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A Suffering God

Lectionary Readings for today can be found by clicking here. Sermon text is below.

You know, I'll be honest: Palm Sunday gives me a little bit of a stomachache.

It's something about moving from the joy of the procession to the Gospel reading we just heard, which is the story of a young rabbi being celebrated as he rides peacefully into Jerusalem, but is so quickly betrayed by his friends and handed over to an occupying power, the Romans, to be put to death.

I think about the people in the crowds that day, who were probably looking and hoping for many things - maybe one of the things they were looking for was a showdown, a final confrontation that would prove that their God was more powerful than the Roman Empire - a showdown in which good would finally win.

I can sympathize with that desire. This past week, as we heard about yet another school shooting, this time in Nashville, I longed for a day when God would finally prove power over the forces in this world that seem to be at peace with children living daily under the threat of violence - and not only in school shootings, but all over the country and the world, every day, the violence of poverty, of under-resourced schools, of unstable housing.

Surely Jesus would be celebrated by us all if he rode into Trumansburg on a donkey, ready to finally end the scourge of gun violence, or the violence of poverty. Surely we would shout, "Hosanna!"

But we, like the ancient peoples in the story we just heard, would likely be disappointed. Because as we all know, Jesus did not overthrow the Romans. Jesus did not finally show us all who was really in charge. No, Jesus did none of these things: Jesus walked into Jerusalem and right to the cross.

The cross. It's a difficult symbol, although we are so familiar with it that we can easily forget that the cross was a symbol of torture and domination in the time of Jesus. It was a sign of power against the powerless. I wonder, if this story had taken place today, what would the symbol be instead of a cross?

Maybe a gun? Can you imagine a church sanctuary filled not with crosses, but with images of semi-automatic rifles?

If this doesn't make sense to you -- then you're in good company. Our reading from the epistle makes that clear. Christ crucified isn't supposed to make sense. A God who suffers doesn't make sense.

So where does that leave us? What are we supposed to do with a God who suffers?

First of all, I think we hold on to what we know from the story of Christ's Passion: that if you are ever unsure of where God is, or you want to be closer to God... God is on the cross. God is with the children cowering in fear in their classrooms. God is with the parents who are waiting for news. God is with the teachers who are trying to protect those in their care. God is with those who are suffering.

And you may have noticed that not all of the disciples betrayed him, although many did. But there were women who were with him, standing at the bottom of the cross as he hung there. Along with Mary Magdalene, there are two others who are identified: Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

Mothers stood at the foot of the cross, with their rabbi, a friend of their own children who had been left to die.

So I'd like to end today with two questions for us to ponder:

First, how can you, and how can we, stand with those mothers at the foot of the cross?

And second, because we all know that at some point we all suffer - and I know some of you are suffering today, even - how will you, and how will we, allow others to love and care for us in our suffering? Sometimes this is the hardest thing to do, in a culture that doesn't like grief to be public, and looks down on weakness. But if God had mothers with him as he died -- can we allow others to nurture and sustain us when we are in need?

Today we heard the story of God betrayed, and God abided with. As we walk into Holy Week, how can we stand at the cross together?

Thanks be to God.

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