Lent Reflections Blog from Presbytery Leadership. Scroll down to read.

From Singing… to Shouting… to Silence: In Darkness We Hope, by Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.”
Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)

The story has been told over and over again through music, movies, theater, and more. The Biblical narrative gets read from pulpits of all denominations. Christians of all races, languages, cultures, and economic statuses eagerly have followed him on a donkey through the city gates of Jerusalem – each bearing hope for what he – Jesus – has done or will do – in a world represented by political dominance and religious angst.

That hope continues to be embodied in the ritual practices of our churches today. Just five days ago, voices were heard singing “Hosannas,” as we experienced the processionals of waving palms, singing choirs, and exuberant children making their way down the aisles. Even modern-day donkeys made appearances in congregations around our nation and world. But as we know, that singing of joy and hope 2,000 years ago turns quickly into whispers in the shadows of the Jerusalem streets as the message of the donkey-rider collides with the messages of both the political and religious authorities of his time. And those whispers become louder until, when faced with the possibility of releasing him, the crowd that once sang, now shouts to Pilate – “crucify him.”

From singing to shouting – the price for following Jesus became too steep, too uncomfortable for the crowd to sustain. The one who made their hearts boldly sing was requiring a pattern of life that would compromise a way of life as they knew it. Following him would cause a conflict within themselves as well as with those in authority – religious and secular. It would require a risk, a risk they were unwilling to take – and so the sounds of their shouting would result in his public execution nailed to a tree. There is something about this internal conflict that continues to ring true for us as well.

I have often imagined the sounds of the hammers making their way through his skin and bones. I have imagined the crowd gathered – to judge, to mock, or to simply witness what happens when one takes on the power of the day. The last words of Jesus take us through the journey of his heart as he moves through forgiveness, the care of his mother, his physical pain, his offering up his spirit to God, to his final cry, “it is finished.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split. (Matthew 27:50–51; Luke 23:45–46)

And I have imagined a deadly silence that followed – a silence so loud that it pierces the air and the depths of all present. It is a silence accompanied by the darkness of the night; a silence caused by the rolling of a stone enclosing his body in the darkness of a tomb.

And so we again gather to hear this story – as the light of hope seems to leave the world. It is in this darkness that we are called to once again find hope. It is in this place – thousands of years later – that we are invited not to allow that darkness – within and around us – to take away the hope we carry because of the One who gives us hope by defying the silence of the darkness and death.

It is clear that the darkness continues to threaten us in so many places – broken relationships, senseless violence, injustice, illness, death, unemployment, hate, racism, addictions, abuse – the list can go on – causing us to despair. But we have what our early ancestors did not know – we have the knowledge and conviction that there is no place too dark where you and I can find ourselves where the risen Christ is unwilling to reach in and take us by the hand saying “gotcha” – bringing us out of the tombs that encase us, into the light of resurrection possibility.

And so it is in that truth – in the retelling of this story – in the remembering of how the singing turned to shouting, that tonight we wait in the silence of the deep darkness – in hope.

Reflections for Palm Sunday by Elder Vijay Aggarwal

“…..after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”  (Luke 19:35-38)

When we read this passage, we can imagine the excitement and joy the people felt during this triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The feelings of celebration and anticipation are palpable in the words Luke uses to describe the scene. Yet, only Jesus was aware of the fulfillment of God’s plan that was about to occur.

During this season of Lent, we are called to prayer and reflection on the totality of God’s plans for our lives and our world. The good times and the bad. During one of my secular management jobs, we had an important guiding philosophy – when everything in the business is going well, it’s the job of senior management to say, “Watch out, there are challenges on the horizon.” And when it looks like everything is going terribly, it is the job of senior management to say, “Don’t worry, better things are in our future.” In this way, we helped our company make sustained progress while protecting against the risk of missing a potential threat or being overwhelmed by the challenges we faced.

Similarly, in our life as Christians, we are called always to remember God’s plan for us. To anticipate the trajectory of our lives whether we are rejoicing in the pageantry of Palm Sunday or the somber remembrance of Maundy Thursday. As we sing loud “Hosannas,” we are to remember the coming crucifixion and as we contemplate the cross to remember the resurrection.

There are so many things that break our heart: an increasingly divided culture, young internet heroes that have thousands of followers and no true friends, parts of our world where declaring oneself as a Christian is still a life threating act of faith and the most materially comfortable society in the history of the world that still has the highest rates of depression, addiction, and mental illness ever known. Similarly, there are great reasons for rejoicing: new worshiping congregations in our midst, revitalized ministry initiatives, and daily evidence of the impact that the word of God has in the lives of individuals in our communities and around the world.

We live in a world that is ever more in need of the message of love and hope Jesus Christ provides. At the same time, we see declining affiliation with many Christian faith traditions. I am convinced these seemingly contradictory trends are calling us to new ways to minister to a world in distress. As a result, we face many more opportunities for ministry than challenges.

During this Lenten season, I have given up being consumed by the negatives or overjoyed by the positives. Instead, I have recommitted myself to attempt discernment of God’s will in all that confronts and confounds us, both the joys and sorrows. This goal is a lot harder than I would have thought. As Paul said in his letter to the Philippians,” Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14)

During this season, I pray we will all lean forward into the new possibilities that lay ahead of us, remain open to whatever God has in store for us and our worshiping communities, and that we claim renewed energy to achieve God’s plans and that we anticipate fulfillment of those plans in ways we cannot imagine.

 

More Than Words (based on John 12:1-8), by Rev. Kevin Porter

Judas: “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”
Jesus: “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

If our scripture lesson for this week were boiled down to just the words spoken, as in the style of a script, what we see above is all we would get. And given what we think we know of the character of Judas and Jesus, if we were to take their words at face-value, we would most likely be getting things wrong! Although very few words are spoken, this passage challenges us to enter into the story at a deeper level, underneath and between the words spoken. There are many intense emotions in the hearts of those gathered that day that could call us into a deeper Lenten journey in our quiet moments, if we allow ourselves to connect our humanity with theirs.

So let us consider the scene of John 12. It is six days before the Passover, and Jesus and his disciples are in Bethany enjoying a meal at the home of their friends Lazarus, and his sisters Martha and Mary. In other words, we are less than a week from Jesus’ betrayal, trial, and crucifixion. Yet, the person who was probably the focus of the evening was Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.

I would guess Lazarus was experiencing one of the few quieter moments since finding himself the center of attention as the incarnation of Jesus’ most recent and wondrous work. He was probably finally able to appreciate the ordinary miracles we take for granted so often until we almost lose them, such as the laughter of friends and the aroma and taste of his sister Martha’s cooking.
Martha was expressing her appreciation for those she loved in the way she found most comfortable – by nurturing them through her cooking. We can imagine how grateful she was to Jesus for bringing her brother back, and how much joy she was deriving by setting Lazarus’ favorite foods in front of him. We can glean something of Martha’s temperament from the familiar story from Luke’s gospel where Martha tried to get Jesus to chide Mary for putting the lion’s share of the hosting chores on her. I can imagine Martha having a sense of how her words are not always received in the warmest light, making a conscious decision in this moment to let her cooking do the talking for her.

If we dare allow ourselves to consider what Jesus would be experiencing in this moment, we might wonder whether he was pondering how close he was to his time of trial? He could count on both hands the number of suppers like this one he was yet to experience before the last one, when he would use those hands to give new meaning to the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup.
Were his thoughts more focused on particular aspects of what was to come as the Son of God, or in his humanity, was he in the midst of some life-review as he considered his legacy on earth? Was there any second-guessing in his mind whether his work was truly coming to an end? Did he have any doubt these often seemingly-clueless disciples would be able to carry on without him? Did the human nature of his God-manself question if he would succeed in being fully-obedient, trusting, and reliant on God’s faithfulness?

None of the intensity described above is revealed through any words spoken or actions described during this meal, until Lazarus’ sister Mary does the first remarkable thing described in this passage. John 12:3 recounts how, “Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

This time, Judas Iscariot is the one urging Jesus to chide Mary for this seemingly reckless act. Judas’ words – the first words recorded in the passage – seem totally appropriate for a follower of Jesus: “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” But instead of agreeing with Judas, Jesus responds, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Instead of rebuking Mary, he defended her using a rationale I would not have expected to come from his mouth. In fact, if the gospel writer had not included a couple snippets of commentary, I would not have been surprised if some later church fathers questioned whether there had been some recording error. But to make sure we get it, our narrator points out: Yes, the Judas Iscariot who is sounding the most righteous of them all is the one who was about to betray Jesus. And, Judas was rebuking Mary not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.

Ironically, although she may not have been able to explain her exuberant gesture with words, what Mary did was right, and Jesus knew it. Conversely, despite his strident denouncement of Mary, could Judas explain to himself what was causing so much turmoil within him?

As we turn the corner into the last weeks of Lent, maybe the power of this passage for us can be found by meditating not just on the words spoken in it, but as much (if not more) on that part of our reality that does not easily boil itself down to words:

  • Like Lazarus, let us take time to be quiet, present, and mindful of the many blessings we take so much for granted in our everyday lives.
  • Like Martha, let us consider how, instead of words, we might better communicate our love to those around us in ways they can appreciate.
  • Let us look at how our words don’t match our actions, and unlike Judas, let us go even further inside ourselves to come to terms with how and why we are quick to speak on what we perceive to be the wrong-doing of others.
  • Like Mary, let us be still and allow ourselves to feel the grace, compassion, and love of God so deeply that we are moved to respond in abundance.
  • And like Jesus, let us take time to consider our legacies and help others to do the same, trusting God’s promise never to leave or forsake us as we embrace each day God grants us.

When the Butterflies Return by Stephen King, Business Administrator


“He was lost and has been found.”
(Luke 15:32)

The familiar story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 reminds me of my own sons, now in their mid to late 20’s. The oldest and youngest had not always seen eye to eye. My oldest son was living a fairly ascetic lifestyle on the other side of the country and, not that long ago, was critical of his younger brother for living at home and not seeming to get on with his life. What my older son didn’t acknowledge was that his younger sibling was diligently working toward a meaningful life and career milestone, which he recently achieved. In doing so, the younger one “came to himself” and, though “treat[ed] like one of [your] hired hands” (Luke 15:17, 19), found his calling in the process. Along the way, his older brother evolved from being a skeptic to his champion, expressing confidence that he would be able to meet the challenge. It was extremely gratifying in the end, as a father, to see them recognize, but put aside, their differences, and celebrate the other’s accomplishments together. While Jesus’ parable leaves us hanging as to the relationship of another father’s two sons, we at least are invited to linger in the hope that a similar reconciliation could have occurred there.

As a former banker, I have often been struck by the reference in the Lord’s Prayer, and backdrop to Jesus’ parable, which tells us to “forgive our debtors” (Luke 11:4). This is not exactly something I was trained to do in my secular job. Nevertheless, in many cases, that was the best way out of what might have seemed to be an otherwise untenable situation, even if a borrower had gotten itself into trouble by being profligate and seemingly irresponsible. Occasionally, the company was beyond repair, but more often giving it some breathing room was the best outcome for all involved—its customers, employees, communities and even creditors. To get there almost always required compromise on all sides, and ultimately for former adversaries to work together for the greater good.
In many ways, my experience with such corporate forgiveness was a subconscious practice of the adage, “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” It is God’s grace that allows us to soften our harsh opinions of others, recognize their gifts, and possibly come to believe more in the other than in ourselves. It can entail not just time, but also risking a change in perspective and admitting that we may have been wrong. In forgiving, we realize that we ourselves are also being forgiven. The path to forgiveness requires reflection and reconciliation, and can result in both the resurrection of the person being forgiven and the rebirth of the relationship between that person and his or her forgiver. This path to forgiveness was something the father in Jesus’ story knew very well, and he was inviting the older brother to consider and even to celebrate it. The same is true for us.

The resurrection of old life into new is a kind of metamorphosis, a miracle often not visible to the human eye. In January, my wife and I traveled to the highlands of central Mexico, where the migration of monarch butterflies from North America (a trip these particular butterflies have never made before) ends their annual cycle. Although fully formed, they were still juveniles but already majestic in their beauty, especially given their sheer numbers, which for years had been under pressure due to loss of habitat but have recently rebounded. There were literally hundreds of millions per acre, clustered on the branches of a certain type of fir tree to the point where they appeared to the naked eye to be dark clumps of dead leaves; but, as the sun rose, they fluttered lazily into the light and their orange wings looked like falling autumn leaves against a bright blue sky. With the Lenten season upon us, they make their reverse migration to the north, to begin the cycle of metamorphosis all over again, and reminding us that return trips can and do happen. May we be open to taking such a leap, whether in our own journey of faith or in the embrace of another looking to make their way home, and may each of us be transformed by the prodigal grace of God.

God’s Next Is Now by Rev. Greg Klimovitz

“Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”

(Luke 13:9)

Let it alone until next year?

What makes this gardener think anything will be different, better, or more fertile for growth 12 months down the road? Is there something special about this round of manure to be spread? Why the call to wait and see?

It is quite evident that we find ourselves at a pivotal crossroads as faith communities, nation, and larger world. Yet, when change is happening at a rate difficult to measure, the temptation for the church is to rest in the familiar and spread supposed-fertilizer on old mission paradigms, paternalistic charitable practices, and concerns for church programs that primarily target those who are in pews, which are becoming more and more vacant. So when tenders of our congregational vineyards suggest pruning what we or those before us planted so to make space for what is new to spring, it is far easier to say, “Let it alone until next year. Can’t we just spread some manure on it one more time and see if we can make it work?”

The answer is a resounding, “No! Next is now.”

Maybe this is the intended irony of Luke, as he quickly moves from this unresolved parable to Jesus’ healing of a woman from a debilitating spirit. Jesus refused to wait to work towards liberation and love, “Woman you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God” (Luke 13:12-13).

Jesus knows what is next is now. The question is, do we?

This Sunday’s lectionary is fitting, as we find ourselves again grieving a horrific act of violence that claimed the lives of those gathered to worship and pray- this time 50 Muslim sisters and brothers in Christchurch, New Zealand. The name of the community where this act of terror and white supremacy took place only adds to the horror. It reminds us their suffering is our suffering; the sorrow of our Muslim neighbors, near and far, is also a burden carried by the Church of Jesus Christ. The same was true in light of what occurred at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh (2018), the church in Sutherland Springs, Texas (2017), the Islamic Center in Quebec (2017), Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina (2015), schools like Marjory Douglass in Parkland, Florida (2018), and the list goes on and tragically grows. This does not even take into account the lives claimed by gun violence and demonstrations of hate in our neighborhoods throughout Greater Philadelphia. As we look around, we see more than enough barren fig trees, even memorials to the lost, and know something has to change in our language and legislation, political and faithful witness.

In light of the urgent realities of our polarized and fractured world, we must continue to ask a lot of questions, ponder critical and expose hard truths, confront racism, exploitation, phobias, and various isms, build ecumenical, interfaith and community coalitions, and talk a whole lot about where the Spirit may be leading our churches at this crossroad of faith in the midst of the complexities of the twenty-first century world. We may even need to uproot immediately, instead of spreading dung on them, those systems, patterns, programs, and practices that do not generate life and instead perpetuate the marginalization and oppression of any person or people. As the Confession of Belhar reminds us, “The church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged.” We must resist the temptation to wait until the next year, next tragedy, next shared story of devastation and death to do the hard work necessary to bear the fruit of God’s alternative dreams for a world made whole and good again.

In this season of Lent, we are invited to grieve, mourn, pray, light a few candles, and even confess the ways we are complicit with the sin of a broken world. Yet, we are called to lament not to linger. Our lamentation must lead us to mobilize in the immediacy of our present, to refuse to spread manure on trite rhetoric and call it progress. We must repent and trust the Spirit to awaken us to new, courageous, and risky possibilities today, in the stench of death, assured new life will spring if we have the eyes to see, ears to hear, and faith to follow Jesus towards the immediacy of liberation and the urgency of love.

After all, God’s next is now.

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”by Rev. Randy Barge

“They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.'” 

John 3:26-30

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” These powerful words of John the Baptist are words I need to keep close to my heart. They are words that cut across the grain of my natural inclination to seek recognition, distinction, influence, and importance. How easy it is for many of us pastors to fall into the trap of self-importance. The very nature of our work makes us vulnerable to the temptation of placing ourselves at the center of everything. We tell ourselves that we are doing the Lord’s work and advancing the Kingdom. Maybe we are; but a lot of times, it is also about us, our ambitions, our hopes, and our personal advancements. But if the world is going to be healed, he must increase, and we must decrease.

He must increase. He, who even though he was equal with God, took the form of a slave. He, who refused the temptation of human glory in the wilderness. He, who came to bring good news to the poor and the vulnerable, as one of the poor and the vulnerable. He, who lived his life completely for God and for other people. He, who forgave his enemies even as they nailed him to the cross. He, who denied himself and picked up his cross for the sake of the whole world. It is Jesus the Christ who must increase. Imagine a world filled to the brim with his Spirit, a world of justice, peace, and love.

But that is only half of it. If the love and light of Christ is going to increase, there must be room for him in our hearts and in the world. So, we must decrease. That is a scary notion for many of us. In a world obsessed with increase and growth, decrease sounds like the root of all evil. The word itself portends diminishment and death. And who in their right mind wants to die? Yet, that is what the season of Lent is all about; it is about dying: dying to our egos, our ambitions, our thirst for recognition and importance often at the expense of others. It is only by dying to ourselves that we can make room for the one who brings true life.

During the season of Lent, we assume the role of the servant and take our place among the broken and the poor. We pick up our cross and we follow our Lord. And every step along the way, we become less and less, and he becomes more and more.

Living Into Lent: Embracing the Journey by Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace

“…return to me with all your heart…”
(Joel 2: 12)

And so our annual pilgrimage begins – from the wilderness where Jesus both challenges and renews his spirit for 40 days to the honest and pain-filled prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane. It is a journey that compels us to consider once again the miracles and teachings of the one we call Messiah. It is a pilgrimage that goes from great hope to great pain and disappointment – ultimately taking us into the darkness of a tomb and the silence of a somber night – as we await for light to break through, by his death-defying resurrection.

Growing up in the Hispanic Presbyterian church in NYC, ashes were not something we did to mark the start of this season of reflection. In many ways, I innocently skipped over the 40 days of Lent and went straight to Easter, with some minor attention to Palm Sunday. As a choral singer – whatever spirituality and theology I understood – was first framed by the music in Spanish of the “Old Rugged Cross” and “Cristo La Tumba Venció“ (Christ Conquered the Tomb). I still can easily hear echoes of those songs and feel the warmth of the community. We were an intergenerational choir – younger and older – helping one another learn the melodies and harmonies. That spirituality would later be honed by Easter favorites and words of works such as Handel’s Messiah or Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Singing with the Gospel Choir, the Chapel Choir and Seminary Singers at Princeton Seminary would musically shepherd me through the importance of these forty days – along with a growing understanding of the value of both the ashes and the forty-day Lenten journey that takes us to Easter.

For me, never has that understanding and gift of this season been more important. Perhaps this personal awareness and need is driven by the deep losses of the past 18 months. Perhaps it is driven by the exhaustion of busyness that shapes our lives. But at a time when our personal life-rhythms along with information overload, hyperbole and hate often frame our cultural discourse, the language of Lent invites us to stop and engage the unspoken silence within us. Lent invites us to consider that intimate and quiet dialogue with ourselves and with God. I understand the temptation to avoid this dialogue – to avoid this journey. Not only can facing our innermost selves be unsettling, but once there, it requires that we consider changing and surrendering those deep fears, insecurities, and disappointments that get in the way of our relationship with God and our relationships with one another. Once in that sacred space, it requires ownership and action on our part – and frankly, the work of transformation is just scary. After all, as the phrase goes “we can’t un-see what has been seen.”

But I believe this is part of our responsibility as Christians – to deepen our understanding of God and self; to consider where it is that our values reflect more of the culture than Christ’s teachings. It is part of our ongoing discipleship – to allow continually for the Holy Spirit to break in and shape our spirits in ways that allow us to lead and live our lives from a place of grace and humble strength; that allow us to return to God and the true image in which we have been created. This is what Lent is all about – a time to reclaim our identity and reframe how we live as followers of the one who will take us from the wilderness through the labyrinth of this life; who will walk with us through miraculous possibilities to the dark reality of violence; who will envelop us with the resurrection light that defies death and transforms our lives.

So here we go, as individuals and as communities of faith – stepping into this annual pilgrimage. Some of us are fasting or giving up things for this season – may we do so with conviction. Some of us are using this time to add practices that reclaim and deepen our identity – may we do so with humility. Some of us will sing our way through these weeks – may we do so with a quiet joy and conviction that pierces the hearts of those who hear. Whatever discipline we practice during these weeks, may we embrace each day of the journey with intentionality. The pilgrimage has begun. Along the way, may we hear the words found in the Old Testament book of Joel calling us forward – Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning…”

The Season of Lent: 2019 Resources

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

Isaiah 58:8

Resources for the Lenten Season:

 

 

Between the Sounds of Marches and the Cross

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him,
“Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”
He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent,
the stones would shout out.”
(Luke 19:39-40)

One cannot help but notice the current conversations and images of this season have been perhaps as challenging as the ancient images of 2,000 years ago. This past week, we have witnessed children and youth marching in cities throughout our nation – declaring their concern for where we, as adults, have failed them while affirming their hope for the promise of a future. Let us rewind 2,000 years –an ancient city where children and adults were singing and marching together as they accompanied and followed Jesus through the city gates – declaring their hope for the promise of a future that looked different than the one they knew; one that defied the status quo. Fast-forward to today – it is a season of marches – remembering and reaffirming the need to stand with the poor. Rewind 2,000 years – the marching throng was eager to live in a world where oppression and inequality would no longer frame their daily existence. Their songs were framed by “Hosanna – God save us.”

The parallels are uncanny and unnerving, as we find ourselves between the shouts of Palm Sunday and the light of an empty tomb. This is holy week – a week that began with songs of hope and new possibilities while giving way to unsettling whispers in the shadows of fear and concern. While some are singing and shouting for hope, others are wondering how to stop the music and silence the lyrics. While some are dreaming of a new world, others are fearful they will lose the world as they know it. And it is all happening simultaneously, causing a deep unrest in the culture around us and within us.

The significance of Palm Sunday has evolved, for me, over time. Although I still love the processions and the affirmation of the one who became us to save us, I now cross the city gates with a profound sense of unrest for what is to come. I am aware that the initial singing and palm waving gave way to a collision of fears, values, power, assumptions, and hopes that spilled out upon that ancient city – culminating in the crucifixion of Jesus. The values of Jesus were not welcomed by those in authority – neither religious nor secular. The teachings of Jesus caused great unrest – so much so, that they would not risk co-existence and he – the Christ – the identified cause of the unrest – was eliminated in a most dramatic and violent manner.

It is no secret that we have somewhat romanticized Palm Sunday, but history reminds us there was nothing romantic or a-political about our Messiah’s entrance into Jerusalem. The tension of the questions with which we are wrestling today are the same ones of 2,000 years ago. Why is the church talking about what feels like politics? Why is the church not saying more about injustice? These conversations are stirring a huge unrest in our society. They are challenging us to ask ourselves about our role and voice in this world as Christians. What is it that distinguishes us as a “Jesus people” in the world? If the children are singing so boldly, should we not be asking ourselves – Why? Could there not be an important truth in their voices? If we are honest, the youth of yesterday and today have always sung songs in ways that challenge the ‘what is’ in an effort to claim the ‘what can be.’ And it is precisely that “what can be” that offers hope and gives courage. As a people of faith, it is the hope of resurrection possibilities that compels us forward in ways that often collide with the ways of the world. We believe those resurrection possibilities will always find their way back into the light out of darkness. Ultimately, they cannot be stopped or silenced. As Jesus reminds the religious leaders of his time, when they asked him to stop the sounds of “hosanna,” his response was “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

This is the holiest of weeks, where the sounds of hope again collide with the sounds of denial and fear. But we cannot get to Easter morning without wrestling and dealing with the sounds of unrest that lead us to the discomfort and guilt of the darkest night when, for a while, it appeared that death and violence had the final word.

This is just a hard week.

It should be!

The Children Shouted, “Hosanna!” I Beg You To Save Us by Linda Rutkosky

The blind and the lame came to Him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area,
“Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.
Do you not hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise?
And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night. (Matthew 21: 14-17)

The children shouted, “Hosanna!” I beg you to save us.

Children do not make themselves bigots. They are not born materialistic. They do not come out of the womb with low self-esteem, therefore bullying others to feel superior. Nor are children born with any notion of what beauty is. They are molded, influenced, corrupted … by someone else and/or society. They are innocents exposed. So why is it that they are miraculously not all totally mucked up? How is it, given every effort of sabotage, that children are amazingly smart, brave, caring and intuitive? When the innocents speak we should listen.

The children shouted, “Hosanna! I beg you to save us.

Have we not witnessed countless children over the past few weeks saying just these words? Shouting, pleading, banding together … I beg you to save us. Regardless of how one interprets the data regarding the prevalence of school shootings and what determines a mass shooting, the fact is that children in every corner of this country are afraid to go to school. At the end of the day, most of us wonder about going anywhere in public in our country today. We wonder who lurks with a weapon that shoots 90-120 rounds per minute into an unsuspecting crowd.

When my daughter moved to Texas she joined a PCUSA church. Reflective of our denomination’s thoughtful reformed tradition, this church’s stated mission is to be “deliberately diverse and fully inclusive.” In particular, this church’s reputation (long before the historic vote in Detroit) is one that welcomes the LGBT community. My daughter is straight, however being “deliberately diverse and fully inclusive” matters a great deal to her and her young generation. She got married in this church and while we were in the throes of planning the wedding, I visited and worshipped there one Sunday with her. Just after the passing of the peace during a very traditional service, a man stood up and began to loudly publicly shout vulgarities to the effect of, “You sinners … accepting gays … all going to Hell!!” After this brief tirade, he flung on a large backpack and stormed out. In a split second I thought, “What if he is the sort to open that backpack and use a machine gun to mow us down?” This obviously did not happen. Like I have said, he made a scene and then stormed out. That same Sunday happened to be the very first day for their new Pastor. She was remarkably unflustered and preached an excellent sermon about why our friends hurt us. That she would preach on that very topic at that very time was certainly by God’s grace, love and divine guidance.

We have had countless mass shootings in all sorts of venues. We are living in a constant heightened state of fear. And if I may be so bold … the culture that is harboring this fear is of our own doing. Who is the adult in the room?! I lament that we give credence to the voices of too many modern day chief priests and their scribes. We as Christians should be doing everything we can to elevate (and be one with) the voices of the children.

So let us be like the children and shout, “Hosanna”! I beg you to save us.

Amen.