Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile

Palm Sunday – Third Sunday in ZOOM Church

April 5, 2020

Matthew 21.1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.  If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.”  And he will send them immediately.’  This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.  A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’  The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’

May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.

Context is everything.  As Christians, we all know the story of Palm Sunday. We remember the happy children and all the excitement of the crowd as Jesus came riding through the streets – the calling out to him, the running along beside him, waving palm fronds and throwing down coats.  But hearing it today, this story of a multitude, a throng, and a public celebration, is completely different from hearing it other years.  You can’t help but think of them all leaning up close to one another, breathing loudly, spitting a bit as they shouted hosanna.  Probably sneezing on each other and coughing as they pushed forward to catch a glimpse of the famous young preacher from Galilee.  Definitely not staying a hockey stick length apart.  No social distancing at all.  I’ll just speak for myself – for the first time in my life, the thought of the crowd that day is horrifying.

Our sense of what seems safe has changed.  Now, if I go into a store, or along a street, I turn and walk the other way if there is anyone in the vicinity.  If I look up and see a bus with more than a couple of people in it, I wonder if they are going to be alright.  I imagine them taking the virus home.

The precautions we are taking for covid-19 force our imaginations to work overtime in so many ways.  That is partly why, even with so little activity, people find this tiring.  You have to imagine the closeness of your friends and relatives when you talk on the phone or send an email or wave at a Facetime or ZOOM screen.  You have to imagine yourself in a Palm Parade at church, or perhaps even in a Palm Parade in Jerusalem.  You have to imagine the sound of the organ, and the choir when we gather for worship.  Last night I had to imagine the taste of mint sauce on a lambchop that I had for dinner!  And let’s face it, you can’t help imagining the possibility of sickness among those you love, or yourself, or even your own death.

And at the same time, you really have to imagine yourself being able to hang on through these difficult weeks, and all of us coming through somehow. Perhaps you can imagine walking on a crowded sidewalk, or going to a concert or a ballgame, or a family party or eating in your favourite restaurant.  We may think that what is saving us is these crazy gadgets we are using to stay connected – and thank heaven for them – but what is really the core of the collective effort to stay a step ahead of the pandemic is the power of all our imaginations.

On that day so long ago, when the people of Jerusalem asked Who is this?, a good answer might have been, this is the Lord of Imagination.  Jesus was the one who had taught them to imagine a world where the last would be first.  Where the distinctions of race and ability and gender and sexuality would no longer serve to divide or subjugate or exclude – a world where difference would be celebrated as a resource and a delight.  A world where they would be healed and strong.  Able to confront their oppressors and find a new way to live.

Jesus still stirs the imagination – if you look around at our faces here and think of the myriad different ways people have found to live out their faith, you begin to grasp it.  The care for one another and for the world, the work for social justice, for ecological justice, for legal reform, for refugee support, for music and dance and theatre, it goes on.  The power of faith to light up the imagination is what has brought each of us to this day.

As Jesus rode along, he will have had his own thoughts.  Perhaps amidst the cheers, his imagination will have turned to the days ahead, and the hardship of the path he had chosen. He understood that he was facing death.  Fear, faith and imagination mingled in him, as they do in us, to produce the courage that took him to the cross.  And for this we give God thanks.  Amen.


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