Amid the Holy Week chaos Jesus embodies our humanity, tears, anger, protest, silence…. with Love.

Opening the most complex week in the Christian year, Palm Sunday holds a jarring spiritual pivot. We come in singing “All glory, laud and honor, to You, Redeemer, King, to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring,” and leave singing “O sacred head now wounded.” Perhaps this week’s heavy hearts find a parallel in Holy Week. 

 So much happens between Palm Sunday and Easter that Matthew writes seven longer chapters. Trauma can intensify our experiences. Psychologists tell us that in moments of trauma, we fight, we flee, we freeze, or even fawn (people please). None of these responses are bad- they just are. During Holy Week, Jesus embodies these God created responses.  Jesus will weep in the Garden of Gethsemane and over the city of Jerusalem crying out “Jerusalem Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets, how often I have long to hold you like a mother hen clutches her chicks.”  Jesus will be silent before his accusers. Jesus will cry out: “my God, My God, why have you forsaken me!”  Jesus will flip over the tables in the Temple. Jesus embodies all of our griefs and loss. 

 Fresh from the palm waving adoration of children, Jesus leads a temple protest that shuts down the palace-temple complex for a day. Jesus flips over exploitative money tables and leads the chant, “My house should be a place of prayer for all nations; you have made God’s house into a crook’s hideout.” Hungry, hot, and tired after the protest, Jesus curses a fig tree as he walks to his friends Mary and Martha’s house in Bethany. If you have cursed a fig tree this week, offer yourself some grace. Grief often comes out in anger. 

You can feel Jesus’ anger burning hot in chapter 23. Jesus calls the leaders of the nation’s political and religious life ‘blind guides’, ‘unmarked graves’ and ‘children of hell’ accusing them of burdening people with needless regulations but not lifting a finger to really help people. Jesus blasts, “You strain a gnat out of the water pitcher, but drink from a hog trough.” Matthew 23 ends with Jesus weeping over the church based government that neglected justice, peace, and good faith. If you roasted someone on social media or skewered your representatives this week, give yourself some grace; Jesus and the prophets sometimes ran hot, too. 

Still, Jesus’ opponents only dug in deeper after Jesus’ harsh rebuke. It was Jesus’ outpouring of love on the cross that opened closed minds, softened hardened hearts, and broke down hostile dividing walls. (Ephesians 2) The Golden Rule does not go away just because we feel a burning righteous anger.  It’s unlikely that a hard rebuke opens an opponent’s heart to change. Dr. King cautions us about allowing anger and hatred to creep into our souls: “In a real sense, the means (of change) represents the ideal in the making- the end in process. In the long run, destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends because the ends are preexistent in the means.” (The Case Against Tokenism). Remember, you are beloved and don’t let anger burn up your capacity for compassion.   

Some will say that the church is about love and should stay out of politics. Cornel West counters  “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Holy week is about happy worshippers waving palm branches, but also Jesus leading Jeremiah’s chant, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations! But you’ve turned it into a hideout for crooks.” Jesus’ shutting down the temple is deeply political (Mark 11). Going back to John Wesley, United Methodists have waded into politics. Last summer we Tennessee Western Kentucky Methodists approved a resolution calling for sensible gun control. Friends, if we test, screen, and license people before they can drive a car, we must do the same for guns. Love should fill the state capital chambers this week and refuse to allow things to remain the same. 

Holy Week reminds us what Jesus said about weapons. When the mob came to arrest Jesus with torches, clubs and swords, one of Jesus’ disciples pulled out the most effective piece of personal protection at that time and cut off the temple officer’s ear. Jesus tells his followers, “Put the sword away,” and adds what feels like a prophetic prediction for America today, “All those who use the sword will die by the sword.” In Luke’s telling of the sword incident, Jesus yells, “Stop, NO more of this!” And then Jesus touches the soldier’s ear healing them. How does Jesus respond to violence? Jesus heals people. “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the children of God.” (Matt 5)      

Some of you are tired of ‘thoughts and prayers.’ But, prayer purifies actions asking us “where are we looking”  and “who will we become?”. I sent a letter to WDS parents and the church this week quoting the co-directors of the Yale Center for Traumatic Stress and Recovery. They advise us to: 1) listen calmly, 2) remember our power to help, 3) be aware of our own reactions, 4) identify our own concerns, fears, and feelings, 5) take a break from media, and 6) stick to healing routines; prayer does all of that. Prayer reminds us of who we are as beloved children of God. Prayer calls us to ground our doing in the kind of world God longs to build through us. Jesus spends Holy Thursday night in prayer before his arrest, trial, and suffering. Jesus confesses, “my soul is overwhelmed to the point of death”.  The disciples struggled to “keep watch” with Jesus, but let me assure you, having walked from ERs back to waiting rooms, the presence of sleeping people you know and love brings a deep comfort amid life’s worst moments.  Be present with others during grief.

Jesus pours out his heartache praying Psalm 22 on the cross, “My God, my God, why are you so very far from saving me?” Jesus vocalizes the deep ‘why’ that often haunts us during trauma. Matthew’s Gospel does not answer ’why?’ Praying, exhaling all the hurts, doubts, questions, and worries in our souls moves us from the debilitating ‘whys’ into  the ‘what is next’  and the ‘how do we break this cycle and find our way to Easter?’ Prayer can move us to embody action. The Tennessee Western Kentucky Resolution that Mark Hagewood penned ended with a call from Bishop Tom Bickerton “to find a way to keep these stories on the front page of our consciousness and let nothing detract from our commitment to curb violence, fight for justice, end systemic racism, elect politicians with courage, deeply listen to those who have been harmed, and genuinely seek the power of the Holy Spirit to lift us from this posture of paralysis into a mode of action.” Rev. Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition set a lofty spiritual goal of “ saving the soul of America.” Prayer asks us where we are going and keeps us moving. I wonder what if the abolitionists had said there is too much resistance, or the suffragettes had said,  “We can’t get through to these men?” Where might we still be stuck? Prayer keeps us grounded in the goal of bringing about God’s peaceful kingdom right here, right now.

In traumatic moments we flee, fight, sometimes freeze, or fawn. God created all of these responses. When fear grips us, some lunge into the fight while others naturally pull back. The flash of anger often goes after the wrong targets and if held too long anger burns through our compassion. Our tendency to flee pulls us away from our deep need for community.  We need each other. When trauma comes, we long for safety so we build higher walls, taller fences, profile neighbors, and some folks grip their swords a little tighter to protect those they love. Our self- protective tendency is natural, but it isolates us from community, destroys welcome, and steals our freedom to enjoy life. Children need to run around on playgrounds laughing and meeting new friends without a paralyzing inner narrative of mistrust and indifference. Taller walls, better weapons, and warring words perpetuate systemic evils, isolations, and indifference. Life behind walls can imprison our souls and lull us into indifference for  any suffering beyond our protected perimeter; indifference and isolation both kill souls. Despite the risks, we must reach out to each other and build community. So many of the perpetrators of violence are people who have been pushed away, bullied, traumatized, caught in cycles of abuse, stuck in a prison pipeline, or lack treatment for mental health issues. We must reach out and include all people; we must risk moving outside of our walls and help others find their belovedness.

 I noticed something beautiful reading through Matthew 21-27’s Holy Week passages: as systemic evil swirls all around him, Jesus keeps on living a life of love. Wedged in between Jesus flipping over tables and cursing a fig tree is verse 14. Did you notice verse 14? “People who were blind and lame came to Jesus in the temple, and he healed them.” Despite the chaos and conflict, Jesus remained a force for love. When the crowds come with torches, swords, and clubs, Jesus speaks truth, but Jesus also heals his attacker’s ear. Love keeps on healing. Jesus remained grounded in his identity as a beloved child of God. We can focus on Peter denying Jesus three times, or on Jesus already anticipating forgiving and restoring Peter, promising before the failure, “After I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” Jesus’ reconciling love simply fills me with awe. Jesus will keep on loving people even through the cross because that is who Jesus is: Love! Love draws people in. People seek out love, and love heals. Love wins simply by showing up.

Routine matters, love matters, laughter can honor life as much as tears.  Our passage begins with the routine task, “go get a colt for the parade”. Jesus will tell Peter to cook the Passover meal. These little tasks may seem like they do not matter, but they help remake the world.  We do our part. Jesus did not stop living even as the cross drew near. Jesus will dine with friends at Simon the leper’s house where a woman will wash his feet with tears and perfume. Jesus will dine at the welcoming home of Mary and Martha as well. Every day Jesus will be in the Temple for daily prayers and worship; Jesus will chat with the disciples processing the harder days of conflict. Jesus will keep religious routines, celebrating Passover around the table with friends, telling them how he “eagerly desired to eat this” Last Supper with them. John tells us, “having loved the disciples, he loved them to the end.” Jesus will get up from the table, not to shame us by washing our feet, but to show us how to love each other. Before going to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, they will all sing a hymn together. Oh friends, perhaps we best defeat violence by refusing to stop living, keeping our routines of celebration, education and community.  We keep living and staying true to loving kindness.  Friends, amid the chaos of Holy Week, Jesus stays true to Love:  Jesus keeps loving us no matter how holy or unholy this next week will be. Jesus keeps loving, for this is the nature of God: God is love- let us keep loving. Amen.

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