Grace and peace this spring morning, the entryway to Holy Week, a sunny day but storm clouds gathering, and simply to say that I hope and trust we will all find moments in the coming days for prayer and reflection, on the way toward Good Friday and then finally to Easter morning. This winter and this lent have been very challenging in lots of ways, but I pray in those challenges that it has been a time of growth and a deepening of faith. So may the season ahead be rich and full of many blessings.
Those of us above a certain age will remember—perhaps with a smile or a sigh or a rolling of the eyes—Attorney General John Mitchell, at the height of the Watergate scandal and investigation, commenting on his famous wife Martha and saying, “when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.”
It seems appropriate or at least timely to notice on Palm Sunday that the behavior is more common than you might at first think. If not shopping, to be immersed in entertainment. Or drinking, or drugs. Busyness. So often, whatever it takes to duck the hard questions, to slide over the rough patches. As they say in the 12-step movement, “Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.” A river that flows through every neighborhood and community, every home and family, touching each and every one of us. “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
The desire to get out there into the churchyard for that champagne reception and egg hunt on Easter morning. To skip past this dark week with its haunting and painful stories as quickly as we can. A nod in the direction of some profound musical expressions, of course, and certainly there are those. The Cross on a distant green hill, far away. But getting down to brass tacks in terms of our own lives and maybe what we would call hand-to-hand combat with the harder questions that the week ahead have for us may just be a little more than we had in mind.
On Sunday morning the crowd couldn’t seem to get enough of Jesus, but by Friday morning they were ready for him to be gone, and they didn’t much care how. Let’s just get it over with. And we just notice that over the centuries not much seems to change. People are people. We are what we are.
Palm Sunday. The Passion Gospel rolling on around us all week long, echoing, catching us here and there through the routines of our lives. Fleeting images. Wonderings. Perhaps extended and deepened if we stop in at Church on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. But in any case, in the air around us.
The question that Peter wrestles with in the Courtyard of the High Priest. Aren’t you one of those who have been following this Jesus? One of his guys? One of these nuts from the Galilee? Maybe you ought to be in there with him. What do you think?
The grand procession begins again, Station to Station through the streets of Jerusalem. Cheering and jeering. The sky grows dark as we approach the walls of the old city. We can picture just about every step along the way. As Billy Graham used to say at his Crusades: “A Day of Decision.” A time to choose. Put our cards on the table. One way or the other. Easy enough to slip away and go back to our normal lives, if that’s what we decide.
This past Wednesday on the new calendar of lesser observances in the church year we remembered the anniversary of the execution in the Nazi prison in April 1945 of German theologian and Christian leader Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Who wrote the famous book “Costly Discipleship.” A principled pacifist who nonetheless after years of faithful witness in the midst of a world at war participated in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Who talked about Christian life not as a casual affiliation or a kind of aesthetic or emotional or social experience, but of a challenging uphill daily path, the commitment to a regular and deep and prayerful study of the scriptures, and of a commitment to a rigorous application, day by day.
So: didn’t I see you with him? There’s even something about the way you talk that makes me wonder. You are, aren’t you . . . one of his people . . . . I mean, if you are, why would you be out here in the courtyard, in the shadows, by the fire, trying to look inconspicuous. Are you with him, or not?
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.