Six weeks ago…

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Gospel of Mark 14:1-15:47

Six weeks ago, we willingly embarked upon a journey purposely, and intentionally exposing ourselves to difficulty, trial, temptation, and hardship. We set out upon this journey into the desert in hope. Hoping that upon its conclusion we would find ourselves transformed by the grace and mercy of God the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to more resemble our model and example, Jesus Christ our Lord. Today, this Palm Sunday of our Lord’s Passion, we have reached our destination, but not the end of our journey.

In today’s Gospel (Mark 11:1-10) at the procession we heard about Jesus’s entrance into the city, his final destination. We heard how the people welcomed him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” In these words we can almost feel the excitement of the city of Jerusalem, and a people, who have spent hundreds of years in anticipation of the arrival of the Messiah, God’s Chosen One, and on this day we celebrate, as did they, his arrival. However, unlike those who witnessed first hand the entrance of the Messiah, we, who gather here today, know that Jerusalem, although his destination, was not the end of his journey.

I am not sure how your Lenten journey has gone. Or, more to the point, I am not sure how you have faired during these past 6 weeks of Lent. Were your struggles too much to bear? Did you abandon the journey? Did doubt creep in and diminish your resolve? Or, did you persevere? Were you able to endure the hardships, trials, and temptations? Did you find a wellspring of hope along the desert path? Were you able to live out your commitment to prayer, service, and self-sacrifice? No matter how you entered this day, triumphant and confident, or discouraged and full of doubt, rest assured that you have reached your journey’s intended destination.

Lent is intended to be a renewal of our hearts and minds. We have labored to set aside the burdens and push through the barriers that have weighed us down and blocked our growth in holiness. We have struggled to maintain our focus on the cross and have fought against discouragement and despair. We are looking forward to rest through which we will be revitalized, refreshed, and renewed.

Yet, just as Jesus entered the city amidst celebration and great joy, he too knew that his journey was not complete. His work was not finished just because he had reached Jerusalem, his journey’s destination. So too I ask you to be mindful of this very fact and know that your Lenten journey is not yet complete.

We have now entered the heart of the church year, Holy Week, and there is still work to be done. As we see in St Marks Passion of Our Lord, Jesus did not take these days as a reason to cease his labor. In fact, we see the exact opposite. He becomes more intense, focused, and earnest in his activities and labors. He no longer speaks to his disciples in parables of talents and mustard seeds. His instructions are clear, direct, and intentional. From his instruction to his disciples to “let her alone” regarding the woman who anointed his head with oil; to his preparations for the observance of the Passover; to his proclamation of Judas’s pending betrayal and Peter’s upcoming denial; to the institution of his, the Lord’s Supper; to the loud cry upon the cross as he breathed his last breath, Jesus labored and endured for he knew that though, on Palm Sunday, he had arrived at the final destination, yet, his journey was incomplete without the cross.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter the spiritual condition in which you have arrived here today; no matter the successes or failures you experienced during your Lenten journey; no matter the discouragement or joy you feel, I implore you, in the example of Jesus, to complete your journey this Lenten season. Make Holy Week a period of preparation and labor. Find time each day for prayer. Read the Passion of our Lord; let his suffering, his courage, his obedience, and his unwavering love permeate into your every thought, word, and deed. Commit yourself to the service of others. Take risks in your charity and affect the lives of the people around you for good. Let this Holy Week, regardless of how you got here, be the opportunity that God will use to change your life, heal your wounds, and strengthen your spirit. See your Lenten journey to its end.

There was time in my life when I thought I was done.

5th Sunday of Lent
Gospel of John 12:20-30

There was time in my life when I thought I was done. To be honest, there have a few moments and experiences in my span of 48 years when I felt like it was over. Moments when I was convinced that everything I had worked for, hoped for, and believed in were about to be wiped away, erased from the record, amounting for nothing. Fortunately for me, and for those of you who have also experienced similar such moments, those moments are just that… a moment. A period of time, some more brief than others, that pass away and move on into the past.

Here we are just a few weeks away from the end of our Lenten journey, and it is in today’s Gospel that we find Jesus having a similar moment. This moment when all that he had worked for, and all that he had hoped for, and all that he believed in was being put to the test. We read his words “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say, ‘Father save me from this hour?’ But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.”

Jesus, in his hour, the hour for which he came, spoke to his followers about a single grain of wheat. In a single grain of wheat there is exponentially more, however, that potential cannot be achieved unless it first dies. I read one biblical scholar who describe this reality in this way, “A grain of wheat is ineffective and unfruitful as long as it is preserved.”

For those of us who know the end of this story, we modern day Christians, understand that when Jesus was talking about a single grain of wheat he was also talking about himself. Those who were standing next to Jesus at that moment and time lacked the perspective of history. They could not have understood that Jesus was describing the necessity of his passion, death, and resurrection for their salvation. But we do. We have the ability to look back, with the perspective of history, and read his words, trace his steps, and hear the accounts of others knowing that Jesus was speaking about his own manner of death and subsequent resurrection.

That part we get. (This is the part when all of God’s people say, ‘amen’!) What we often time fail to hear, or at least obey, in these words of Jesus is that we too must give our lives so that we too may have eternal life.

The words I quoted a moment before, “A grain of wheat is ineffective and unfruitful as long as it is preserved” take on a new meaning and intent when we apply them to ourselves. Jesus was not just referencing himself in this example, he was also setting a standard for those of who follow him. We must give of ourselves in order that we too may become effective and fruitful.

This Lenten season you have been asked to seek God through prayer, serve God by serving others, and find our dependence upon God through self-sacrifice. All of these spiritual disciplines, exercises if you will, are designed to teach us and assist us in “giving up” our life in order that we may be used by God for his greater glory.

During those time in life… those dark times. Those moments when if feels as if the doors are being shut and hope is all but extinguished. It is those moments, when life is raw, unfiltered, and unrelenting when faith is but a thread. It is those moments when we must place our hope in God, just as Jesus did when he said, “Father, glorify your name.” Our example and model, Jesus, has asked us to place our lives, our hopes, and eternal salvation into the very hands of God.

The dark moments in life have come and will come again. We will not be exempted from those, but what we will be exempted from is despair. For just as Jesus was tested, so shall we. Just as Jesus came up against doubt and fear, so shall we. Just as Jesus surrendered his will to the Father, so should we. And, just as Jesus was glorified so shall we.