March 20, Palm Sunday

Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 19:28-40; Luke 22:14--23:56

Bryan Cones

Where is God in all this? That could be a question many of us have been asking since this time last year: violence and destruction in Paris, Istanbul, and Baghdad, which still echoes in the news this week, tragic deaths and unimaginable violence in Chicago, an endless war in Syria whose victims wash up on Europe’s shores, a political campaign marked by anger and frustration, spilling over into a contest of profanity and name-calling, even physical attacks and recrimination. Where is God in all this?

And that’s just in the world out there, without even touching those hard moments of family or personal life: the unexpected and unprepared for deaths, the surprising sickness, the diminishment of just growing older, the betrayal of friends, suffering the mean girls or the bully boys, the feeling of just being alone. Where is God in all this?

What a very good question, one our Christian ancestors were asking themselves as they reflected on the events of the week we are about to begin: Where was God when God’s Son was suffering so? Where was God when the Romans crucified the Chosen One? And where was God when those who followed the Christ suffered rejection and persecution themselves? And here today, on Palm Sunday, we begin to tell once again the stories through which they answered the question: Where is God in all this?

The story actually began last week, with Mary of Bethany’s prophetic anointing of Jesus, her actions signaling where God was in that tender moment, caring for the Son as Jesus prepared to make his final journey. Today we tell more of that story in two parts, beginning with a joyous parade in which the voice of God rises up from those who have been silenced and ignored, so powerful that even those religious authorities couldn’t shut them up, lest God make even the stones sing.

We skip today the part where the crowd invades the Temple, turning over tables in God’s protest of the blasphemy of ripping off the faithful poor as they tried to worship God. That bit of activism is what draws the attention of the Romans, and will end in the story of Jesus’ death we tell today, but not before Jesus shows us where God is: in the forgiveness showered not only upon those with whom he is crucified, but upon those who do the crucifying as well.

That’s not the whole story, of course—don’t forget the middle. On Thursday we tell the story of the night before Jesus died, when God was in the holy meal that is the pledge of God’s love for us, and in the holy act of service that is our pledge of love for all, and in the holy watch through the night with our friend as we wait for Good Friday’s dawn.

On Friday again we tell the story of that fateful day, when the power of evil seemed for a moment to win, as the Just One stood before the unjust, as all his friends, save three, deserted him in his hour of need. Where God was then is sometimes hard to see, though perhaps it was in God’s refusal to destroy what God had so lovingly made, even as it destroyed the Just One.

Which brings us to Saturday, when we gather in the tombs at night, following the faithful women who hoped to anoint the Anointed One, there to discover what God had known all along, that no shadow can overcome the brightness of God, a God who is present through both light and darkness. And so in darkness we tell the whole story again from the beginning of where God has been all along, until we get to the end, which is actually the new beginning, the story of living always where God is, in life that death cannot overcome.

And so we gather today, to tell the story again, starting at the beginning, and staying for the middle, all the way to the end, not just by reading it but by living it: to join the parade of palms and praise today, and to shout with the crowd that wants Jesus dead, to eat with Jesus one last time on Thursday night, and to practice with him the humble service he came to reveal, and to sit up with him in his terror until it becomes too much, to return on Friday before it is too late to accompany Jesus as he dies, to gather at his grave on Saturday night to mourn him, until we are surprised by the new thing God has done on Sunday.

This is Holy Week, when we make present the story we live by, so that we can learn again just how to see where God is in all this, by remembering where God has been and always will be: with us through the same moments of joy, sorrow, service, care, waiting, watching, never failing to be with us to show us the way, never failing to draw new life out of what seems like loss. As we remember this story in word and action this week so may we also discover that God is always wherever we are, whenever we tell this story.