Sunday, April 09, 2017

Wrong Turns

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
April 9, 2017

Year A: The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday
Matthew 21:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 26:14—27:66

Wrong Turns
            There were few if any commemorations, but the other day was the one hundredth anniversary of the United States entering the First World War.
            By the time the US joined the fight, the war had already been going on for three years and had caused previously unimaginable suffering, death, and destruction.
            As so often happens in human history, the Great War was sparked by a tragic but seemingly relatively unimportant incident.
            From your history classes, some of you may remember that Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne, was visiting a remote, though troublesome, part of his empire, Bosnia, and its capital city, Sarajevo.
            There was a parade and the sidewalks were lined with people. Some were excited to greet the royal visitor, and others not so much.
            In fact, there had already been one assassination attempt earlier in the day.
            Later, the motorcade reassembled and started the parade again.
            For whatever reason – maybe it was a mistake, maybe it wasn’t - the driver of the Archduke’s car turned onto a narrow street where a waiting assassin fired his gun, fatally wounding the Archduke and his wife.
            That wrong turn in a small capital city in the remote corner of a vast empire set off a storm that in some ways has never ended, a war that continues to echo and take life in places like Syria and Iraq to this very day.
            Wrong turns.
            Today, Holy Week begins with another parade.
            It’s a parade in Jerusalem, a city that because of our faith looms large in our imaginations but for the Romans it was the capital of a remote, though troublesome, part of their vast empire.
            The King entered his capital city to shouts of “Hosanna!” and a road covered in palms, greeted by a crowd of people hoping that this healer and teacher might really be the long-awaited Messiah, the one who would liberate Israel from the hated Roman occupation and restore the mighty kingdom of David.
            But, from the start there are signs that the crowd is in for a big disappointment, just look at what the new king is riding.
            Today is the most disorienting of all the days in our church calendar because the crowd turns – the crowd turns from shouts of joy and adoration to cries for blood and death.
            The crowd turns and follows the religious and political leaders, who are determined to hold on to their power at all costs, and eager to be rid of this would-be messiah.
            Wrong turns.
            This wrong turn leads to the death of an innocent man – the death of the innocent man.
            Now, because of the many wrong turns taken by Christians over the centuries, it is essential for us to remember that the wrong turn in Jerusalem two thousand years ago was not Jews turning against Christians.
            There weren’t any Christians, yet.
            Aside from Pilate and the other Romans, everyone in this story is Jewish.
            The point is that they are men and women caught up first in the excitement, the frenzy, of welcoming a savior.
            And, they are men and women caught up in the excitement, the frenzy, of turning against this innocent man when it seems he’s not the kind of king that they had expected, had so longed for.
            This wrong turn happened fast, right? But it shouldn’t surprise us that people can turn so quickly.
            Probably every parent has had the experience of a child one minute saying “I love you!” and seemingly the next minute shouting, “I hate you!”
            Athletes and actors and politicians and employees, husbands and wives, probably all of us at one time or another, experience that kind of turn. One minute you can do no wrong, you’re the answer to our prayers - and the next minute you’re the worst thing ever, the source of all of our problems.
            Wrong turns.
            And, of course, we all make plenty of our own wrong turns, too.
            Too often, we choose hate instead of love, death instead of life.
            We also get caught up in the excitement, the frenzy, of the crowd – accepting the simple answers, ridiculing certain people, rejecting certain people, identifying them as the worst thing ever, the source of all our problems.
            That’s why in today’s service we all play the part of the crowd, calling for the blood of the innocent man.
            Because we make plenty of wrong turns.
            Yes, everybody makes wrong turns - but not Jesus.
            Jesus turns his face toward Jerusalem and all that awaits him there.
            And then, despite very real fear, Jesus the Son of God doesn’t turn. He sees it all through: betrayal, abandonment, torture, despair, and, finally, death itself.
            Two thousand years ago, people in a small capital city in the remote corner of a vast empire - people not so different from us, really, - they made a wrong turn, but this wrong turn sets off a very kind of storm, a storm that has never ended, a storm that continues to echo and give life throughout the world, including right here in Jersey City.
            This time, God takes our wrong turn and uses it to show just how much God loves us, revealing on Easter morning that, yes, ultimately, love conquers hate and life defeats death.
            But, that’s next week.
            Now, first, we sit at the tomb, and grieve the consequences of our wrong turns.