Sunday, April 1, 2007

A Pilgrim People

Palm Sunday
Sunday of the Passion
Sunday, April 1, 2007
Luke 19:28-40

What is Jesus doing on Palm Sunday? He’s processing. He’s riding into Jerusalem as the Messiah King. The one who will bring victory to His people. That’s what we like. We like the power and glamor associated with processionals and victory. We should also notice what the other people were doing on Palm Sunday.

They’re not processing. They’re pilgriming. They’re on a pilgrimage. That’s because Jesus is the one who does the processionals. We’re the ones who hail Him. We’re the ones who are on the pilgrimage. That’s who we are, we Christians. We’re a pilgrim people. This is a day we remember as a day of rejoicing but it’s also the day that begins the week forever known as Holy Week. And we know how that went. Jesus ended up suffering and dying on the cross.

So we come here for worship and it’s not all glitz and glamour. There’s a somberness to this day and this week. Why can’t we just rejoice and sing Alleluias all the time? Why do we need to have this talk of pilgrimage? Apparently there are churches that don’t even have worship on Good Friday. They skip right to Easter Sunday. Maybe some people just don’t like thinking about the suffering and death of Jesus. Maybe they just want to do the rejoicing part.

But we forget who we are. We’re a pilgrim people. We’re on a pilgrimage. Palm Sunday is a spectacular event. Jesus is shown in His glory. But the disciples? Mundane tasks. Go get a donkey. It’s got to be done. We’re on a pilgrimage. Jesus gives us the tasks to do to carry out the work for Him to be shown in His glory. When you’re there you may wonder if Jesus has gotten things right. That’s the way it is on a pilgrimage. You sometimes have second thoughts. You sometimes want to go back home where things are normal and safe. It’s great to celebrate the power of Jesus, but why do we have to go on a pilgrimage to get there? If there are people there who wonder what you’re doing with that donkey, you simply tell them that God is the one who’s behind this. While you’re saying it you may be wondering yourself why you’re doing it and if God really is behind it.

We’d rather process, wouldn’t we? We’d rather be caught up in the glory of the procession. Doesn’t God promise us glory and great blessings? Aren’t we offered an eternal place in heaven? Doesn’t God tell us of His eternal gifts that are ours in His grace? But those often appear a shadow or a faint hope. Right now we’re on a pilgrimage. Things don’t look very glorious now. The bills pile up. The body keeps breaking down. For that matter, the house does too. And maybe it seems like your marriage isn’t in much better condition. Things might not even be much better at work. We’re not waltzing through life, we’re just trying to get through it.

We don’t make things any easier for ourselves, either. We treat God as a last resort and blame Him when it seems that He’s treating us that way. We say we have no other gods but don’t trust in Him fully. We worry about things, wishing that our way through our problems could be a processional rather than a pilgrimage. We’re really not all that strong spiritually in and of ourselves when we hear Jesus say that the rocks on the side of the road could just as well proclaim His praises if we were to be silent.

Being a pilgrim is not glamorous. And it’s hard.

Why does Jesus send us on a pilgrimage? Why does it have to be a hard thing to be a Christian? Well Jesus’ answer to that is not just in what the people were doing on that Palm Sunday. It’s also and mainly in what Jesus was doing on that Palm Sunday. And He was processing, yes. But while it appeared to be all glorious and powerful, Jesus was really doing this not for the sake of it itself. He was doing it really in order to get to something else—and we know what that was. It was the cross.

It was suffering and death. Now here’s a switch. This processional of Jesus ends up to be more like a pilgrimage. Not so glorious. Not so powerful. But hard. Jesus riding in in glory, yet humbly, on a donkey. Honored, yet weak. Even though they didn’t realize it. But that’s because they didn’t see Jesus for who He really is. For why He really came.

It was to go on a pilgrimage. In our place. Being born in a musty cave. Working with wood for thirty odd years. Going for forty days without food in the wilderness. Being tempted by the Evil One for those forty days. And now His pilgrimage has brought Him to this point. Where He rides into Jerusalem to His death. Why are we perplexed about our own pilgrimage when we see Jesus for who He really is and why He came?

If God delivered to our lap the glory He’s promised us and we could simply breeze through life, how many of us do you think would still think that we even need Him? No, it is the pilgrims who know that they’re in need. It is they who realize that there is something greater and bigger than they are. It is in going through the pilgrimage that we come to see that our God takes care of us. That He has a plan all along and it is to bring us to the eternal glory of heaven.

It sure didn’t appear that God’s plan was working. Jesus processes into Jerusalem with the whole crowd behind Him, only to brutally suffer and lose His life. Nobody saw glory in that. Nobody except God, that is. That is how His plan came about. It was in that pilgrimage to the cross that His glory was brilliantly manifested.

It won’t always seem like this pilgrimage is worth it for us. Pilgrims have second thoughts along the way. Is this the way it’s supposed to be? Can’t it just be easy, at least for a while? But God sustains us along the way. We carry with us a treasure that we can’t lose no matter what our pilgrimage brings us through—Baptism. Remember, always, you are Baptized.

You can’t go back and change the fact of your birth. Your mom gave birth to you and the rest is history. Neither can you or anybody else go back and change the day you were born into the glorious Kingdom of God. You are Baptized. Always. This is what you need to know while you’re on your pilgrimage. This is the possession, the treasure, you need to have when you’re facing dark days. Hang on to that, your Baptism, because your Baptism is God’s way of hanging on to you.

God picks us up while we’re on the pilgrimage. We’ll stumble at times. We’ll get spiritually thirsty. He lifts us up and prepares a table for us in the midst of our journey. In the very valley of the shadow of death, it’s there—a feast for the weary. The food given us fills us with strength. This food we eat and drink with our mouths, but it is more than a meal to meet our physical needs. God doesn’t want just to help us. He gives us Himself. That’s why He Himself went on the pilgrimage He did. Because His glory is to give us Himself. That’s what He does in His Holy Supper: He gives us His body and blood for our spiritual nourishment.

We are pilgrims on this earth. It might seem appropriate on April Fool’s Day, since it seems pretty foolish. But we will remain pilgrims until that day our Lord calls us home to Himself. On that day the pilgrimage will come to an end and we will process on in to heaven. You are a citizen of heaven even now. Your pilgriming doesn’t change that. Just as the solemnity of this week doesn’t change the joy we have that Christ our Lord—the one who suffered and died on our behalf—is the risen Lord who sustains us in our pilgrimage. Amen.



Anonymous said...

Beautifully said!

rev.will said...

Thank you!