And no; the title of my sermon doesn’t refer to the mid-1950s Roger and Hammerstein’s musical. But rather, to a decisive encounter that took place over two thousand years ago on Calvary’s way.
Today is Sunday of the Passion, also known as Palm Sunday. Today we recall the beginning of a fateful week. It began with throngs coming out to receive Jesus as He made His entry into Jerusalem.
As Gary Alan Taylor, an international speaker and author comments, “Historians tell us two parades took place that particular spring day in Jerusalem. Two “kings” entered the city representing two very different kingdoms: The Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world.
“Jesus isn’t entering the Holy City as a pilgrim, but as a prophet challenging the unholy union between the religious authorities and State power. He arrives on the scene from the east just as Pilate and his cadre of Roman soldiers enter the city from the west.
“Two kings. Two kingdoms. Two radically different visions for the world. Pilate’s vision was a world controlled by power, violence, [bullying], and domination. Jesus offered a vision of human flourishing centered on service, humility, peace, and reciprocity.
And, as we know, God’s vision for His own world was turned down. And, sadly, in some quarters, it still is unwelcomed news.
By the end of the fateful week, the same throngs that made a welcome tapestry out of palms and tunics turned their backs on Jesus. Rather than crying “Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the Name of the Lord!” they screamed, “Crucify Him!”
One would have expected that after over thirty years of life, Jesus would have deserved a little over thirty hours to see it all to come to an end. Among his followers, there were very few, if any, expecting anything beyond a sad end and a cold tomb.
For those who kept watch at the foot of the Cross, they barely heard, “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit.” Those words were, for many, a confession of despair and finality.
But under the light of the Resurrection, we now understand that those words had nothing to do with despair and finality but, rather, with confidence and bold faith.
Psalm 31, verse 5, our reading for today puts it this way, “My time is on God’s hands.”
While on the Cross, by placing His life and future on God’s hands, Jesus acknowledged God’s goodness. “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit,” He said. In other words, Jesus knew that nothing is final until God says it is final.
From a human perspective, and because we live under the boundaries of time, we fear the twists and loops of life where we cannot see what we will find until we turn the corner. But from God’s perspective, we are safe and securely enfolded in his loving embrace, from eternity to eternity.
Even if the Pandemic is over, nevertheless its “side effects” still are very much present with us and society at large. To top it off, pressing on our unexpected burdens, very much like Simon being drafted to help carry the Cross, things pile up pushing us to feel the extra weight over our souls.
It is not only our own concerns piling up, but the questions, challenges, and fears of a complex and dog-eat-dog world. Then there are the concerns of children growing up and going their own ways, the elders in our families being more and more challenged, the daily worries and questions, and so much more.
But here is the Good News. The events of Holy Week teach us that when one is going through the pains, fears, and sorrows of the present season there is a loving God who is always more than ready to be with us, and for us, willing and ready to carry on our burdens.
Enter Simon of Cyrene, the African Pilgrim. At first glance one could say that Simon was at the wrong place at the wrong time. In God’s providence, however, he was at the right time at the right place to help carry on the burdens of the Son of the Living God, Jesus.
It is interesting to note that when Simon was drafted to take the Cross, Jesus didn’t say, “No way! I can take care of it! I can do it by myself. Just pray for me, and I’ll be alright.”
Jesus, however, in all humility allowed to be helped to carry his own burdens. Was Jesus a “free-loader,” taking advantage of a passer-by?
No. Jesus knew that to fulfill his call, he needed to accept the limitations of his present circumstances. But even more, I believe the story is there to teach us that there is nothing wrong in coming to our Lord’s presence to seek help. Jesus understands very well what it means to be over-burdened.
So, “Come unto me” was and continues to be our Master’s invitation.
Through any challenge and any ordeal that one might be called to go through, one should always remember that we will never be alone, for “God-is-with-us,” (Remember “Emmanuel,” the Holy Child of Bethlehem?) Yes, God is with us come what may.
The Gospel, the Good News, reassures us that whenever we may feel worried and upset, facing dark and gloomy days ahead, yet this is the time to be encouraged “to hope against hope.”
Perhaps, more than ever, this is the time for praying together with Jesus, “Unto You I commit my spirit.”
In a few minutes we will gather for our Congregational Meeting, to report what we had achieved by the Lord’s hand, and to dream about the future. A future that, like on Good Friday, may not appear to be promising.
Yet again, Easter teaches us that in God’s providence there is always “a one more time.” No door will stay closed, and no word is final until God says so. And just as the powers of death could not defeat Jesus, this church of you, this little band will thrive in spite of these powers.
“Unto You I commit my spirit.” Jesus said it as an expression not of finality but of trust in God’s loving care. And so, our prayer should be.
Yes. We may have to go through an uncertain and even, perhaps, unpromising season. But, my friends, Easter is coming!