Holding the Tension
Based on Psalm 118, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Philippians 2:4-11, Matthew 21:1-11
With all of the stay-at-home time that we are all engaged in now, I suspect that you are like me and are watching more movies and “binge-ing” more television series. Let me ask you a question…have you ever found a show or movie so compelling that you have actually lost yourself in the story? I know that I have on more than one occasion. Great story telling pulls us in and captivates us – we feel the tension of the dilemma that the main characters are facing. We attempt to hold it with them, sometimes to the point where we find our hearts racing, tears streaming from our eyes, shouting and cheering whenever triumph over the challenge is presented. The interesting thing is that with our favorites, we can experience this emotional reaction over and over again – even though we know how it will turn out.
Palm Sunday is kind of like that – all of Holy Week really. We have once again made our way with Jesus on His journey to Jerusalem. We are now poised with the Disciples and the gathered crowd to raucously welcome Him into Jerusalem – shouting out “Hosanna” (which means ‘save us’) to the so called “King of the Jews”. It is a compelling story and one that we have waited for as a signal that Easter Sunday is but a week away. What a week it is, however, as we move with Jesus from today’s triumphal entrance with the crowds to the isolated crucifixion of Friday afternoon and the silence of the tomb on Saturday. This is why today is also known as Passion Sunday.
Our scriptures paint two pictures for us today – pictures which present us with two compelling stories that are in tension with each other. While we are certainly more drawn to the Psalmist and the story in Matthew than we are to the words on servanthood of the prophet Isaiah and the Apostle Paul, we don’t have the luxury of just focusing on the party. We must move from celebration through betrayal, denial and death in order to fully engage in the realization that there is only one choice which allows us to live every day as Easter people. Let us take our tensions now to God to ask for God to hold them with us…
The prophet Isaiah and the Apostle Paul are writing about servanthood. Servanthood is that choice to do things for others from a heart which freely engages in service out of love. There is no feeling of servitude (i.e., feeling like serving is an obligation to an order) when we operate from a position of unconditional love. Isaiah speaks of hearing God’s word spoken and choosing to follow – even when ridicule and bullying were the result. All the strength that the prophet requires comes from following God’s word in the world. Likewise, Paul writes to the community of believers in Philippi asking for them to look first to the interests of others. They should adopt the same servant mindset as Jesus who emptied himself of his own will and was supremely obedient. Obedient all the way through the Cross. Because of His obedience to God’s word, God elevated Jesus to His rightful place as Lord and Savior of us all. The tension this creates in us is one of asking whether or not we will choose to empty ourselves and become fully obedient to God’s will – or continue to follow our own minds and give a nod every once in a while to what God is asking of us?
The Psalmist sings out, “…O give thanks to the LORD, for God [he] is good; God’s [his] steadfast love endures forever!…” He goes on to state that it is better to put our faith in our God than to put our faith and trust in mortal leaders. This is because God’s love is unconditional and faithful versus leaders who put conditions on their response to our cries for help based on whether they like us or not or whether we can help them maintain their worldly power. A large crowd had followed Jesus and the Disciples from Jericho. Instead of walking into Jerusalem, Jesus decides to fulfill yet another scripture and ride in on a donkey. The crowd throws down cloaks and branches in front of Him and shouts out “Save us Son of David”, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD!”, “Save us from the highest heaven”. Though they treat Him like he is the Messiah, the Christ, the last lines of the story have them introducing Him as “…the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee….” The tension is palpable here…is Jesus a prophet or is He the long-promised Christ?
Holding the tension of opposing positions in a decision…it is what human life is all about, isn’t it? If a problem is well defined with clear cut “this way or that” parameters, then the tension is low. Also, if the outcome stakes are modest to low, then there is really no harm either way and little tension is felt in decision making. However, we find ourselves in a time where there are few hard facts from which to make decisions, where new and sometimes contradictory information comes every day, and the reality that some of the choices we make may have life-or-death consequences. Most humans have not had to make those choices before, and thus are at a loss at how to decide. We are frozen by the unknowns and the tension of the potential dire outcome if we decide wrong – something that will only be seen clearly in retrospect.
These are similar tensions to those surrounding Jesus in His final trip to Jerusalem. He could have avoided this show-down with the Temple leadership and just continued His ministry in the Galilee – but God directed Him to “set His face to Jerusalem” and He chose to obey. He chose to revive Lazarus to help his friends and that decision led to the Temple leadership’s plan to kill Him. He chose to fulfill scripture and ride in a celebratory procession into Jerusalem, which only upset the Temple leaders more (they said they were concerned about a Roman retaliation for perceived insurrection). The tension of choices and consequences…but Jesus was being obedient to God’s plan and He trusted in God more than mere mortals.
Our worship time today offers us a moment of faith that happens too infrequently – a moment when we are called to hold the tension of the collision of divine and human plans, and to experience a synchronization of who we believe Jesus is for us and our lives, versus who God knows Jesus to be. It could be a moment when we grasp (possibly fleetingly) not only that Jesus is worthy of our praise but also that our worship is integral to our relationship with God through Him. Perhaps our scripture readings and reflection today can recapture the Psalmist’s truth that “…it is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in mortals….”
Putting our trust that our God is in the middle of all that is happening is a way for us to be able to hold the tension of this holy week and this human time. The Bible tells us that God has our best interests at heart because God knows the plans that God has for us – plans for us to prosper. That God never leaves us alone and wants nothing more than to hear from us the tension of our struggles and our worries. That God through Jesus tells us, “Do not be afraid for I am with you even to the end of the age”. Therefore, this day and every day from now, let us choose to give our trust and obedience to the God who is present with us and who shows us unconditional, steadfast love and faithfulness. The One who sent us Jesus to show us the way of trusting and humble obedience that will see us through every challenging situation. The final words of this message are from the Psalmist to God, “…I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it….” May you all discover trust in God, so that you can rejoice in every day that the LORD makes for you and your loved ones! Amen!