Finding Grace In The Whole Story

I am so sorry I didn’t get this posted on Sunday! We ran out of church to grab some Chicken BBQ from one of the fire stations in Rehoboth and I never made it back to my office.  Though I think it is fitting to post this on the anniversary of the Boston bombings …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 13, 2014

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Matthew 21:1-11

Finding Grace In The Whole Story

It should have been a beautiful day. Tens of thousands of people had gathered together in the city of Boston. Runners, spectators, volunteers, police and fire and medical personnel enjoyed an absolutely gorgeous sunny and warm spring day while they took part in the beloved Patriots Day tradition.

My friends and I spent the morning camped out at a pub at the 23rd mile, eating, drinking and cheering on the runners across the street. We were using the online tracking tool to follow my friend Sarah, who was running with a charity team for Dana Farber.

Around 2:00 I posted a photograph on Facebook of my friends Ashley and Jackie, Bruce and me. The photo – which showed us waving pompoms and shouting into megaphones was captioned, “Team Sarah!”

After I posted the photo, our group packed up our stuff and made our way across the street and back to the sideline, knowing that Sarah would soon be running by. As she approached us, our screams grew louder; Sarah smiled and waved and kept going. She was ready to finish strong.

I posted another photograph on Facebook at 2:20. It showed Sarah smiling and waving, with an accompanying caption, “Mile 23!” Our group then got on the train and headed for the finish line.

At 2:49, less than 30 minutes later, two bombs went off at the finish line, killing three people and injuring over 200 others.

Suddenly everything changed.

Our shouts of “Go Sarah!” and “Stay Strong!” turned into shouts of “Stay Calm!” and “Everyone stick together!” Cries of celebration turned into cries of panic. Embraces of happiness turned into embraces of fear and devastation. The sweat that once stained the faces of runners was replaced by tears. The math that we were once doing to figure out what Sarah’s finish time would be turned into frantic calculations trying to determine where she would have been when the bombs went off.

It took us over an hour to reunite with our whole group and then to find Sarah. The streets were chaos; none of our phones were working and I remember thinking how bizarre it was that the rest of the world probably knew more about what was going on than the people wandering around the streets of Boston did.

Eventually we made our way back to the hotel where our friends were staying. We stood on the balcony of their 21st floor hotel room watching the city slowly find its equilibrium again. As we watched a group of cops drive quickly up to an intersection, jump out of their van and carefully investigate what turned out to be a hollow pipe, I thought to myself, wow, how quickly things can change.

It should have been a beautiful day. Jesus had left Jericho and was traveling with his disciples and a large crowd that was following him, including two blind men that Jesus had just healed. As they approached Jerusalem, two of the disciples went ahead and brought a donkey and a colt back for Jesus to ride into the city on.

Then Jesus entered Jerusalem. Hundreds – if not thousands – of people had gathered and they took their cloaks and freshly cut branches and palms and spread them on the road ahead of Jesus.

“Hosanna!” they shouted.

In Hebrew, the word “Hosanna” is a two word expression meaning, “Save, I [we] pray.” In the Aramaic language, it means, “Save, please!” So when the crowds were shouting to Jesus, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were really shouting to him, “Save us, please!” They were actually quoting the psalm that was read this morning, Psalm 118:25, which says, “Save us, we beseech you, O LORD!”

The crowd that had gathered had so much hope and great visions of what Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem would mean.

But – just like it did in Boston on April 15, 2013 – suddenly everything changed. The celebration that happened as Jesus entered Jerusalem did not end with the crowd slowly thinning out and heading home to tweet about the new prophet in town.

No; this celebration ended at Calvary. It ended with Jesus at Golgotha, wearing a purple robe and a crown of thorns, crucified between two other men.

A crowd once shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” was now shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Jesus, who had ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey, was now hanging on a cross. Jesus, who once asked for a donkey and its colt before traveling into Jerusalem, was now asking for a drink to quench his thirst before he took his last breath.

Again, I say, wow, how quickly things can change.

I have to be honest, I am struggling to preach with triumphal joy on Palm Sunday this year, especially (or, perhaps particularly) in light of the upcoming anniversary of the Boston bombing. As I prepared to preach on what it means to shout, “Hosanna, save us please!” I could not get Jesus’ words out of my head, words that I know we will read later this week: “It is finished.”

I was talking about this with Bruce yesterday morning and he asked me why this was so difficult for me, reminding me that Palm Sunday is supposed to be a celebration. So I said to him, “But they shouted, ‘Hosanna!’ which means, ‘save us!’ and then they crucified him! How can I preach this story knowing this is how it ends?”

I am not sure I realized this until I started thinking about the marathon bombings in relation to the Easter story, but I actually have a really hard time even looking at those posts and pictures from early on in the day the day of the marathon. Because I know how that day ended, I know how things changed and it was such a poignant contrast from how it started. It’s sort of like watching a horror movie with your hands covering your face as you say, “Don’t go in there!” I think in the same way, I am feeling a similar struggle with the Palm Sunday story; it, too, is a poignant contrast to what lies ahead – for Jesus and for all of us. I know how things will change.

But the people of Jerusalem were saved. Their cries for Hosanna were heard.

It just did not happen in a way that any of them would have thought.

Jesus’ death and resurrection was an unexpected way to God’s grace, but it was also such a powerful one.

I think a similar thing happened in Boston last year. It happened that day when the kindness and heroism of strangers saved lives. It happened when a country came together, united not in hatred and fear, but in love and compassion. It came in the individual stories that would eventually be told: Stories of perseverance, of strength and of courage. Stories of love, of outreach and of support. Stories of faith strengthened and lives changed. Stories of people not wanting death to have the final word that day. Stories of people insisting on finding resurrection amidst the rubble, even if they had to put it there themselves. And I think that in a painful and very human way, the tragedy that happened in Boston last year was also an unexpected and powerful way to God’s grace.

This week is not full of Palm Sundays. The celebration has some interruptions and we cannot just jump from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. We have to experience the crucifixion in order to get to the resurrection. But, while Jesus was betrayed and died a violent death, I think we do have to remember that God’s grace never faltered. Jesus rose again; and, in doing so, he gave us new life.

And when bad things happen in our lives, I think we have to remind ourselves that we, too, have to look for God’s grace in the midst of the rubble. Because it is there – it just may be in an unexpected way or place.

The people cried to Jesus, “save us!” and he did. And when we shouted to Sarah at the 23rd miles that day, “stay strong!” she did. She stayed #BostonStrong.

We have to remember the whole story – in our faith and in our lives. I think re-living the Easter story reminds us that we are supposed to look for God’s grace in unexpected ways and places. Believe me when I say that you truly can find it anywhere – in the good and the bad, in celebrations and in tragedies. You can find it in a transition in your life, in the giggle of a child or in the touch of a stranger. You can find it in tragedy and loss or in happiness and new life. You can find it in laughter, tears or even a loud and seemingly never ending shouting match with your spouse.

We absolutely need to celebrate Palm Sunday with joy and praise, especially knowing what this week will bring. In fact, I think we are called to do so. Because while there are some things in life we cannot control, and while the journey ahead might be full of twists and turns, our creating, redeeming and sustaining God will be with us to shower us with grace throughout it all.

And we will see resurrection in our lives.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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