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Blessed Are Those...

Rev. Dan Smith
Sun, Apr 13

Palm Sunday

Lessons:  Matthew 5: 3-12 and Luke 19: 28-40

 

How many of you may have heard that brilliantly catchy and upbeat pop song that’s been all over the radio! It’s called “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.  If you spend as much as me with a 12 year old girl who loves “top 40” you couldn’t miss it!  For those of you who don’t know it, I’ll try to give you a sample.  For those who do know it, please feel free to join me. The chorus goes a little something like this:

Because I’m happy

Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof

Because I'm happy

Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth

Because I'm happy

Clap along if you know what happiness is to you

Because I'm happy

Clap along if you feel like that's what you wanna do.

 

Clapping along is exactly what I want to be doing in weather like we’ve been having this weekend.  In some ways, our Palm Sunday procession with all its singing and palm waving gives us the same kind of chance. And yet, like a top 40 song, we know it won’t last.

There’s a word we hear a whole lot in church, and it came up especially today, both in our communal reading and in our story of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  The word is Blessed!  Blessed, from the Greek “makarioi” also means, “Happy.” Imagine our familiar lines today with that word, happy. From the Palm Sunday narrative:  Happy is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  And from the Beatitudes, Happy are the poor in spirit.  Happy are those who mourn.  Happy are the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers and the persecuted! These beatitudes are a poetic formula that Jesus would have known from the psalms and other scriptures from his Jewish tradition.  The blessings at once name a present reality but also foresee a future vision and promise. Happy are those not because of their present circumstance, but because of what follows. The formula is happy are those who are in pain now for they will be comforted, for they will see God, indeed theirs is the Kingdom of God.  When Jesus says the Kingdom of God is near, or even better, the Kingdom of God is within us, he is assuring us that a great reversal of fortune, an overturning of our present suffering, is already underway.

I came across an additional Beatitude that Thoreau once penned in a letter to his abolitionist clergy friend Parker Pillsbury, dated April 10, 1861.  “What business have you, if you are " an angel of light," to be pondering over the deeds of darkness, reading the "New York Herald" and the like?” Blessed were the days before you read a President’s Message. Blessed are the young, for they do not read the President’s Message. Blessed are they who have never read a newspaper, for they shall see Nature, and through her, God.”  Mind you, he wrote these words just two days before the Battle of Fort Sumter in North Carolina would begin the Civil War.  The first shots were fired on April 12, 1861, the battle lasted over two days, 153 years ago this weekend.   In true Transcendentalist form, Thoreau proclaims his tongue in cheek blessing upon those who would seek to remain pure by avoiding knowledge of the worldly pain unfolding around them. Just think how appalled he would be Twitter and Facebook!

But of course, Thoreau knew full well the current events of his time and was highly engaged in struggles for peace and justice. And yet his point is well taken.  How easy is it for us to be overwhelmed by our now 24-hour news cycle, so heavily weighted as it is to stoke our fears? When we forget that our suffering is connected with God’s blessings, when we lose sight of the promise that we too will see God, if not only through Nature, but also, as Paul says, face-to-face, we too can grow weary and lose strength.  We lose strength to stay on road of witness and solidarity with the suffering around us and within us. We falter in our roles as agents in ensuring the arc of human history bends towards justice.  As Jesus and the crowd proceed down from the hillsides and mountaintops into the depths of political and spiritual turmoil, they do so moving on a pathway of blessing.  They start with glad shouts, palms waving and yes, even clapping along, for they could see signs of the God’s favor and blessing and the coming kingdom were right there before them, just as the prophet Zechariah had promised right down to the untied donkey.  But where was their threshold, and where is ours, for what comes next?

David Brooks, in a New York Times column this week wrote:  “We live in a culture awash in talk about happiness….But notice this phenomenon. When people remember the past, they don’t only talk about happiness. It is often the ordeals that seem most significant. People shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering…Happiness wants you to think about maximizing your benefits. Difficulty and suffering sends you on a different course….People in this circumstance often have the sense that they are swept up in some larger providence. Abraham Lincoln suffered through the pain of conducting a civil war, and he came out of that with the Second Inaugural. He emerged with this sense that there were deep currents of agony and redemption sweeping not just through him but through the nation as a whole, and that he was just an instrument for transcendent tasks.”  Take that Thoreau!   And by all means do read the rest of that column.

From the sermon on the Mount to the Mount of Olives, right into the heart of the rising political tension in Jerusalem, from Heartbreak Hill to the heart of our beloved Boston, we too are called travel this different course, not merely to clap with the crowds on the sidelines and then go home, but to follow the course of human suffering to its end and new beginning, trusting that our deepest blessings lie on that path and no other.  We too should allow ourselves to be swept up in a larger providence, a greater mystery and let those deep currents of happiness and agony and redemption sweep through us. May it be so for us now and in this Holy Week ahead.  Amen.

 

Invitation to Prayer and Traveling Meditation

Friends, the time has come for us to follow Jesus. We’ve created a makeshift road here and we invite you, if you feel so moved, to remember your blessings as you walk it, remember what has most formed you, whether moments of genuine joy and happiness or moments of mourning or sorrow.  Remember:  Blessed are you, and blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!   Come forward if you’d like, lay down your palms, to help soften the path for Jesus, but at the end, feel your own feet on the ground and try to walk each step on this road of blessing with prayerful intention. At the end of this path, and as we enter into this holy week, we also invite you to pick up a stone and to carry it with you, perhaps in a pocket throughout the coming week.  Keep it with you as a reminder of Jesus and of the weight he would bear.  Keep it with you on Tuesday; hold it tight, as you remember the anniversary, as you honor the fallen and the heroes and your own experience of that traumatic week.  Hold it as a reminder of your sorrows but also of the blessings that come when we hold such things together. Throughout this season, we have walked with each other, we have walked with Jesus, we have gone deeper in our relationships with ourselves, each other and the Spirit.  In many ways, we have already chosen a different course, a path of blessing rooted in our vulnerability, and our openness to healing, mercy, of solace and solidarity.  It’s now ours to push our thresholds, to stay with it, through this week, through Tuesday, through Thursday and Good Friday when we will gather up our stones.  Its ours stay this course right through until we gather again to embrace the joy that dawns again on Easter.

 

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