Palm Sunday [March 25, 2018]

Why does anybody have to die? Because, according to the story in the book of Genesis, in the beginning, Adam and Eve sinned, and God said if they were going to behave like that, he certainly didn’t want them hanging around forever.

Today is Palm Sunday and I was thinking it would be cool to give each of you a palm branch with a scripture printed on it, but then I remembered that the Bible prohibits us from reading palms.[1]

Today we reenacted a demonstration that happened 2000 years ago when people shouted, “Hosanna! Save us!” Yesterday, all over the country crowds were gathering in the March for Our Lives[2] to protest gun violence and death. I think we can all agree that we don’t like death. We don’t like it when people die, and we especially don’t like it when death is senseless.

In a sense, what we’re doing here today is protesting death.

Why does anybody have to die? Because, according to the story in the book of Genesis, in the beginning, Adam and Eve sinned, and God said if they were going to behave like that, he certainly didn’t want them hanging around forever.[3] They were banished from Eden, and death became a part of life. God said the words we say on Ash Wednesday, “for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:19). And ever since, from the moment we’re born we’re on that lifelong journey toward death.

In our small groups this past week, many of us talked about death. It’s a challenging subject. It brings up the sadness we feel about the people we are missing. It brings up the fears we have about the unknown. But the fact that we have thoughts and feelings about death means something important – it means we are alive. Thoughts and feelings are signs of life.

It’s a normal part of dealing with death that it makes us sad, and angry. It’s also normal that we sometimes try to live as if there is no death. But there is. Jesus experienced it and conquered it, so that we could know eternal life through faith in him.

Because of Jesus, we’re celebrating life. Because of his death and resurrection, and the forgiveness and salvation we find through faith in him, we have new life. Jesus is the one we’re singing about, the one for whom the crowd was waving the palm branches. Jesus is the one who said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Though death threatens to overwhelm us with its darkness, Jesus brings us light and life.

We tend to equate death with darkness, but when people have near-death experiences, they report seeing a bright light, and often a figure of light waiting for them that many people think is Jesus. Can you imagine being Lazarus or Jairus’ daughter (Rachel in the musical today) being raised from the dead by Jesus? As they opened their eyes to see Jesus standing there in the daylight, they wouldn’t know which side they were on![4]
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:4-5

[5]Light is such an amazing and complex thing.[6] With our eyes we actually see only a very small amount of all the light that exists, hardly thinking about all the light we cannot see.

God is light (1 John 1:5), a simple statement with incredibly complex implications.

One of the amazing ironies about Jesus is that so many people could not see who he was, but the blind man could. It points out the reality of how easily we get distracted by what we can see with our eyes and because of this we miss seeing the deeper realities of life, the things we can’t see with our eyes, but we can know with our hearts because of the Holy Spirit living in us.
This week, between now and Easter, let’s spend some time each day with our eyes closed, and practice seeing without them, asking God to open the eyes of our hearts, and to help us see the world the way God sees it, and to see the people around us the way that God sees us all…in the light of Christ.

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, open the eyes of my heart.
I want to see you. I want to see you.

[1] Deuteronomy 18:10 “There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer. . .”
[2] organized by the students from Parkland, Florida in response to the shooting there on Feb. 14, 2018 at Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people.
[3] Joke by Rob Krabbe
[4] Adapted from Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures, as quoted in Harper Bibles. The NRSV Daily Bible: Read, Meditate, and Pray Through the Entire Bible in 365 Days (p. 1264). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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