What Happens Between Love and Betrayal?

Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018
Reverend Timothy Hart-Andersen

Mark 14, selected verses

Something happens between the hoopla of Palm Sunday and the horror of Good Friday.

When Jesus enters Jerusalem the air lights up with joy. Palm branches are strewn across the road. People lay down their cloaks to welcome this donkey-riding king. The entire city reverberates. We felt it this morning as we came in singing ourselves. The long-awaited change has come, the new era is being ushered in and they’re seeing it with their own eyes. “Hosanna!” they shout, pressing in to see their new king.

But then something happens.

Within days they turn on him. They call for his crucifixion. They mock him and watch him suffer public humiliation and do nothing to help. Roman soldiers hang him on a cross to die, and they look away, ashamed at the week-old memory of the palms and hosannas.

Something happens between love and betrayal.

That’s essentially what we witnessed yesterday in the mass marches of young people across the country. They thought this world loved them; that lawmakers wanted to keep them safe; that adults cared for them and could be trusted. Now they’ve discovered the sting of betrayal, the pain of death.

The way things are is not what they had thought, or what they had been led to believe. Elected officials don’t seem to be taking seriously what the students have experienced, the fear they feel, their anger at the duplicity in places of power. They see their classmates gunned down and people losing their lives to gun violence in cities and rural areas and churches and concerts and theaters, and the response is “thoughts and prayers,” or meaningless pronouncements, or “this is not the time.” They are right to call us to account.

What happened between the palms of Sunday and the cross of Friday? Between the innocence of childhood and the finality of an assault rifle?

With the story of Jesus we tend to lay it all on Judas. He’s the one, after all, who strikes the deal with the powers that want to take Jesus out. We heard in the text how excited they were when Judas came to them. He provides what they need for a few coins.

Money changes hands between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. And it happens in our politics around sensible gun control, as well. Elected officials who cannot lead us to sane legislation on guns because of the money should ask themselves, “At what cost?”

Those who support the right to purchase assault weapons and the need for large-capacity magazines and who reject the idea of universal background checks will be hard-pressed to make their case now. The youth are on the march. The students know that a tipping point has been reached. They know this is not a partisan issue, that leaders in both major parties have failed them. Their sense of betrayal runs deep.

Judas leads the soldiers to Jesus. In the quiet of his prayer time in the garden they come: a mob, torches lit, swords drawn. And in a show of false adoration, fake affection, that is actually a sign of perfidy and infidelity, Judas indicates who Jesus is.

Judas had high hopes for Jesus, thinking he might join the secret movement he was a part of to end the Roman occupation. But Jesus was not acting according to the script. It was time to remove him and get on with the real work at hand. If it cost Jesus his life, that was the price to be paid.

The youth who marched yesterday are asking, “What does it take to bring our nation to its senses about gun violence? What is the price to be paid? How many more lives until we take meaningful action?”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, every day in this land nearly 100 people on average die from gun violence; seven of them are children and teens. Every day. If we haven’t listened to the young people from Parkland and South LA and Baltimore and Chicago and Minneapolis, then we haven’t heard their eloquent and plain-spoken plea to stop the madness.

What happens between love and betrayal?

That’s not a question for Judas only. It would be convenient if we could blame it all on one miscreant. But Peter – “the ‘rock’ upon which I will build my church” – even Peter will deny Jesus three times. “I do not know the man,” he will say in his denial, telling lies to save himself.

Denial and lies are still all around us. They keep us from making real change when it comes to common sense legislation about guns. The students are not calling for an end to all guns. To say one cannot support reasonable gun control and at the same time support the use of guns for sport and hunting and personal protection – to say that – is denying reality.

We’ve just spent the season of Lent wondering about hope. Now we’re finding ourselves discovering the spare reality of hopelessness. Everyone has given up. Judas was first, then Peter, then the others, the texts tells us. They all fall away and silently watch his arrest, his trial, his slow walk up the hill to death.

We’re in this story, you and I. If we look closely we’ll see ourselves standing there, in the crowd on Palm Sunday, in the mob calling for crucifixion, finally, there we are, in the quiet shadows watching the cross pass by. We’re there, between love and betrayal.

I remember as a child singing the hymn Ah, Holy Jesus. When we came to the second verse I always found myself strangely caught up in the power of the confession it contained. I remember being shocked at all those adults singing these words – and I was singing it, too.

Who was the guilty?

Who brought this upon thee?

Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.

‘Twas I, Lord Jesus,

I it was denied thee;

I crucified thee.

I would sing that verse and be viscerally overcome with what I later came to know as my own complicity. I was only a child, but that hymn drew me into the pain of those who betrayed Jesus, the shame of those who did nothing, the fear of those who settled for denial.

We will sing that hymn in this sanctuary on Good Friday, not today, and not on Easter, certainly, but on the day of his death. ‘Twas I, Lord Jesus. It’s a hymn we need to sing in our time about all that we have let happen, knowing we should have tried to stop it. I it was denied thee. It’s a hymn we need to sing as we stay in our safe places and watch as others pay with their lives for our complacency. I crucified thee.

As a little child singing in the pew I experienced a sense of utter hopelessness as I sang those words. Utter hopelessness. Professor Miguel de la Torre says that is the right place for the church to be. We move too easily to hope, he says, assuming we can make things right, trusting things will turn out just fine. De la Torre argues that the church must discover its own hopelessness before the powers of this world.

Movements for justice, he says, are not born out of hope, but out of hopelessness. “Hopelessness is not the same as despair,” de la Torre argues.

“Despair stops you. Hopelessness compels you not because you think you’re going to win but because you’ve already lost and you have nothing else to lose. The pressure to succeed is lifted. Hopelessness is liberating. It makes you more audacious.”

That’s what we saw in the streets yesterday. It was a coming together of students, not just white suburban kids, but a powerful, racially-mixed movement of young people who share a sense of hopelessness in the face of the epidemic of gun violence in America. Their hopelessness, paradoxically, has empowered them.

Religion shouldn’t cover the pain of the world; on the contrary, it should uncover it. We should not sit in the safety of our sanctuaries and try to smooth everything over out there. The church should not impose its hope on those who have no reason to hope. The vast majority of the world is stuck in Good Friday and in Holy Saturday, caught between love and betrayal. We need to stay with them in the tomb, even, because that’s where most of the world is, including yesterday’s students and too many families in communities across the land.

Instead, we have become fixated on Easter.

What makes this week holy? If we don’t pause to experience it we will never know. These seven days offer a rare chance for us as people of faith to experience the hopelessness of the world in the very language of our liturgy. It’s right there, in the story of our faith.

It happens in the Garden on Maundy Thursday, with a police raid on a prayer meeting.

It happens in the unfair trail on Friday morning, when injustice prevails.

It happens in the violent death at noon, when the state kills an innocent man.

It happens in the bleak misery of grief on Saturday, in the shared despondency and desperate waiting for what might come next.

Each of those steps will be marked this week in worship. In this sanctuary and in other parts of our building. Each of those steps. As followers of Jesus we owe it to him to stay by his side through this week, to make it holy by entering into the hopelessness that takes him to the cross. Otherwise this becomes just another busy seven days and we get to Easter as if we had it coming, as if were owed us, as our privilege.

Something happens between the hoopla and the horror, between Palm Sunday and Good Friday.

Love gives way to betrayal, to denial, to death. That sequence is not confined solely to events that happened 2,000 years ago.

It happens all around us, if we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts that dare to give up hope, that it might be born anew from the tomb itself.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

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