Sometimes I wonder if it would change our perspective on things if we knew what would happen. Would we still be as enthusiastic as we might have been? No matter the result would I still be willing to put in the effort? Would I still do everything in my power to try and make sure that result actually happened? Or would I resign to the fact that the events are coming and just allow them to happen?
I think especially in my mind about sports. When I was 14 I was witness to one of the greatest comebacks in the history of sports. I watched my Boston Red Sox comeback from being down 3-0 to win the American League Championship Series over our rivaled New York Yankees and then go on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. It is still, to this day, one of my greatest memories I hold on to from my childhood. However, I often reflect back on how I would react if I had known. What would I have done if I actually knew the results. Sure I can sit back and with the confidence of any naive fan predict a great comeback and keep hope that my team can come through, but short of it actually happening it still ends up being a pipe-dream. However, what if I truly new before the series started that the Red Sox would go down 3-0, that in game 4 the Red Sox would be losing 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th before making one of the greatest sports comebacks ever? Would I have argued with the same tenacity? Would I have had the same hope? Would I have had the same composure?
Or to take it from the opposite end of the spectrum I have had my fair share of sporting disappointments. I have watched my favorite football team, the New England Patriots, lose 3 Super Bowls in heartbreaking fashion, one of which ended what otherwise would have been a perfect season. Before those same Red Sox won in 2004 I endured a decade of heartache in watching them fall short each and every year. For goodness sake I just watched the best basketball team in the nation and my favorite team, UVA, lose to a 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the first time that has ever happened. What if I knew these outcomes before they occurred? Would I cheer as hard? What would happen to my hope that I might otherwise have? As Sara definitely can attest to I am a sore loser and when my team loses I am not a fun person to be around. So would she even want to be around me if I knew beforehand?
Well spoiler alert: we approach, as does Jesus, the events of Holy Week knowing exactly what is going to happen. We know that Jesus will march into Jerusalem, that he will curse the fig tree, enter the temple, turn the tables in the temple, that he will dine with his disciples one final time, and that he will be arrested, tried, and ultimately executed. All of this happening in the course of a handful of days, but we know the story. By now it is nothing new, and amazingly for Jesus what the future of his time in Jerusalem holds is not new for him. It is a narrative that he has conveyed to his disciples before. The nature of his death sets the stage for us to understand his death in a way that is echoed when we come forward for Holy Communion.
That is the manner in which Jesus continues to give, and shows his giving spirit, and is then the knowledge we take in as we receive. You see, Jesus gives, to the point that society cannot handle the message he is sharing and therefore, the only action they feel they can take is to eliminate the “problem.” However, we as Christians should look at that and see the ultimate act of love conveyed by Jesus’ message. It is in this way that Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the back of donkey. Yes, it is to fulfill a prophesy, but would you knowing what might await you in Jerusalem be as willing as Jesus to enter the city which holds your own death?
This makes this Palm Sunday processional feel less like a triumphal entry into the Holy City and more an act of protest. Jesus is not willing to allow the critics to overpower the message that he has for his followers. Jesus has been told to be silent, and rather than listening has taken up the mantle of speaking out for the lost, the naked, the hungry, the poor, the destitute, and all others society writes off on a daily basis. This is the gift that is given. This is how that ride into Jerusalem changes the course of history and sets in motion a great awakening in which people’s lives are guided by the question of making this world like the Kingdom God has always intended it to be.
And in that Kingdom there are two manners. The manner of giving and the manner of receiving. This week we will look at the later and next week we will look at the former. Because Communion is about both, and we start with receiving because we must first receive before we can give.
To start the manner in which we receive is based on the manner in which Christ gives to us. Therefore, it is because of what is being offered through Holy Communion that we are called to receive, but what does it look like to receive. I think our scripture shows us two manners of receiving today, both of which give us the manner in which we receive something great from the Communion table.
First is what the disciples receive in the beginning of the passage. The gospel writer writes, “When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “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.’” (Mark 11:1-3 NRSV)
What is Jesus doing here? He is giving instructions. A task he has probably done for the disciples every day for the last 3 years of their lives, but here it provides a gentle reminder that even when we may be confused Christ is guiding us. Think of how confused the two disciples Jesus sends must be at this odd request. Yet the instructions are there, and the disciples willingness to receive them genuinely follow through with their ability to abide by them even when confronted. What is received are the teachings of Christ. We receive in our ministry Christ’s teachings. Christ offers us a lifestyle of love and through the scripture and other disciplines like prayer and worship we learn what that lifestyle looks like.
The other manner of receiving is also a great testament, because it is the manner in which we receive through Christ’s presence. This is why we here in our scripture the shouts, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mark 11:9b-10 NRSV). We are shown here the manner in which receiving is how we live into the presence of Jesus in the moment. Jesus gives himself to this crowd as he rides on the back of the donkey. He embodies in this moment the sheer vulnerability of the messiahship he is living, and he shares it with all of those who have come. Those who have opened themselves to receive what Christ is offering through this action. Those who are genuine, authentic, and intentional about their need for a Savior. I’d like to think that none of those shouting “Hosanna” on Sunday are yelling “Crucify Him” on Friday, because I see in this crowd people who truly want to have Christ in their hearts and in their lives. They opened themselves up to receive as Christ was offering.
In the Communion meal we have an opportunity to receive Christ. While I made explicitly clear last week that the substance of the bread and juice are not changed we still believe that through Christ’s presence at the meal that we are receiving part of that mystery of Christ that is being offered in the meal. This is played out in full by the manner then in which we receive the elements. There is a reason that I encourage you to come with your hands cupped and extended to physically receive the bread. It is because that visual example of receiving allows us to place ourselves in the narrative that is being conveyed in this meal. I know many of you still choose to pick the piece of bread off the plate yourselves and I would urge you to reconsider as you come to the table in the future. It is Christ’s nature to give to you all that Christ has planned for you to receive, and as disciples of Christ it is on us to receive that gift of grace.
Christ gives of himself over and over again through the gospels. Fighting for the those who need it the most, and it is in Christ’s giving that those who need it receive. However, if we are not vulnerable enough to allow ourselves to truly receive then what has actually been gained through the offering of Christ. It is what is learned by the image of coming forward with hands ready to receive that allows us to then contemplate how I may go and give to others.
As these events of Holy Week unfold do not be surprised by the events. They are coming, they will happen, and Christ will be executed. However, what do we learn about who Christ is from his death?
We began this journey a little more than a month ago on Ashe Wednesday being reminded of our human nature. We were reminded that we are not worthy of all that God has given to us. However, through Christ we have seen what God has offered us, and still being unworthy we come willing to be made worthy by that gift that God is offering.
We come with hands ready to receive say, “Yes, God work within me. Thy will be done on earth as in heaven.”
I want you to consider that this week. As you come Thursday and hear the stories of Maundy Thursday and the Passion to reflect on what Christ has given to you. Reflect on the love Christ has shown you. Reflect on life he lived so that we may know who God truly is, and ask yourself, am I willing to receive? Do I come with hands extended and heart open, or do I try and set my own rules? What is Jesus working on in you? What is Jesus trying to give you? Are you ready and willing to receive?