Today is a strange, complex, confusing day in the life of our Church.
At one point we stand and process together in praise and excitement – the Messiah is coming! And later, we stand in stunned shock, unable to comprehend the reality of what happens at the end of the story. Our service started those moments of heartfelt expectation placing us as part of a crowd who saw Jesus as the Messiah. People so certain of who Jesus was that they shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
These words mark the moment of entry of Jesus into Jerusalem proclaiming the deep desire of hope and salvation sought by the people. Its a story not of a traditional King who came to conquer; one who came on a prancing horse, in royal robes, surrounded by an army. Instead, the story we see and hear this morning is one of a lowly servant on a donkey, in the clothes of the humble and the poor – the clothing of the very people surrounding him.
Jesus Christ comes to conquer by love, grace, mercy, and His own sacrifice for His people.
His call is not for a kingdom of armies and riches, but of lowliness and servanthood. He comes to conquers not nations, but hearts and minds. His message is one of everlasting peace with God, not of the temporal peace we seek in this world.
After months of teaching around the countryside, after the many miracles he performed in front of people, after the crowds of five thousand have gone home. Jesus now with his disciples begin the journey into Jerusalem, into the mouth of the lion. The very place where he knows what is to happen will happen. And despite his continued teachings, despite his warnings, those around him unknowingly celebrate this journey.
So we gather today with shouts of hope and celebration, and yet also tears of loss and confusion as the story continues. In hearing this story today, we stand witness with Jesus on this fateful day. Despite the uneasiness that lay in our hearts we can picture ourselves in the crowd. We can identify with those who stood there watching what was happening, afraid, numb and frozen in place. Not stepping up to help because of the fear in our hearts. In hearing this story, we see the best and the worst that exists in our own lives, and all that we have to offer. We see ourselves, catching glimpses of the truth dimly. We also see ourselves fickle and quick to run when things get tough. We stand with those in the story, unable it seems to help others… and we can’t seem to even help ourselves. We simply stand in silent watch.
And it is for this very reason that Jesus came and offered himself on the cross. Jesus offered himself because we can’t always help ourselves. Too often, we see good and do the wrong thing. Too often, we turn away when we should help. We know right from wrong, we know the difference between good and evil, and yet when faced with the choice, more often than not, we freeze. It’s part of our very DNA – fight, flight or freeze. Yet, despite the end result of his journey, Jesus proclaims there is hope. That there is hope in God. There is love in God. Jesus leads us to trust that all of this is in the hands of God. Not an understanding that God made this happen, but understanding that we live grounded, in the reality of an awareness that as humans, we exist in a dual world of light and darkness, of good and evil. And in the duality of these spaces, both good and bad simply exist as part of our human nature.
But when we hit those moments in our lives shift towards the darkness, like our story today, as Christians we’re grounded in an understanding that God is there, present with us. And that’s how God is God. Profoundly present as our lives shift and change. Always present in the light. Always present in the darkness. Visibly present in moments of goodness, and quietly patient and present in moments of evil. God is constantly there…. planting seeds of redemption and forgiveness, helping new life come into being…. offering us endless examples of resurrection. Moving us back into the light of his love and compassion, making it possible for our tears to turn into laughter and our weeping into moments of joy.
And in our story this morning, its in just one of these moments that one person saw something differently than the rest; The centurion. He moved from the darkness of the event into the light of understanding. He had stood watching everything that day. He was used to crucifixion because he helped carry out the orders. But as he watched Jesus die, the centurion who’s allegiance was to the emperor saw something in Jesus in those moments, and his allegiance shifted, saying to those around him, “Truly, this man was God’s Son.”
In the terrible events of that day he experienced the wonder of God. He experienced Gods hope for the world. He saw light in a terrible moment of darkness.
The cross and Christ’s death comes fast in todays story, but Easter comes just as quickly. Through the love of God, resurrection comes as every bit of a surprise for us as Good Friday does. And next Sunday, the women who go to the tomb expecting death instead they find angels proclaiming new life and the story turns again and it happens quickly. They go expecting an un-moveable boulder and instead the stone has been rolled away. And they are given good news; good news to share with their people. So just like that – in the blink of a tear filled eye, the cries of Crucify Him! become cries of Alleluia! – and the emptiness of the tomb fills the emptiness of their hearts and life begins again. New life, promised and given by Christ. AMEN