jesus changed everything and in this holy week can examine ourselves and see more clearly what our capacity has been and why we needed that to happen. This is the week for self examination, for looking at the suffering that Jesus went through to free us from the power of sin and death. We must walk through the shadow of the cross to come to the resurrection. This is the week to ponder the events leading up to crucifixion so that the time will be right when we can celebrate next Sunday, so that the meaning of resurrection is not lost in the hoopla of the day.