I want to begin this morning by speaking directly to the members and friends of Park Avenue United Methodist Church. I want to say how proud I am of you and how grateful I am for the many ways that you have been tending to one another. I don’t know all, but what I do know of your displays of extravagant love, generosity, and care amid of all of the fears, anxieties, and uncertainties of this moment is a witness to who we are and to what we believe.
Like thousands of others around the country and around the world, you are embodying the love of Christ and the good news of the gospel that directs us to love our neighbors as ourselves. And all the people are our neighbors.
We gather this Palm Sunday morning physically distant, but perhaps more communal and more spiritually connected than ever. We are learning, growing, striving, and surviving together. I want you to know that I have never been more grateful for you, prouder of who we are together, nor more hopeful of what we might become.
I have been thinking about last Palm Sunday. Our children and choir led a processional from the steps of the church, going west along 86th street to Central Park, where we found a certain place and stopped for prayer, then made our way back for worship. It was a beautiful sunny morning much like today, and there were about 30 of us. There we were on full display on the Upper East Side for all the neighbors to see – waving our palm branches and singing, “We are Marching in the Light of God; we are marching in the light of God.”
This song began as a South African protest song (Siyahamba)against apartheid and is still sung around the world as a call for freedom and in solidarity with those who are oppressed. It is a song of declaration about one’s commitment and resolve to living in the light, moving, and loving in the power of God in the world, come what may.
We are marching in the light of God. We are living in the love of God. We are moving in the power of God. That is what we are doing today, is it not? That is where our true hope lies.
It is that very same light of God that is shining in on us right now and guiding our way through this dark and lonesome valley.
Who could have imagined last year that we would become so socially isolated and distanced? But here we are figuring it out. Someone said to me this week, “Lent kind of got lost on me this year.” And I certainly understand. I think it is fair to say that it kind of got lost on many of us amid all the other things on our mind.
And it is troublesome even now to think that we won’t have Easter inside of the church building, but the real joy is knowing that there will be Easter inside our hearts. Imagine that.
We may not be in the building, but Easter can still happen. Because the hope of our gathering, our faith, what we claim about God, the motivation behind every sacrifice, every gift of giving, doing the hard thing, taking the high road, forgiving, and letting go, loving enemies, standing for justice, everything rides on the power of the Resurrection. Every hope, dream, aspiration, moment of pressing on and pressing through rides on the hope of a risen Lord and because of him, all things are being made new. If somehow, miracle of miracles, Jesus got up from the grave so shall we also arise from this pit of death, sorrow and anguish. And we shall live again.
This year of all years, there will be a celebration. And it might very well mean something, really mean something, as if we are hearing it for the very first time – stripped of tulips and lilies, stripped of string instruments and orchestras, stripped of that mad rush to the pews where we wonder in a glad way where everyone will sit. The real meaning of Resurrection might emerge and power over life and death might really seem true.
Let us determine to walk this lonesome valley with Jesus this week. In the midst of our own sorrow and grief, anxiety and fears, worry, sickness and death, jobs cuts and lay-offs, let us place ourselves among the crowds, in the upper room with the other disciples, at the foot of the cross. Let us follow closely and see where we might end up when this is all over.
Today, we witness Jesus’ final journey into Jerusalem riding on a borrowed colt. He is a glorified king as well as a humiliated servant.
The smell of death is everywhere, and Jesus was in crisis.
Last week, I heard Governor Cuomo use that very word – crisis. New York City is in crisis and indeed it is. And other cities day by day. We are in crisis.
In his final hours, Jesus sits at table with those he loves. I know our eyes should be on him alone, but I want to place myself alongside Peter, James, and John. Even Judas.
For like them, sometimes I live within that paradox of who I think I am, what I think I would do, and who I truly am, what I actually do, what I believe when the going gets rough.
Parts of me want to distance myself from the stark reality of this. I want to pretend that my loyalties in the day-to-day and my follow-ship are far deeper they are sometimes. That my faith is 100% every day and that I have no fear at all. I want to tell myself that – especially here and now, in this moment. But alas, I know the truth. And Jesus knows the truth.
And what I love about it, is that Jesus knows the truth about what lurks in Judas’ and Peter’s heart and lets them still sit.
I have been thinking about this because all instincts say that if someone harms you and you find out, you are to distance yourself. It is easy to separate, put up impenetrable barriers. But Jesus does not do that.
Jesus said, “The one who dips his hand in the dish with me will betray me.” And Judas remains. Judas said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” But Jesus lets him stay at the table. And that is the heart of God that I need.
Though Peter would deny three times, he goes on to be a great Rock in the Church. And all others who would abandon become the early Church fathers. There would have been work for Judas too, but he decided otherwise.
I want to sit at the table, how about you? Jesus still washes their feet. Like Peter, I want to say wash all of me – wash me from head to toe. Wash me on the inside for those moments when I too have denied your love and presence within me.
I want to sit at that table of knowing and take the bread as my Lord hands it over. I want to keep watch on that cup and wait my turn to taste the sweet wine of grace upon my lips. It offers what is so desperately needed: grace, mercy and healing, forgiveness.
Ordinarily, we would be preparing ourselves to come to the table this morning. What we say here at Park Avenue is that it is a table of new beginnings. A table of welcome for all – without distinction, none are excluded.
I’m missing that today. But I promise you this: whenever that first Sunday is that we are back, we will spread the table and it will be Easter morning. We will gather and I pray that the church will be full and there will be great music and celebration and we will dine and drink together.
It will be a table of healing, celebration, love – holy, holy, holy communion.
Can you imagine? That is keeping me going these days. That is what I am most looking forward to.