On the Cusp – March 28, 2021

On the Cusp

Mark 11:1-11

March 28, 2021

                                 Main Idea: We are on the cusp of new life in Christ.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O LORD, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

For the season of Lent we lifted up the covenants that God has made with us and with all creation.  In this challenging year, these covenants have given us comfort, assurance, and a foundation for our faith.  Today we turn from those covenants from the Hebrew Scriptures to Jesus, whose life, death, and resurrection we affirm as the culmination of all of those covenants.  Today we celebrate Palm Sunday and we mark the beginning of Holy Week.   Today we remember Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem from which events rapidly develop and escalate; the Last Supper, the Garden, the betrayal, the trial, the crucifixion, and the hopelessness which followed.  One week from today we will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection but today, on this important day, we are on the cusp, just on the edge, of these heart-rending events.  Today we are on the cusp of new life in Christ.

All four gospels relate the same basic outline for Palm Sunday, and for Holy Week, but each shapes the story a bit differently.   In Matthew and Luke, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem culminates with his clearing of the Temple.  The big procession followed by the angry condemnation of the religious leaders guarantees that Jesus will not live much longer. But in Mark’s Palm Sunday account, which is our text for today, Jesus enters Jerusalem among other pilgrims and once he gets to the Temple, he just looks around a bit and then goes back out of the city.  The clearing of the Temple waits for the next day.  Why?  Why does Mark tell the story this way?

Throughout the Gospel of Mark, people think that they understand Jesus but Mark makes it clear that they don’t.  The disciples are befuddled and confused.  Demons recognize Jesus but he tells them to be silent.  The religious authorities think that Jesus is a threat to them as a political agitator.  They fear Roman reprisals because of the crowds who follow his calls for justice.  The crowds assume that he will be the kind of Messiah who will overthrow Rome and restore the Jewish nation.  Those who support him and those who fear him both misunderstand.  They have no idea of what is to come.

On this day, Jesus seems to fulfill everybody’s expectations.  He is finally going into Jerusalem.  He is riding a colt in fulfillment of a Messianic prophecy made long ago.  He is entering the city buoyed by the hopes and joy of a people gathering for Passover.  He is among pilgrims who have traveled far to worship at their most holy place, and who have prayed all their lives for a Savior.  Everyone is excited and anxious to see what will happen next.

What happens is that Jesus gets to the temple, and stops.  He looks around, in the midst of the bustle and chaos of the temple which is bursting at the seams with worshippers from all over.  The text says he looks around “at everything”. He is an island of quietness, simply observing, certainly praying, and then, “as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” (v.11)    

Jesus was not going to be caught up in the fervor and chaos surrounding him.  He was not going to be swayed by the emotions and wishes of the crowd or even of his disciples.  He knew that the days ahead of him would take all of his strength and courage and faith.  He knew that the days ahead would challenge his disciples and require them to let go of all of their previous expectations so that they could experience what God was doing.  He knew that he was on the cusp of revealing the depth of God’s love for the world through the outrageousness and scandal of the cross.

So he paused. He went back to Bethany with the Twelve for one last night of peaceful sleep before returning to Jerusalem for the conflict and suffering that was to come. 

Today, on this Palm Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem and the joy and promise that he brought that day, and that he brings each day to each one of us.   All of us are on the cusp, on the edge, of new life in Christ.   We are so anxious to return to “normal life” post-pandemic. We are itching to see our friends and family in person, to eat in restaurants, to ditch our masks, to go out in public without fear. We have so many questions about how and when this will happen.  We are thrilled that so many have received vaccines yet also alarmed that infection rates are rising in Chittenden County.  We recognize that there are important issues that need to addressed such as climate change, systemic racism, the horrific violence in Burma and elsewhere.  There is so much that is unsettled and unsettling.  Jesus invites us to stop and look around at the challenges and the  joys and blessings which surround us right now and recognize that we held in God’s grace.  Right now, in this very moment.  Jesus invites us to let go of our expectations and preconceptions of how things ought to be so that we can see that Jesus is among us.  Right now, in this very moment.  We know that ahead lies the wrenching events of Holy Week, the suffering and grief which are real, and which will be transformed on Easter morning.  We know that our lives, guided by Christ, will have challenges and opportunities, sorrows and joys which we cannot foresee.  We have lived through an extraordinary year and the year ahead will also be unlike any we have experienced. We have many things to do, many issues with which to deal.  But today we pause.  We look around.  We celebrate and are renewed.

Let us pray,

Triumphant God, we praise you on this festal day.  We celebrate your redeeming power and your gracious love.  We thank you for new beginnings and new understandings.  Help us to let go of all that separates us from you so that we might align our lives with your purpose.  Amen.