Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ramblings on Love, Palm Sunday, and Church

We celebrated Palm Sunday at church this morning.  A key theme was how our love falls short, whereas Jesus’ love does not.  Palm Sunday is about how people were cheering for Jesus when he entered Jerusalem, but they would turn against Jesus during his trial and crucifixion.

Things are arguably more complicated than that when one reads the Gospels or attempts to reconstruct what really happened in history.  There are scholars who contend that Jesus was popular with the people, and that was why the plot against Jesus was so surreptitious.  Moreover, is there any way to know for sure that the people who cheered for Jesus on Palm Sunday were the same people who rejected Jesus and called for the release of Barabbas?

Still, in the Gospel stories, we do see people failing.  Peter denied Jesus.  Disciples fled from Jesus in his hour of need.  There were people who called for his death.  Jesus had to have a lot of love to see past that and to die for people’s sins.

Our prayer of confession: “We are astonished at the complete and utter failure of human love.  In the light of our failure, we are even more astonished that through You, God’s love for all humanity is made manifest.”

One of our readings this morning: “But the cheers were shallow and the celebration was short-lived…”

Our Daily Bread had a good devotion today: Jesus did not come with a sense of self-importance or entitlement, unlike those who insecurely paraded their importance.  Rather, Jesus obeyed the Father and was thinking of others besides himself.

One can question the historicity of these stories.  One can even question whether they are an accurate picture of God and Jesus!  God is not self-important?  But he demands worship!  I also sometimes feel—-right or wrong, I do not know—-that God’s love is rather brittle.  God won’t forgive us if we don’t forgive others?  God won’t forgive us if we don’t believe certain things?  God won’t forgive us unless we properly repent?  God won’t hear our prayers if we hold on to certain sins?  God won’t forgive us unless our sins are covered by the blood of Christ?  Then there is the whole factor of hell.

I am aware that Christians have their explanations for these things.  What looks like God’s self-importance to one person may look like God selflessly sharing himself to another person.  Sometimes, putting these things into a larger context that makes sense can be helpful.

All of that said, I do appreciate a theme in Palm Sunday: God loving us, even though our love is shallow and fails.  I know that my love falls short.  But I am also reminded that I should appreciate the strength of other people’s love, especially in times when someone manages to show me love that is not brittle.

But I am for cultivating love rather than berating myself when falling short.  I think of what Paul says in Romans 12:15: Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  That is an act of love and being concerned about other people.  This morning, during the prayer part of the service, we got to do that.  We sang “Happy Birthday” to people.  We rejoiced when a young man told us that he has been accepted to the University of Massachusetts Amherst to study veterinary medicine.  That has been his dream.  He went to community college for two years to prepare himself.  He interned at the Animal Hospital.  After struggling to find work, he found a job in the pet supplies department.  I am happy that things are working out for him.

I am moving across the country soon, and I will miss that sort of community, in which people rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep, and know each other, even if it is not too intimately.  I hope that my next church will be like that.  I am not too optimistic, and my standard is lower than what my current church meets: in my experience, it is rare to find a place where people are happy to see others rather than being in their own little worlds.  But who knows what can happen?

I may write a rambling post in the future about searching for churches, and how my current church will be a tough act to follow.  Right now, I am trying to finish and schedule my II Chronicles posts before I leave, and that has left me little time for free posts.  But stay tuned!

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