Terror or Trust: the focus is up to you!

Terror or Trust: the focus is up to you!

Palm Sunday
Pastor Mitch Coggin March, 24 2024 Holy Week

Palm or Passion Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. There are two separate readings in today’s lectionary; one for the liturgy of the Palms and one for the Liturgy of the Passion. Palm Sunday is a day of contrasts pivoting between happy triumph and inevitable crucifixion, all because Jesus paid attention and was obedient to God’s ways.

In our Lenten Bible study this week, someone asked why this day was considered a celebration. From our perspective, this occasion seems anything but a celebration. While the crowd was cheering the arrival of a Messiah, the disciples were wrestling with Jesus talk about his impending death. What we pay attention to depends on our life circumstances and what we know.

The Liturgy of the Palms begins simply enough. Jesus and the disciples were approaching Jerusalem. Mark gives us their exact location: at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two disciples ahead to the village of Bethphage. Their instructions were clear: “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’”

Jesus paid attention to the details. He has spent time preparing for this day. Jesus knows exactly what type of colt he wants — one that had never been ridden. He knows exactly where the colt is. He’s even worked out a response in case there were any objections.. “If anyone asks you . . . just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and we will bring it right back.”’

Jesus had been talking to the disciples about his impending death but they couldn’t see it or accept his story.The disciples and the crowd were not aware that Jesus was entering Jerusalem for the last time. The crowds shouts of “Hosanna, save us,” and the waving of palm branches does not fit the image of a King presented by the prophet Zechariah. “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey”( Zachariah 9:9). Instead of a King coming with great power, the prophet tells of the humble Messiah riding on a colt.

This is a story that seems minor compared to what will happen during Holy Week. Jesus is careful to get the arrangements of this public display when he knows he is a marked man. However, there are a lot of details that Jesus ignored throughout his ministry. He was never a victim of the urgent demands of others. Jesus kept pointing to how we are to live differently in the kingdom of God instead of chasing recognition. Details that consume us, our reputation, having enough, our fretting about getting things done, never crossed Jesus’ mind. We can easily overlook spiritual disciplines and priorities that Jesus taught.

Psalm 31 tells the lament of a man overwhelmed with all the troubles of his life and illustrates the choice Jesus offers. We might say it also teaches us about the details we pay attention to in our own lives.

The Psalmist agonizes, “I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away. I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel. For I hear the whispering of many – terror all around! – as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.”

These verses are a long litany of complaints. This guy’s life is a mess. He is doing more than complaining. His life is falling apart and there is trouble in every direction. He is worried and afraid of what seems to be happening to him and around him. Perhaps these complaints belong to all of us with their bewilderment, anxiety, and rage.

Then in the next verse there is an unexpected turn. A “yes, but…” Yes, but, I trust in you, O Lord. Yes, but you are my God. Yes but, my times are in your hand. At the beginning of these verses, he opened an avenue of hope. “Be gracious to me, Oh Lord, for I am in distress.” He is reflecting on his life and turning toward another reality.

We can give ourselves over to the details of the terror in our lives and the terror that surrounds us.. Or we can focus instead on the details of our trust in you, God. “My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.”

It is a matter of focus; it is a matter of attention. So where do we come out? What details do we spend our prayers and our thoughts about: terror or trust? Which details have the most weight for us? We know the details of Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, Good Friday and Easter. We’ve gone through them year after year. But, how do we get from terror to trust? We stay in relationship with Christ through spiritual practice. It is a matter of focus. It is a matter of confession. It’s the only way we can take our eyes off the things that distract us and set them upon the arrival of the Savior.

The best news is that once we’ve learned to look for Jesus, we’ll find him in every detail of life.