by the Reverend Harry Leip
Deacon Harry delivered this sermon at our Zoom worship service on Palm Sunday (March 28, 2021)
Good morning everyone. It is such a blessing to be with you as we begin our great Holy Week journey once more. I am Deacon Harry and I serve at Trinity – Central West End, just a couple miles up Kingshighway from you. I want to thank Deacon Nancy for her invitation to share some reflections on Palm Sunday with you this morning.
Beginning today and thru Holy Week, the Church re-tells some of her age-old stories about Jesus, his followers, his friends and those powers which try to crush the man and the movement. And in this act of memory and storytelling, I can’t help but think of my own family, both biological and chosen who, when we’re together for any length of time, start sharing our stories from the past.
You know what I mean, right? "Hey Betty, remember when you and your brother …" Or "Charlie, what about that time you…" And laughter erupts, tears fall and we’re connected not only across time but also to our family and friends – those nearby and those dearly beloved who rest upon another shore and in a greater light. But we tell those stories through the good times and bad; moments of abundant joy and heartbreaking sadness. We tell those stories to celebrate, and to honor, and to teach, and to remember.
Today, we remember the great story of Jesus as he turns his head towards Jerusalem. He enters the mighty city, the seat of power, knowing the ultimate price will be paid. Chief priests and scribes on the left, crowds on the right and the Apostles, the women and disciples all scattered around him. It is a story of many people with many different motives. In just a few minutes of the Gospel this morning, he is anointed with loving care, he brings hope to the people who want to see God’s blessed kingdom, and he is betrayed by a dear friend.
And like a great story, each time we come to it, we’re a little different, aren’t we? Some of us have a favorite book we pick up every few years and read again: finding new insights, exploring different feelings, finding things we had not noticed before. Each time we return, we’re a little older, perhaps a little wiser with more road miles on our heart with more joys and sadness. For me, I have a small number of movies I watch every few years and have a similar feeling. Last time I watched The Wizard of Oz (yes, that movie), I noticed that when Dorothy learns about the yellow brick road in all its Technicolor splendor and takes her first steps with the munchkins egging her on, that, if you look closely there is also a red brick road which also swirls and goes off somewhere else. And I thought "Well, where does that one go? What adventures lie there?" And so on: same movie, seen dozens of times but yet, a new insight.
Those two feelings – of fear and of hope – is the lens by which I come to our readings this morning. They are the twin emotions I bring into Holy Week this year, and, perhaps, some of you, also. Hope and fear are two endpoints on the continuum which define our human condition. All of us, at some point during this month, or week, or maybe even this hour, dance with these twins. And those who came before us also knew this only too well! When we read the psalms for example, we also find this dynamic, this tension. This morning, the psalmist frets about their dismay: "God, I’m in trouble. I’m in it deep, my life is wasted with grief. I’ve been forgotten, disrespected, the people around me are in fear of me. But (and this pivot often happens in the psalms), but I’ve trusted in you, God. I hope that you turn your face, you notice me and now shine upon me. I trust; I hope in you to save me." Fear and hope; we live our lives between those two, don’t we?
And in the scriptures this morning, we see this dance between the two, front and center. That glorious reading from Isaiah which was dwarfed by the Passion Gospel bubbles with hope. The author experiences all the hope from God: the reading practically overflows with hope, and he seemingly taunts those who push against God, because with God’s help, the author can boast "Who will contend with me?" I picture her drawing a line in the sand like children in a playground, daring anyone to cross it! Who are my adversaries? Who can stand against us, when God is near? That, my siblings, is a promise of hope for this morning!
But at the same time, we have the Passion Gospel where there is so much fear in the room. Between the authorities who are afraid of Jesus’ growing influence, to Pilate who senses that the charges against Jesus are greatly exaggerated, but does nothing in fear of losing his power and political position. Fear is all around! Then that heartbreaking scene in the garden with Jesus and his companions, friends who then freak out when the crowd and soldiers appear, and who flee from the scene in fear, leaving a lonely, vulnerable Jesus. Later, Peter will deny Jesus when his fear gets the better of him and so on. Much of what we will walk thru the next eight days is a tug-of-war with fear... and with hope.
So, this morning, my siblings, what are your fears? What are your hopes? Coming from the despair of a year of COVID, a wretched election season, ongoing racial inequality, and more lives lost to gun violence, where is your fear? What makes you want to run away and head for the hills? What makes your family afraid, your best friends, your coworkers? Sometimes, all we can do is try to keep the door closed, pushing against it to stem all the fear that wants to take over and flood our hearts and minds.
But, what are your hopes? What do you thank God for, what is your light in the darkness, that life preserver keeping you afloat? For some of us, it may just be a few precious embers, barely glowing of hope. For some, it may be that vaccine you and your beloved have received. For some it may be the wondrous words of inspiration we heard from Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem. Whatever it is, big or small, remember that as we journey through the next eight days. Remember the hope that pulls us towards God’s beloved Kingdom.
And this inventory of fear and hope found in our stories this morning, and in our own hearts, are also being lived out in the lives and actions of each of you as the beloved community of St. John’s, planted here in this corner of God’s world. You who will celebrate 180 years in the city, what are your collective fears and your hopes for this faith community? Where are the places in this neighborhood, which are infested with fear, places which break Jesus’ heart? How will your existing ministries, and new ministries, help? Where are the places where hope has been lost or misplaced, a terrain which this church has walked and given comfort: how will the landscape have changed when you all come together physically once more?. With the beauty of Tower Grove Park just outside your door, where will your hope for our world bring about new passion and ministry for creation care? You who have tended and cared for your neighbors who fear for their next meal, how will the Peace Meal Project grow and change?
But in your hope, God’s hope, this community’s hope of engaging with others, learning new ways to serve those who live with fear as their constant companion, may each of you, may this beloved community, continue to walk in the way of our brother Jesus, journeying with him this week to Calvary and to the abundant hope of what comes after. Amen.
The Reverend Harry Leip is a deacon in the Diocese of Missouri, currently serving at Trinity Episcopal Church in the Central West End.
Various members of the St. John's congregation contribute to this blog. For editorial suggestions, contact Jeff McIntire-Strasburg at firstname.lastname@example.org
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