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We Are a Group Project

April 10, 2022 Cobleskill United Methodist Church -Pastor Anna Blinn Cole

Luke 19:28-40

Palm Sunday

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!’ Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’

I was moved this week when I saw a moment of people coming together despite difficult and trying circumstances. A moment when people put a common goal ahead of their individuality. A moment of true interdependence. It was captured on cell phone and posted to NPR’s Instagram page and that’s where I saw it. Let’s take a look at this moving moment.

<video clip of plane stewardess leading a game where two sides of the plane try to unroll and pass a roll of toilet paper faster than the other side>

I was certainly moved. Moved to laughter, that is. Yes, you saw right. You may have been expecting something a little more… serious, but that was indeed two rolls of toilet paper being unrolled competitively down two rows of plane seats in a low-budget effort to lighten the mood. During bad weather in Florida last week passengers on board a plane that had been waiting on the runway for hours were led by their flight attendant in a pick-up game of toilet paper unravelling. Because there are times that life just stink, and why on earth should anyone have to go through that alone?

We have arrived, my friends to Palm Sunday. A day when low-budget celebrations of solidarity in the face of overwhelming uncertainty are the name of the game.

Situated as the last Sunday in Lent and the first day of what we call Holy Week, let’s be honest and name today for what it is. Palm Sunday is a precarious moment and everyone knows it. As Jesus approaches the city of Jerusalem, he is walking into a situation that can only end badly for him. He has pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable too far. He has eaten with too many sinners; healed too many outcasts; spoken words of hope to too many foreigners; and proclaimed God’s love in a way that was too bold and too risky for the status quo to tolerate any more. He had gone too far and now the powers that be wanted him gone and they were waiting for him in Jerusalem. Maybe he wanted to run in the opposite direction (I know I would have), but instead he goes straight into the city and walks right toward the suffering he knows lies ahead. His whole life had been about loving the lost and the least. And he knows the only way to stand up for this movement is to love fearlessly anyone who uses their power to hurt other people, including those who would hurt him.

And so he entered that city in the only way a Prince of Peace possibly could. Not on the back of a colt. Not with fanfare or trumpets. Not surrounded by an army. Not clad in armor. But on the back of a young donkey with his feet barely high enough to not drag on the ground. Jesus brought only his unarmored self into this mighty city of power of strength. This was a precarious moment and Jesus had no intention of hiding that fact.

Jesus could have easily put on more of a show. If he didn’t have an army he could have at least borrowed a colt and made himself look mightier. Yet for Jesus, I want to believe there was something important about showing his lack of pretense; something profound about an honest reflection of his own vulnerability in front of the people around him, people he trusted and cared about.

And the people around him took notice: friends, disciples and random people who had only heard mention of this Jesus guy. They understood what Jesus was doing. That this parade of one solitary, unarmed man was a parade in which Jesus was being brutally honest about who he was, how he was vulnerable, and what that meant in a world dominated by power and strength. And one by one the people around this tired man riding a small donkey were moved to realize that what Jesus needed in that moment was not an army at all, it was solidarity. So they found the best parade accessories they could scrounge together, pulling branches from the trees and taking the coats off their backs to lay down on the ground. It wasn’t much, but it was good enough.

We’re often told a story about how we should save ourselves. How we should try harder, work smarter, and buck up. If life knocks you down, pull yourself back up by those proverbial boot straps. But this is not the story Jesus tells us. The story Jesus and Jesus’ life tells us is that we are all connected to one another. That we need one another both in our celebration and in our pain. The story of Palm Sunday is a story about how we can choose to show up for one another in times when our life is precarious and uncertain.

I don’t have any more videos to show about how this plays out in real life but I do have some more examples that come to mind. Do you remember how during the first wave of the pandemic when everyone was isolating there was this urban apartment complex near a hospital where people stuck their heads out their windows or went on their balconies and they banged pots and pans, clap their hands, and cheered as medical staff walked below during the shift change at the hospital. It was the solidarity they needed to get through those trying times. To me that’s a moment of choosing to show up for one another when life is precarious.

Or what about the tens of thousands of Russian citizens who have come out into their streets in defense of the Ukrainian people, protesting their own government, even though they know their show of solidarity will mean serious consequences for them under a regime that punishes all dissent. They showed up when it mattered.

Or what about the legacy black women in this country have of lifting each other up through adversity, against all the odds, and now through their solidarity and community have attained a seat on the highest court in a nation that for hundreds of years considered them to be property if not because of their race, because of their gender. Black women have shown us again and again what solidarity looks like in times of adversity by turning community into a verb and supporting one another through thick and thin.

And here’s a personal example. There’s a church committee here in this church that has as part of its job to care for the pastor. It’s been hard, but I’ve been honest with them about some difficult things that have been happening in my life. I’m sure you can all relate, when life feels precarious it’s not easy to let it show, even to the people we trust the most. But if we can’t be vulnerable in trusted community, where can we?

I’m thankful for the simple, yet profound ways I’ve felt supported. Their solidarity has with my family has made us feel less alone and when they encouraged me to take a few weeks to step back from my pastoral responsibilities I felt seen and truly supported. Often times we don’t need a fancy parade of support, the simple stuff works just fine.

In an interview with Kate Bowler on Kate’s fabulous podcast Everything Happens, Mia Birdsong said community becomes powerful when it stops being a noun and starts being a verb. She said, “We are responsible for one another. That doesn’t mean we can heal someone or make them accountable though, they have to own a commitment to those things. But it does mean being there. It means not avoiding our people when they experience trauma, illness, violence or pain we find hard or scary. It means not abandoning them to their relentless pain and hurting.”

Sometimes when life feels precarious and uncertain, what we need most is not to hide our fear and our pain away behind closed doors, but to let our vulnerability show among a community we trust. Jesus led the way into Jerusalem that day, but he led the way in showing us his own vulnerability on a day when he could have or maybe should have been showing strength and power. Instead he chose to be honest about the situation in front of people that he knew, if given a chance, would show up with humble palm branches and lend their solidarity. We are a group project, all of us. Jesus taught us that. Toiling at this business called life is always easier when we share the burden.

What is the message you need to hear today? Do you need permission to be honest with a community you love and trust about the hurts you have kept hidden away? If this is you, please know that you do not need to suffer alone. There is always someone willing to listen, beginning first and foremost with the people of this community.

Or is the message you need to hear today a nudge from Jesus to show up for someone in your life who has included you in their circle of honesty? Listen, it doesn’t need to be fancy or break the budget. Showing up authentically for one another requires only one thing. You. If you’re worried about having the right words, don’t be. Jesus didn’t need a fancy parade to feel the solidarity of his people, palm branches were good enough. And so it is with our fragile moments. A little bit of love goes a long way.

Let us pray.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Anna

Palm Sunday is a precarious day not only because Jesus in going forward into a future that will involve suffering, but also because its crowds like these that picked up palm branches that will also shout “crucify him” by Friday. Were they the same exact people? No one knows. But it’s a chilling reminder that within humanity is the capacity for the very best and the capacity for the very worst. Precarious moments test this.

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