[Sermon Preached on Sunday, March 25, 20178 (Sunday of the Passion) at Saint Paul’s Church on Lake of Isles – Minneapolis, Minnesota]

[You can listen to this sermon as well as some additional thoughts by checking our the latest episode of the Word Made FRESH Podcast].

Holy Week begins with protest.

I am not simply referring to the hundreds of thousands who took part in the March for Our Lives demonstrations that took place yesterday in Washington, D.C.; Saint Paul, Minneosta; and in many other places around the country and indeed around the globe.

I am speaking of a series of protests that took place in Jerusalem almost two millennia ago – protests that continue to reverberate around the world to this very day. They are protests that point to us and ask: in what ways are we resisting or participating in culture of sin and death? What are we standing for?

On the Sunday prior to the Passover, Jesus and his closest disciples enter the Holy City of Jerusalem as the crowd around them yells “Hosanna, blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.” These were cries for salvation. Dear friends, these were freedom songs. This was the 1st Century version of “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ‘round” and “We shall overcome.” They were welcoming the one they thought, they hoped, would overthrow the Roman Empire and restore the ancient Jewish kingdom to its former glory. They would quickly change their tune when Jesus revealed that his kingdom wasn’t one of earthly power, but one of eternal significance. Not only did Jesus protest and resist the rule of Rome, he resisted the powers that would seek to use violence to drive out a culture of violence. A prophet almost 2,000 years later would say something like, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Shortly after Jesus enters Jerusalem in protest, he encounters an unnamed woman who has a protest of her own. She enters the house of Simon the Leper of Bethany with an expensive jar of perfume to anoint Jesus. Our modern ears might find this story odd, but this was both an incredible act of intimacy and a brazen act of resistance. This woman had to have known about Jesus to invest so much in an act of worship. She comes into the room, one governed by strict religious and cultural expectations about the behavior of women, and asserts her humanity and her dignity in a room that might have questioned it. Without saying a single word, she challenges the patriarchy of her day and Jesus weaves her story into his from that day forward. You cannot tell the story of Jesus without telling the story of freedom.

A few days later, as Jesus and his disciples gathered for what would be their last meal, Jesus resist and protests a narrative of inadequacy, scarcity, and death by the simple act of taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing. This pattern calls to mind the abundance of God in the midst of scarcity and the insatiable life of God in the midst of a culture of death. As he shares this supper, this Last Supper, he tells his disciples that they will share this meal again, but next time it will take place in the fully realized Reign of God.

After going out to the Mount of Olives, Jesus enters the final phase of his protest. In the face of a culture of violence and death, Jesus resists giving into the temptation. He willingly hands himself over to police, to the Temple Authorities, to the Romans. He accepts the cross handed to him by the corrupted justice system. He accepts the abuse. He accepts the pain. Not because suffering itself is redemptive, but because by enduring it, he proves one-and-for-all that it is ultimately powerless. His final protest reveals that violence cannot overthrow a culture of violence – only peace and compassion can do that.

But his final protest was deeper than a temporal showdown with a corrupt government. Jesus didn’t come to overthrow Rome; he came to overthrowing sin and death. Jesus’ final showdown was with sin, a malformed and misshapen creation, and the power of death. Jesus entered the messiness of a shattered creation, one that had long ceased to operate the way God intended, and brought it back right by leaning into the brokenness itself to prove it to be broken. He puts sin on trial and proves that scarcity, violence, division, fear, and hatred aren’t sustainable. Love is. Love is all powerful. Love has already won the victory. Sin might look powerful and all consuming, but Jesus’ final protest proves that it is anything but. It only wears the drag of power. It is ultimately feckless.

Holy Week begins in protest and those of us who follow the Way of Jesus this week, indeed any way, are called to follow in the way of that resistor from Nazareth, that protesting rabbi from Galilee, the community-organizing Son of God. Each of us is called to resist a culture of violence, dehumanization, and selfishness. Each of us is called to affirm with our lips and our lives that Jesus Christ is Lord, because if Jesus is Lord, then Caesar can’t be.

Holy Week asks each of us a question: Are we resisting a culture of sin and death or are we participating in it? How is the Reign of God being made manifest in our lives?

Holy Week begins in protest.

And the gates of Hell tremble at the sound.

Senior Warden Message – COVID-19 Update

“Church is not cancelled; it has changed.” This was the message shared in the bulletin and in the opening message of our first online Eucharist. In these challenging times of COVID-19 we need to find new ways to connect, new ways to gather, and new ways to replenish our spirit.

Last Sunday’s online liturgy and a new Wednesday night online Compline, which will start next week, are just two ways we have started to adjust to what will be our new temporary normal. Besides our services going online, we are also sending notes, making calls, and having time together on various social media platforms. Keeping connected is so important to our Saint Paul’s community. We are all in this together supporting each other. God is making his presence known in all these wonderful interactions.

Two weeks ago, when we suspended our in-church services and closed the doors of the church, we hoped to reopen our doors April 1. Unfortunately, with the Stay-at-Home orders from Governor Walz and recommendations from Bishop Prior, we continue to be closed to holding any kind of in-person or public gatherings. The current recommendation from the Bishop is through mid-May. Although disappointing, this is necessary to keep all of us and our neighbors healthy. Please understand that the church will be locked and closed to all church-related activities.

Governor Walz and recommendations from Bishop Prior, we continue to be closed to holding any kind of in-person or public gatherings. The current recommendation from the Bishop is through mid-May. Although disappointing, this is necessary to keep all of us and our neighbors healthy. Please understand that the church will be locked and closed to all church-related activities.

Earlier this month we formed a COVID-19 response team. This team, made up of staff and Vestry members, is supporting and helping us live into this new temporary normal. This group will continue to watch for new ways for us to keep connected. They will watch for guidance from Episcopal Church of Minnesota (ECMN), the Minnesota Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO). I am so proud of the work they are doing and the amazing amount of love and care they have for our members.

Continue to watch for updates in your email, on Saint Paul’s Facebook page, or on our website. And don’t forget you too can help us keep connected – use our Realm online directory to reach out to your church family.

Stay healthy and know that God is with us, Beth

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