|Ash Wednesday||March 1, 2017||Ash Wednesday, Year A||Matthew 4:1-11|
|Last Sunday after the Epiphany||February 26, 2017||Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 17:1-9|
|Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany||February 19, 2017||Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Leviticus 19:1-2, I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5:38-48|
|Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany||February 12, 2017||Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Deuteronomy 30:15-20; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37|
|Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany||February 5, 2017||Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20|
|Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – Reflections on Annual Convention, Susan Tilt||January 29, 2017||4th Sunday after the Epiphany||Matthew 5:1-12|
|Third Sunday after the Epiphany||January 22, 2017||Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Psalm 27:1, 5-13, Matthew 4:12-23|
|Second Sunday after the Epiphany||January 15, 2017||Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, John 1:29-42|
|First Sunday after the Epiphany, Baptism of Jesus||January 8, 2017||The Baptism of our Lord, Year A||The Book of Common Prayer|
|Epiphany||January 6, 2017||Epiphany 2017||Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12|
|Christmas Day, Year A||December 25, 2016||Christmas Day, 2016||Isaiah 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-4, Psalm 98, John 1:1-14|
|The Eve of the Nativity||December 24, 2016||Christmas Eve||Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2: 1-20|
|Third Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 11, 2016||Third Sunday of Advent, Year A||Psalm 146:4-9, Matthew 11:2-11|
|Second Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 4, 2016||Second Sunday of Advent, Year A||Matthew 3:1-12|
|First Sunday in Advent, Year A||November 27, 2016||First Sunday of Advent, Year A||Isaiah 2:1-5, Ps 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44|
Palm Sunday, Year A
Sermon Date:April 9, 2017
Scripture: Matthew 26:36-46
Liturgy Calendar: Palm Sunday, Year A
"Christ in Gethsemene"- Carl Bloch (1873)
Have you ever really been suffering, and you try to pray, and you have trouble praying, because the pain is too bad, or the hurt is too great, or your emotional state is too chaotic? You just can’t find any sense of peace, or God, in all that pain and chaos.
At the beginning of today’s gospel, Jesus is already suffering—suffering over the fact that one of his own is going to betray him, suffering because he knows that Peter will deny him, and that the disciples will desert him, and that he is going to die.
That’s a lot to bear.
So Jesus goes to Gethsemane, which in Hebrew means olive press, and there would have been an olive press somewhere nearby, to pray. Jesus himself is being pressed by all his sorrow and dread.
This interlude of prayer before the story continues is a reminder to us that yes, the act of prayer is essential in helping us to bear our pain or to get through a coming crisis, or in the face of certain death.
And how Jesus prays in Gethsemane offers us a specific way of praying when we face our own pains and tribulations.
Ulrich Luz, in his magisterial commentary on the gospel according to Matthew, points out that Jesus “expresses his own sorrow with the ready-made words of a biblical psalm of lament. He prays with the ready-made words of the Lord’s Prayer.”
In this time of sorrow and dread, Jesus turns to the words that have become woven deeply into his mind and heart and spirit—the words of the psalms, and the words of prayer that he has used throughout his life and in his ministry.
How important it is then, for us to weave the words of prayer that have been used for thousands of years into our own lives, to use these prayers and petitions daily, so that they become our own—and then when we are pressed by pain, despair and sorrow, and we have no words of our own, these words, prayed by hundreds of thousands of faithful people throughout history, come like balm to us, and we find that God is indeed with us in our pain.
When I worked for Hospice, I used to visit an elderly woman who was in the nursing home over in Colonial Beach. She mostly sat in silence in the darkened room, withdrawn from everything going on around her. She didn’t want to talk at all. After all, she was dying. But one day, I discovered something about this woman. I started quoting the 23rd Psalm, and she said it along with me, and some light came into her eyes. The next time I came to see her, I brought my King James Bible, and read her more psalms, and to my amazement, she would join right in, all the words pouring out as if she too were reading from the Bible. I think she knew most of the psalms by memory. I never found one that she couldn’t say right along with me. This woman had spent her life with the psalms, and now, as she was dying, these words were with her, her prayer when she may have had no words of her own to pray.
A friend of mine tells the story of being a new priest and being with a family gathered around the bed of the young mother who had just died. There stood the husband, and the children, and the priest, and the priest found himself so overwhelmed with grief over the tragedy of this death that he had no words.
After a long pause, the woman’s husband started praying the Lord’s Prayer into the silence in that room and everyone else joined in. My priest friend never forgot the power of that prayer at that time, and the strength of the young father who thought to pray that prayer in the face of his wife’s death.
So making the psalms and scripture our own is one thing we can do to help us enrich our prayers and to have words to turn to when the inevitable pain and suffering that we will face in our lives silence our own prayers.
Second, Luz points out that “lament and trust, personal supplication and submission to God’s will” are part of what it means to be a person in a right relationship with God—a righteous person.
Mourning, sorrow, dread, asking to be delivered in the face of certain death—these are not emotions that we have to conquer, as if something is wrong with them.
Have you ever heard someone say something like they have no right to feel upset or devastated because of their many blessings, even when things are tough? I’ve said things like that myself.
But Jesus praying in Gethsemane reminds me that, as Luz puts it, “God is a living partner of human beings.” That is, God is WITH me in my suffering, not waiting for me to get over it. God is with me in my humanity.
As Luz puts it, “Sorrow, fear, supplication, and lament are not weaknesses of the flesh that must be overcome; they are not negative human qualities…that have to be overcome as much as possible in people’s lives.”
Jesus, praying in Gethsemane, reminds us that fear and despair are a natural part of a life of righteousness and that God is with us in these circumstances.
Today, Palm Sunday, with its story of the last cruel and horrid suffering hours of Jesus’ life, is our doorway into Holy Week.
So I invite you during this holiest of weeks in the church year to find your own Gethsemane, the place where you feel pressed, burdened, the place of sorrow, fear or pain that you usually try to avoid.
Intentionally go to that place, as Jesus did, to pray.
Pray the words of the psalms. Pray the Lord’s Prayer. May these words give shape and weight and context to our own pains, afflictions, and worries.
And remember, Jesus praying in Gethsemane reminds us that God is with us in our suffering, even when God seems far away and inaccessible.
Knowing that God is with us in every bit of our humanity, even the toughest parts, means that we can pray, along with Jesus, those trusting words that Jesus prayed.
“Yet not what I want, but what you want.”
“Thy will be done.”
On earth, as it is in heaven.
Following Jesus through Holy Week helps us to walk through our own dark valleys, and to go to our own Gethsemanes, knowing that death is powerful.
But Jesus’ death is not the end of the story.
And death is not the end of our stories either. Because earth is not just earth, but also heaven, when we trustingly enter into God’s will.
Luz, Ulrich. Matthew 21-28: A Commentary. Hermeneia–A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2005.