Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Choices of Holy Week

The Palm branches have been waved; the hosannas have been sung; the customary sermon has been preached.  Now we are into Holy Week.  Throughout the Gospel narrative, the tension between Jesus and his detractors has been thickening, the shadow of their threatening desperation growing more ominous.  Although we call it Palm Sunday, Jesus diminished the importance of the palms and brought to center stage the lethal plot waiting in the wings as he enters Jerusalem and the future that plot would yield:
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes.  The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment  against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side.  They will dash you to the ground, you and your children within your walls.  They will not leave one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you [Luke 19:41-44]."
It is, perhaps, better called Passion Sunday.
Holy Week is a week of stark choices for the city that will lead to both tragic and transformative consequences.  Holy Week is an appropriate time for us to think about our choices.  They don’t usually seem as stark as those that stood before Jerusalem, but they nonetheless are building a certain future for us and those around us.
A young pastor received a call in the middle of the night.  The woman said in a hushed tone:  “Pastor, I need you.  John is on a rampage.”  The pastor rose and dressed and drove through streets of darkened windows.  When he arrived at the house where the woman lived, every light was on.  He went to front door and knocked; the door was unlatched and opened slightly under the force of his knocking.  He heard angry voices in the back of the house.  He walked through the house toward the voices.  As he turned into the family room, he saw the woman sitting on the couch with a bloodied mouth.  Her husband was standing by the sliding glass door with a hunting rifle in his hands.
The young pastor stood for a moment and thought through his seminary training.  He could not remember ever receiving any guidance on how to deal with a desperate man holding a gun; it just never came up in class.  After a moment, he asked the man, whose name he fortunately remembered from the phone call:  John, what type of future are you building for yourself?  The question so surprised the man that he put down his rifle and began to talk.  He had come home that night to find his wife involved in an affair.  This discovery so devastated his life, so stripped him if all his securities, that he felt he had no future.  He saw no place beyond that moment; his life was over.  The realization that he still had a choice about his future stunned him.  The chance that some life worth living could lie beyond this moment woke him from his darkness.
Holy Week is a week where we remember the poor choices Jerusalem made, the terrified choices the disciples made, and the faithful choices some followers made as they stood at the cross.  We are reminded that our choices matter; we are always building a future of one sort or another.
We endure the weight of our power to choose with the hope that on Sunday God will turn these people’s choices inside out and raise new, unprecedented possibilities.  The glimmer of Easter lightens our load, knowing God can redeem even our worst choices.  But during Holy Week, it is good for us to bear for a few days the awesome weight of our freedom.  Day by day we are choosing.  What type of future are we building for ourselves, our families, and our world?
Holy Week 2015
Jim Kelsey
Executive Minister-The American Baptist Churches of New York State