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Wilderness: A Place We’ve Been

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You can watch Sunday’s time with children and sermon HERE.

Welcome to Palm Sunday! What a riot of a Palm Parade you all created at the beginning of worship! I saw scarves and ribbons, flowers, hands, and palms. I am guessing there have not been many Palm Parades quite like this before. Virtual. And yet so very real.

I want to have us all pause for a moment. Look at where we are at. Where YOU are at—at this very moment. Let it sink in. I am at my house, in our guest bedroom. How about you? Where are you worshiping? Are you in your living room? At the dining room table? Using Zoom’s “chat” feature, or the comments on FaceBook, type where you are at this moment:

Those gathered responded with where they were:

In my home office

We are in our hearth room

In my “office” – my son’s old bedroom

Family sun room

At the kitchen Table

In my office with flowers by the computer

The loft

I’m in my living room

In our basement

In my office with my kitty

Living room/hot wheels room

At the cabin

In the dining room/music room

On the screen porch

At the dining room table in our great room

Multiple other responses included offices, kitchens, and living rooms.

I can tell you, this is not where I expected us to be. We had plans. For Palm Sunday, Rebecca and I had been planning a grand entry of kids into the sanctuary at the beginning of worship. But we also wanted this to be cross-generational. We wanted EVERYONE to be involved. So, we ordered enough palms for all, youth and adults.

We envisioned kids coming into the sanctuary from two different sides. There would be kids entering from my right, or to the east(ish), simulating the East Gate of Jerusalem. There was going to be prep work done in Sunday School in the weeks leading up to Palm Sunday. The children were going to make protests signs. Thus, the crowd of youth coming in from the east would be waving palms and carrying signs. They were going to be NOISY!

The youth coming in from the left, representing the West Gate of Jerusalem, would march like Roman soldiers. There would be a mini-uprising in our midst. Joy and tension, song and story-telling. THIS is what Palm Sunday was supposed to be like.

Instead, we are in a place we have not been in our lifetimes. A pandemic. There is an urgent need for self-isolation and self-quarantine.

Thus we find ourselves in a place we have never been before. Maybe this is how Jesus’ friends felt as they gathered for dinner that night in the upper room. Suddenly, everything was different. Jerusalem itself was familiar enough. As familiar as Fitchburg, Madison, Verona, Oregon, Stoughton, and beyond are to us. But yet THIS place, this unsettled, toxic atmosphere was new.

The city, Jerusalem, was in chaos. Because you see, a lot had happened between the Sunday of the Palm Parade and Jesus’ “today” in the upper room. This evening meal we remembered today took place in a home with friends. However, DAYS of events had happened between today’s two readings. In a very short period of time, a lot has happened to us too. So much has happened since we last got together to celebrate communion in the church building on Lacy Road on Sunday, March 1. I don’t know about you, but for me it seems as if an entire lifetime has happened in less than a month.

A similar time warp has happened in Jesus’ timeline. In just a few short days, at least in the way the author of the book of Matthew retells it, a whole lifetime of events have occurred. As Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan describe in The Last Week of Jesus, we have quickly moved from a parade on Sunday to this dinner on Thursday night. We have missed out on a lot because our readings today jumped from chapter 21 to chapter 26. So we have missed:

  • Jesus going to the Temple and flipping over tables. Tables which crashed to the ground scattering coins everywhere. Sparking mass confusion.
  • We’ve skipped right over the debates Jesus had with various religious authorities. Conversations packed with tension.
  • And we missed a whole lot of parables telling us time and time again, “The kingdom of heaven will be like…” (Matt. 25:1). And it will!
  • We also avoided reading about the “weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 24:51b, 25:30b), which we are experiencing all too frequently in our own time.

With such selective editing, it is easy for us to miss the full effect of the emotional roller coaster the disciples have been through in a very short period of time. It was late in the day. It was dinner time. They were hungry. It had already been a long week, and tensions were rising. The disciples were “hangry.” If only Jesus had handed them each a Snickers candy bar… The city was in turmoil (Matt. 21:10). In our fatigue, it is easy for us to miss the body language in the room as we look about.

The body language of the disciples likely communicated more loudly about betrayal than any of the words spoken. Jesus says, “One of you will betray me.” The disciples tense. They freeze in place. There were murmurs. Looks of sadness. Anger. Frustration. Discomfort. At least one person wondered, “How did Jesus know? There were more questions than answers. “It’s not me, is it?” For them and for us this is all so mentally and spiritually draining.

For we find ourselves in our own, unfamiliar place. We’ve been bombarded with news flashes. We are overwhelmed by reports of the shortages of personal protective equipment. We worry about the frontline workers… the people we know and love who have been thrust life risking situations day after day. Collectively we are living through, become sick through, and grieving through a global humanitarian crisis.

We are my friends in a very, very new place.

Yet we have been here before.

Let’s go back to the upper room. Remember, it was thick with emotion that night. The conversation around the table conveyed tension. Fear. Anxiety. Uncertainty. Betrayal.

And bread.

There was bread.

There was this bread, something familiar, which provided nourishment. Something they could share in, together. They could taste, together. Blessed. Broken. And communal.

Then there was the cup. Juice. Wine. Again, something really familiar, transformed. God’s love poured out to sustain mind, body, and spirit. A new covenant shared as the unknown lurked ahead.

For me, that is the power of the story for us today. This is why I am so very grateful we will be sharing in communion. We will share in the story of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples before his death from our own homes—and understand the meaning of the sacrament in a whole new way.

In the midst of this pandemic which has overturned our day-to-day lives, there is an ancient, collective memory. This place is familiar. Familiar to the disciples. Familiar to Jesus. And all too familiar to God. As we practice social distancing and Safer at Home policies and begin to do Church in a way that has never been done before, we are in many ways on recognizable ground. This is the story we know and live.

We know communion. A Holy Meal, from which no one, no virus, no calamity, no time period can separate us—even though they may try. A few of us have participated in virtual communion services before, but for the majority of us this will be new.

And in a pandemic? Well, our response to the novel coronavirus is definitely a practice in innovation. Adaptation. Rapid responses. Gathering together for communion this morning, for the first time digitally as a faith community, we will be conscious that we are all in new places—and we are experiencing something new… together. We do not know the path which lies ahead of us, nor did the disciples who were with Jesus millennia ago. But we do recognize THIS place. This story.

This Table. This sacred space which reminds us of the Good News. The Good News that God’s love pours forth continually as we live out God’s story. God’s covenant shared with us even as unknowns lurk ahead.

So come, and taste. Taste how good God is as we break bread and share the cup.

This is the rhythm of our being.

A memory, a truth, embodied today as God fills in the distance between us.

Come. Take. Eat.

~Pastor Kris

Reflection on Matthew 21:1-11; 26:14-30 offered April 4, 2020